“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





14 January 2015


Good honest labelling on a bloody beautiful beer: an ale for Christmas from Goodieson

Micro-sudsters lack lingo skills:
craftisans all nomencluttered up
Go get a fair dinkum wordsmith!

Bacchus only knows how many so-called 'craft' breweries Australia now has. There seems to be a new one each week.

Like far too much of our contemporary culture, Australia meekly - or adoringly - adopted the term 'craft beer' from the USA. It sounds kinda nuts-and-berries, but to me always has connotation of craftiness, just as the equivalent 'artisan' nomenclature first adopted by small USA winemakers, then Australian, has a history of artifice, an artificer being a craftsman who copies and mass-produces cheaper versions of much greater and famous works of art, like those horrid cast concrete fake Greco-Roman statues that breed in garden supply shops.

Not a drop spilt: Wilma McLean does the traditional Barossa Tops mettwurst tango on the occasion of her birthday in 2009 ... in response to the advent of the Barossa Young Artisan winemakers' movement, Big Bob McLean (right), with Peter Scholz of the Willows, and Charlie Melton, responded with the Old Fartisans appellation ... photo: Milton Wordley

Rather than the implications of ivy-hung stone buildings with hippies inside, I find myself feeling much more comfort in a little brewery that shows pride in its science, as there's a lot more science involved in making a good beer than, say, a good red wine. A very fine example of this is the Goodieson's brewery in McLaren Vale.

The first wave of latter-day indie brewers in Oz was kicked off by discontented Swan brewer Phil Sexton,  with his impressive Sail and Anchor business in Fremantle. This soon morphed into the Matilda Bay outfit thirty years ago, buoyed on by the many thousands who arrived there to watch Bondy win the America's Cup. I knew Sexton was bound for success when I first stayed in his exciting new-wave/old feeling Freo pub, and wobbled down for a brekky bevvy to find none other than Mr Maxwell Cooper nudging the rubbing strakes while he nursed a pint with his good arm. Maxwell wore a very big grin. 

"Whitey, I'm froffing over already," he gurgled in delight. We did not discuss the boat races.

Max is sadly deceased, but his family's Coopers Brewery is now the biggest Australian-owned brewery.

After about fifteen years, through takeover of the best and other incidentals like, er hopeless and inconsistent brewing leading to most of the first wave of little indies going broke, that boom dried pretty much right out.

Now, it's back on, bigger, more prolific, and to a large extent, better.

Two enormous sudsmeisters make most of 'Australia's' beer. Between them, Carlton United Breweries, owned by the USA firm SAB Miller, and Lion Nathan, the property of the Japanese Kirin Holdings Company Ltd., supply around 90 per cent of Australia's brew.

But nibbling away at that figure is burgeoning a new wave of frothmongers. There were 78 exhibitors at last year's Craft Beer Awards, presenting 282 products. I'm sure both numbers will increase this year.

It has suddenly become essential for wine regions to have their own little flocks of locally-made beers, best exemplified in South Australia by the likes of the Clare Valley Brewing Company of Ben Jeanneret and Craig Harnett. with its excellent sales and tasting room in the main street of Auburn. As with Ben's Jeanneret wines, the quality is triffick.

The Barossa Brewing Company Darryl Trinney founded in Greenock is a serious sudsville; there's the Bierhaus in Lobethal, and Grumpy's at Verdun, near Hahndorf. Hahndorf also has Gulf Brewery; Mt Barker has Prancing Pony.

McLaren Vale has Vale Ale, some of which is actually made there in the Vale, and the brilliant Goodieson's on Sand Road, which makes all its delicious range in their neat and efficient brewery and tasting area there on the creek. 

These beers really rock. And Dan Wright runs his Swell Brewing Company in conjunction with Oliver's Taranga.

Because of the gross population difference, it seems unlikely that Australia's independent small breweries will ever hit the numbers booming in the USA, which now has more than 3000 littlies. But there, as in Australia, the two big guys, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) and MillerCoors still make eight out of every ten beers sunk in the States.

When I began writing about wine thirty-five years ago, my desk sported a little box of filing cards. There were, I seem to recall, 264 of them, one for each winery in the country. Now there are more than 2,700 wineries. Especially if they can keep their quality high and consistent, I expect the breweries to follow suit.

Which leads to a problem which fascinates the writing side of my brain as much as the more scientific marketing side. In the USA, lawyers like Candace Moon, the craft beer attourney, is having a field day sorting out the names these little guys adopt for their product. Being brewers, not marketing writers or indeed lawyers, they've run out of names for their products, and seem inextricably locked in constant legal battles over the names they choose for their products.

Put simply, it's very, very repetitive.

"There are only so many words and names that make sense with beer, so it's not surprising that many people will come up with the same ideas," Moon told the USA blogger, The Salt. There is, for example, a rush to use the name Bitter End, a term borrowed from the nautical world: it's the very end of a sheet, anchor chain or mooring hawser. 

One may remove some of the bitterness from the end of a line with a monkey's fist. This one, with an eye-splice, was tied by London yacht's chandler Arthur Beale

If a sailor must run the line out to its bitter end, that sailor, and the vessel, is in dire trouble, leaving me wondering how many of those brewers bothered to check the origins of the term in a marine dictionary, or indeed, the Oxford, in the first place.

The literary wino will not be surprised to read this: look on the shelves of a major liquor barn and find the thousands of half-funny and half confounding brand names our winemakers or their dodgy marketers have thought up. As a professional who swims in this murky linguistic ocean, I can't possibly remember most of them.

Why would I? They're mainly forgettable.

The first registered trade mark came late in the piece, in 1875, and guess what? It was a brewery. The British Bass came up with its bold red equilateral triangle, with a racy Bass in Coca-Cola-like cursive below the mark. 

But Mr Bass hadn't copied that Coke script. Ten years later, the USA accountant Frank Mason Robinson came up with the actual Coca-Cola logo, claiming it matched the popular hand-written script of the day. It certainly matched the Bass script.
In wine, as in these new beers, every obvious brand name seems to have been taken. All the connected puns, similes and twisted metaphors are exhausted, and the lawyers are having a feast at the expense of the drinker. We see repetitions, and stutters, and constant adjustments made when rivals complain about the theft of intellectual property.

The marketers have been through every dictionary. Every likely word is taken. Same with the names of humans: the bastards have been through every phone book on Earth. Think of how many industries, from paint to paper, lay claim to my family moniker. 

I have one suggestion. There are people called writers who come in good and bad appellations, and all points in between. Some of these, the best of them, are capable of devising names by their invention of brand new words, as we most obviously see in Coca-Cola, which seems to have worked. Creators of new products may save themselves a great deal of lawyer money if they first engage a crack writer to conjure a brand new word for them. Like one which is not in any dictionary.

That way, we may be able to find some fertile ground, between the likes of Black Slut, which Wayne Thomas dearly wanted to use on his sparkling Shiraz, but was rightly refused, and the Bitter End, that last handful of viable rope to slip through the sailor's hands before disaster strikes.

No comments: