Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beer - The Aussie Dry Lager Battle

This Sunday past in Melbourne was a sunny blue-sky day, much like today. A large portion of the city's population city was caught up in the return of AFL footy to our lives, as well as the Formula 1 cars screaming around Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix.

It was the type of day that often drives drinkers to purchase and consume a six-pack or slab of easy drinking beers that are readily available at any local bottle shop or liquor superstore. (Also, these beers are often marketed IN YOUR FACE, everywhere you look.)

The current trend in beer products produced by the big commercial breweries for such occasions is the "dry lager". It is a style that I no longer understand. They tend to be very bland (if not completely flavourless), bodiless, flat and often labelled as a low carbohydrate beer.

You see, I can somewhat understand the "need" for and mass production of Australian lagers and mid-strength beers. However, in the last four years I have never come across any Australian person belonging to an apparent "clear majority" of beer drinkers that the big-brewers' market research suggests want watery bland dry lagers!

Even in North Queensland I witnessed drinkers choosing the flavoursome Blue Sky Brewery Pilsner, Little Creatures Pale Ale or foreign full-strength lagers like Corona over any such dry lagers. Whoever is bumping up the dry lager sales figures needs to try a real beer for once in their life!

In all honestly, I did spend much of my 20s in the pubs and bars of Melbourne, enjoying the pub rock music scene and drinking the usual beers that a Melbournian would be associated with - VB, Melbourne Bitter and later, Boags. When the low-carb dry lager concept really took off with Pure Blonde and Boags Classic Blonde, I misguidedly drank these beers in a silly attempt to mitigate my obesity.

Today, I am a craft beer lover. My drinking habits favour beers with depth of flavour, complexity, length, character, as well as exploring the diversity of beer styles. Additionally, since turning to craft beer I have learned how to drink smartly and balance good health, which has allowed me to drop all the excess weight I carried for 20 years. These days, I am fit enough to run 12kms in 50 minutes, yet still enjoy regular beers.

I will relatively happily revisit VB and MB in the right time of place, but cannot touch the new wave of "extra" dry lagers that are saturating the Australian beer industry, because they are pointless! No? Flavourless and with water like texture...what is the point to drinking such a beer other than to get drunk whilst messing up your body with a huge amounts of adjuncts? If you need to quench a thirst, drink water! It's good for you.

Nonetheless - in hope of saving myself from becoming a real beer snob - I decided to test these popular Dry Lagers to see if I could find any justification for their existence.

As a secondary mission, I wanted to taste these macro brewery profit makers against the Vale Dry from McLaren Vale Beer Company in hope of understanding why a company that is determined to be a craft beer producer would create such a product.

Currently brewing their two beers under contract at Australian Independent Brewer (AIB) in NSW, the McLaren Vale Beer Company beer are in the progress of establishing a brewery. Instead of first setting up a brewery, they decided to use their initial capital to establish a brand. Through their marketing, Vale Ale scored top spot (and big exposure) in The Local Taphouse Hottest 100 Craft Beers of 2010. Vale Dry came in at #9. The reaction to these results amongst the craft beer loving community was fierce and is well documented on a number of beer websites, such as The Crafty Pint.

All that aside...my question is:

Is there really ANY need for Vale Dry in the Australian beer market, against these beers...

  • Carlton & United Breweries (Fosters) Carlton Dry
  • Tooheys (Lion Nathan) Extra Dry
  • Sail & Anchor (Woolworths) Dry Dock
  • Three Kings (Independent Breweries Australia) Dry Lager

Note 1: All purchased from my local Dan Murphys I selected out of their fridge.
Note 2: Other products in the category include MAXX Dry by Coles and Coopers Clear, but would have been too much for me to include in this test.
Note 2b: I also completely disregarded XXXX Summer Shite Lager because it is shite. I tried it once last year out of curiosity and found no ever to ever let such a beer pass my lips again.

I would like to point out that I did approach the MVBeer team directly via email and asked them why they decided to produce a dry lager. However, whilst I recieve a response from them about a side issue, the "why brew a dry lager" question was completely ignored.

So, on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, after a morning of household chores that induced quite a thirst, I sat down with each of these beers to test them side by side.

