McCracken’s Amber Ale. Another major brewery launch that ol’ Ale of a Time is yet again snubbed from. I tell ya… I bloody tell ya.
CUB in their attempts at holding on to trademarks that Thunder Road went after a few years ago (in what proved to be a ridiculous and pretty boring marketing stunt) have come out with another re-imagining of a classic Aussie beer. Not the first time they’ve tried to relaunch this brand, with some small releases in 2013.
Some quick history on the original brewery (surmised from this); McCracken’s was a Melbourne based brewery that opened in 1851. They were the first Melbourne brewery to enforce an 8 hour work day and an early adopter of using sugars to stabilise malts (so basically they used sugar to ensure they hit their booze benchmarks when the malt wasn’t doing it).
The relaunch of this Heritage Brand happened here in Melbourne this week. Here’s a quote about the new branding from the article about it on The Shout:
The branding for McCracken’s is a little bit different. When you go into the heritage room at the brewery in Abbotsford, on the wall as soon as you go in, there is this old photograph of the McCracken brewery workers and they are having a tug-of-war. It looks wonderful and so the tap badges that we give to the pubs have all got these 30-40 year old blokes playing tug-of-war and it looks very different
He is right. It’s different in the sense that it looks nothing like the original brand, which you can see images of on the Australian Postal History Blog and on the Australian Beers blog (I won’t hotlink out of good web manners, but get clicking)
So the brand is different, that’s fine – brands change, but what of the beer?
Well the original brewery had a Sparkling Ale, a Khaki Stout, an AK Light Ale (no idea what the Khaki or the AK stand for*, I’m guessing CUB know but I’m not going to try find out. The snub goes both ways, CUB, BOTH WAYS**), and a Bitter Ale. Rich pickings to base a modern recipe on. Literally four really good ideas to launch a revitalised and fresh modern twist on a long lost beer. Let’s find out what they’ve done.
Also from The Shout piece, we get this insight from CUB’s Intellectual Property Manager, Matthew O’Keefe,
McCracken’s most famous beer was its Light Ale, light, not in the way that we understand a light beer to be, but because beers in Australia back in the 1800s were extremely heavy. McCracken’s thought it was too heavy for this climate, so let’s do a lighter style, but it would have still been quite heavy in alcohol, just a lighter ale. So that was very popular. But I think if we tried to replicate recipes of the time, we’re just not going to be able to do it, they are just too high in ABV, bitterness and sugar.
So we’ve created a new beer, but it’s old in the style of an English ale and it’s a dark copper colour. But it’s not a highly bitter beer, it’s good beer, but not one that we’ve based on an original recipe.
Ok, I’m not sure I understood exactly what he’s trying to say but what I think all that means is McCracken’s Amber Ale is nothing like any of their original beers. Not in name, not in taste, and it has a different label.
The McCracken’s Amber Ale is the second in this historic series, to go alongside their Tooth’s Pale Ale, which they relaunched last year. Remember that one? This is from the Brews News story at the time:
Ovadia said this task was made more difficult by the fact that the company had long ago misplaced the recipe of Tooth’s Pale Ale.
A lost recipe! Such a mystery for the ages, who even knows what it would taste like? Well… we do.
Thanks to Peter Symons, homebrewer and historian, here’s a recipe here:
There are even more Tooth’s recipes in his excellent book (which you can read about here).
The Brews News story suggests that back in the day it would be a “big, chewy” beer. However at 5.2% and 42IBU, it was described in the advert next to the recipe above as “A light refreshing summer tonic”. Of course that is too much for the insipid stylings of Australia’s least inspiring brewing company and CUB made the most limp version possible at a tame 12IBU – for those unfamiliar, that’s an indication of bitterness and bitterness is used to balance sweetness in beer. So the more bitterness, the more sweetness. While it’s not the best indicator of character it’s still a pretty good one.
Carlton Draught I believe is around 20IBU, while Corona is around 10. So 42 may be quite high for their target drinking audience but 12 is basically a white flag to character in a pale ale, either historic or modern.
At least in this case they have used a tap badge that is similar to the original logo.
In summary, so far neither of these heritage launches have really been a genuine attempt at making a beer close to what the original was. Like, not even remotely. In any way. Basically they are just a pint glasses full of dirty dirty lies.
I also note with amusement that the gang over at Brews News anticipated reaction such as mine on their Facebook just about the time I was typing up my first draft. Saying the “the ‘craft beer bubble telephone booth gang’… will no doubt go into head-up-arse-overdrive” over this beer, followed by some Taylor Swift lyrics. I guess if the alternative to my arse is having to see half hearted attempts at revitalising historic brands justified with Taylor Swift** lyrics then I’ll happily keep my head right where it is. Even if that means needing to pillage other beer media for content.
*Thanks to Kelly Ryan for pointing out this Martin Cornell piece with the history of AK: http://zythophile.co.uk/2014/07/23/second-thoughts-on-the-mysterious-origins-of-ak/
**I just remembered last time I tried to contact CUB for a story, they failed to return both my phonecalls and emails. So I guess the snub is still just one way. Well played.
***No beef with Tay Sway. She fam.