Big brewers snap up boutique beers

OPINION: Froth and Bubbles with Tim Howard

AUSTRALIAN beer drinkers' love affair with icy cold bland big name beers is waning as they discover the delights of the many craft beers now on the market.

Boutique brewers have sprung up all over the country turning out beers that reflect the endless flavours you can come up with from brewing water, malt, hops and yeast.

But beer lovers do need to beware the beers labelled as craft brews are the real thing.

The big brewers have noted the change in drinking tastes and have fought back.

One tactic has been to buy out the craft breweries.

The story of Australia's first craft brewery, Matilda Bay, is a perfect example.

Formed in 1983 by a group of Western Australians to brew beer for the Sail and Anchor Hotel, they expanded and opened another brewhouse in 1985. By 1987 they had opened another three outlets in Perth.

But their success put them on the radar of the big boys in brewing.

In 1988 Carlton and United Breweries bought a 20% share and by 1990, the Fosters Group swept up the lot.

The other tactic has been for the big brewers to set up their own craft labels, turning out smaller batches for the niche markets.

Many drinkers might ask what's the problem with this. The beers they are making taste good and certainly are an improvement on the virtually flavourless mainstream brews.

For mine it's the lack of transparency allied to the bully boy tactics of the major brewers that sticks in the throat.

But don't take my word for it.

Earlier this month consumer watchdog Choice warned that foreign-owned brewing giant, SABMiller (which owns the Fosters Group inclusive of Carlton & United Breweries) is locking out genuine craft beer at local pubs.

Choice noted while pubs may appear to offer a wide selection of tap beers, the reality is that most of the taps in Australian pubs are controlled by one of two international brewing giants, SABMiller or Kirin, at the expense of genuine Australian craft brewers.

There are plenty of craft brews out there, it's just getting trickier to find them.

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