My comparison notes on these beers are as follows:

Three Kings Dry Lager
  • The clearest and most effervescent of these 5 beers
  • Provided the biggest head when poured from the bottle
  • Lightest/weakest colour of all these beers
  • Most "fake tasting" beer, providing no real beer character
  • Almost sickly drinking at the bottom of the glass (as it warmed)
  • Sorry, but this is just...yuk.

Tooheys Extra Dry
  • Equally brightest in colour with Carlton Dry
  • Provided the most decent head
  • Smoothest and softest beer of the 5, as well as the blandest  flat
  • Flat aroma with something oh-so-slightly fruity on the nose
  • Yeast comes through in that fruitiness, slightest hint of clove and banana
  • Blandest mouthfeel of all

Carlton Dry
  • Equally brightest in colour with Tooheys Extra Dry
  • Worst head with loose froth that was like bubble-bath foam
  • Slight orange peel taste and a hint of something nutty
  • A little bit more carbonated than Tooheys Extra Dry
  • Only drinkable if super cold/chilled
  • Awfully similar to Tooheys Extra Dry, just not as flat

Sail & Anchor Dry Dock
  • Most dull beer in appearance
  • Most pub-like beer in aroma and beery flavour with corn like notes
  • Watery mouthfeel and body
  • No flavour
  • Pretty inoffensive and hence easy to drink (if super cold) for piss beer.
  • Wife noted that Dry Dock is like beer cordial...water with a drop of artificial beer flavouring

Vale Dry
  • Clearly different to the above beers! hoo-rah...
  • Pale gold and cloudy in appearance, weak-to-no head
  • A sweet caramel sugar aroma, some fruitiness but also vegemite yeasty aroma
  • HELLO...there's some flavour here! However, still lacking any real taste punch and probably has too much in the way of cereal notes
  • A bit thick in the mouth, although a watery body
  • Not exactly "easy" drinking due to some tartness

By far, the unfiltered Vale Dry was the stand out...relative to the macro dry lagers. It has flavour and more body than the rest, but I am not sure I rate its drinkability and sessionability. I would need to try a draught version on tap.

Nonetheless, if you really must drink a Dry Lager...please consider the pointlessness of the macro products -  produced only for your dollar - and maybe pick up a pack of McLaren Vale Vale Dry. At least you will experience some exposure to taste with Vale Dry, as well as supporting a business that hopefully one day will build up to being a genuine craft brewery.

Ultimately, there is no need for any of these beers when there is the easy drinking, refreshing and flavoursome joy of the uniquely Australian Stone & Wood Pacific Ale! THIS is the beer dry lager drinkers should be choosing...


  1. I see similarities to my cooking lager experiment, and can share your pain based on consuming a number of Tooheys Extra Dry's at a family do on the weekend. Ble.

    As for the Vale Dry, I think your choice of Stone and Wood Pacific Ale is spot on.

    Dont get me started on low carb beers and the whole "diet" angle. Grrrrr

  2. Indeed. The only time I have ever had Tooheys Extra Dry in the past was at the Big Day Out...because it was the ONLY beer option. I have never considered consuming it on any other occasion...because of how awfully bland it is. Extra Dry didn't even serve it's "purpose" to quench thirst & resfresh at a hot BDO.

    Can't believe their marketing tag line is "Clean Crisp Taste". WHAT TASTE?!?

    Beer & health and the falsehood of low-carb beers is definitely a pet topic of mine as well.

    Thankfully, Brews News was all over the topic recently...check out the below articles and help share the word:




  3. it was out and about way before Brews News got onto it, alcohol adds to the gut just the same as carbs, its simple nutritional science. Just have the beer you like and a handfull less chips and it will all work out about even.

    As for TED, it was a premium beer when I was at Uni. Glad I've grown up a bit.

    Oh speaking of high carb beer Brew Dog Tokyo on tap at Biero tonight!

  4. Oh yeah, for sure...the beer & health issue has been around forever...and indeed it is simple nutritional science. I just really like how BrewsNews hooked onto the topic in detail and used the recent studies to push the argument stronger than any Aussie media has effectively done so far.

    Tokyo on at at Biero as well? Brilliant...but a bummer because I'm in the middle of a dry week. Boo.

    Good thing I had some Tokyo on tap at the Local Taphouse last week!

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