TheVine feature story: “Is imported beer better than ‘imported’ beer?”, April 2013

The first instalment of a two-part story for TheVine looking at the vexed discussion over foreign beers — Beck’s, Peroni, Heinkeken, and many more — made under licence here in Australia. I spoke to the major brewers — Carlton & United and Lion — as well as parallel importers, retailers, restaurateurs and micro brewers, all in an attempt to get to the bottom of the issue. Excerpt below.


Drinking imported beer isn’t as simple as it used to be.

You could once pop the top of a Beck’s, Heineken or Peroni Nastro Azzurro and take in a little bit of Bremen, Amsterdam or Vigevano. But step into the imported beer section of your local retailer in 2013 and you’ll notice a change underway. Not only have the number of different beers increased markedly, but the individual beers themselves seem to be diversifying.

There are hard-bodied slabs of typical product, perfectly packed on pallets and often adorned with local promotions. And then there’s what looks like the rejects next to the wine fridge, or perhaps piled against the back wall. The boxes are thin and usually taped together, the labelling in a foreign language. Even the sizes are (quite literally) all over the shop: some 500ml Heineken cans here; 450ml swing-top Grolschs over there; 330ml Peronis round the corner.

The reality is that those neatly stacked boxes of Peroni and Beck’s aren’t brewed in Italy or Germany, but under licence in Melbourne and Sydney, respectively. And the allsorts dotted about the rest of the shop? They’re your true imports.

According to the major brewers in charge of licenced operations, the beer produced is exactly the same as the foreign versions, only fresher and delivered to the retailer under a more controlled logistical process. But that hasn’t stopped eagle-eyed consumers from spotting the difference and in some cases angrily demanding the imported product.

Parallel importers have been happy to oblige. Once a relatively backyard operation bringing in small shipments of product outside the official channels, the number of beers available via parallel has expanded in step with an upswing in local production of high-profile European, American and Japanese brands. Over the last fifteen years, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Beck’s, Stella Artois, Heineken, Grolsch, Miller Genuine Draft, Carlsberg, Kirin and Kronenbourg have all switched to being brewed under licence here in Australia. And if you look hard enough, just about all of these beers can now be found as parallel imports.

For the major Australian brewers – Carlton United and Lion – it’s a major issue. “Parallel imports are frustrating on a number of different parameters,” says CUB Director of Strategy and Chief Marketing Officer, Peter McLoughlin. “One of the things parallel importers do is that they’re very happy to trade off very low margins, because they make no investment into the product at all. So they’ll bring it in very cheaply, make a very low margin and put nothing back into the product.”

McLoughlin is exacting when explaining the rationale behind making foreign beers locally. Rather than it being about controlling costs, he claims it has much more to do with getting vice like grip on quality. “The costs seldom come into it,” he says. “The old adage is that beer’s best drunk in the shadow of the brewery. One-day-old beer is better than one-month-old beer, which is better than ten-month-old beer. So that’s number one. Number two is that beer has three big enemies: one is time, the second is heat, the third is sunlight.”

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One Response to “TheVine feature story: “Is imported beer better than ‘imported’ beer?”, April 2013”

  1. […] The second instalment of my TheVine investigation into foreign beers made under licence in Australia. I sat down with two expert tasters to find out which brews they thought were better — the imports or their locally made equivalents. Excerpt below. Part one of this story can be found here. […]

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