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Mock Imports

Wild River beer promotional material from Fuller's.

Importing beer is expensive and inconvenient, and, from the perspective of British breweries, every bottle of Belgian, German or American beer represents a lost opportunity.

Recently, we’ve seen Shepherd Neame launch a licensed, UK-brewed version of Sam Adams Boston Lager; Fuller’s launch a US-style IPA, Wild River, complete with Americana branding; and smaller (for now) breweries are launching saisons, dubbels, tripels, pilsners, weizens, wits and imperial double black bacon IPAs left, right and centre.

Generally speaking, we’d really rather drink a fresher, British-brewed imitation of a foreign beer than a stale, authentic, imported one.

However… the first report we’ve read, from Rabid Bar Fly, suggests that, the Shepherd Neame brewed Sam Adams Lager is fine, but an entirely different beer than the original. We haven’t seen the ‘point-of-sale’ material but our concern remains that most punters will think they’re drinking an imported beer and pay more for the privilege. If it doesn’t have BREWED IN THE UK in big letters, it’s a swizz.

Fuller’s approach is interesting. We’re taking Wild River’s branding as an attempt to convey a sense of the inspiration behind the beer and to give the consumer an idea of what to expect in their glass, rather than an attempt to con anyone: the branding merely evokes America and bears a prominent Fuller’s logo.

The smaller breweries are generally proud of where they’re based and there is little room for confusion in the packaging, as far as we can see. The problem here is that, sometimes, regrettably, the beer is half as good and yet twice as expensive as the real thing.

These wrinkles will iron out. A couple of years back, Meantime’s own lagers were put to shame by the imported beers from Schoenram on sale alongside them at the Greenwich Union; but, on our last visit, Meantime’s beers had improved immeasurably and, yes, were better and cheaper than their imported cousins.

9 replies on “Mock Imports”

Is nothing sacred anymore!? I have to be quoted when I blurt shit out on the interwebs!? sheesh! Everyone usually ignores me, why stop now? 😉

Seriously though, the pump badge says Sam Adams, Boston Lager, I didn’t see imported on it but then I wasn’t looking. Maybe it should say ‘imported recipe’?

Generally speaking I prefer a fresh British “imitation” beer to a stale US import too, but often the choice isn’t that easy: unless you go direct to the brewery, some UK micro stuff has sat on the shelves for quite a while when the customer gets her hands on it. And some US stuff we can get almost the week after it’s brewed/released, if we’re lucky. As for Fuller’s Wild River, I think it is a fine beer (as can be seen from my review), but there are about 10 US IPAs I would rather drink even if they are not super fresh…

And thanks for the link! 🙂

At the risk of seeming like a pretentious twat (and yes, you’re right, that’s never stopped me yet), there are two things going on here.

One is the usual brewed-under-licence debate, which unless clearly declared is a big rip-off. Then there are more subtle arguments – for example, for a while Asahi was brewed in the Czech Republic for a while, and so it was clearly labelled “Imported”, but that too was a swizz. More fine-grained is the example of Brooklyn Lager being contract brewed by FX Matt in upstate New York – clearly brewed in the US, but trading on its Brooklyn links. Still a decent beer, though would we accept a Burton ale brewed in London?

The other is a more complex argument around semiotics, the signifiers and the signified, Saussurian theory etc. That’s what Fuller’s are doing, using imagery to suggest something, and as long as the beer delivers what it suggests, I’d be happy. Well, as happy as I ever am.

If I could only drink fresh, local, British beer in this country for the rest of my life, I would be happy with that. But I like a wide range of beer styles so that has never been possible. So I support Fuller’s move wholeheartedly – I’m looking forward to finding a pub I can try this.

The more UK breweries start making wits and dunkels alongside their range of milds and IPAs, the less imported beer I have to drink – and that can only be a good thing, for both me and the UK brewing industry.

Absolutely – its about increasing quality and choice, not replacing one product with another. Although I wouldn’t mind if this replaced one of the taps serving Carlsberg and Fosters.

but isnt this akin to what Wetherspoons do for their beer festivals, they invite American brewers over to the UK to bring their recipes for one of their beers or a close facsimilie anyway and they brew their beers in the UK at places strangely enough like Shepherd & Neame, but tailor them for a UK market.

yet its still sold as an American beer, priced as such as well, and you have to look very closely at the drinking notes to see its been brewed in the UK actually, and often very different from the American beer it was originally based on, even though it uses the same name/pump clip etc.

there was one I think last year an American friend had said I must try if I could find it, as it was outstanding example of a classic American IPA, but in the UK theyd brewed it to a much lower ABV, almost half strength and might not have needed to hop it so much as a result, so it was ok, but nowhere near the same type of drink even though it shared the same name and identity.

I dont have a problem with breweries playing with styles like this, they just need to stay upfront about what the beer is and where it comes from.

I agree with Zak on the semiotics of the new Fuller’s beer. As an American, it definitely looks familiar (it doesn’t hurt that I live in a state with Wild River Brewing, a company that sports a label with quite similar evocations). Of course, at 4.5% it’s definitely not an American pale ale. You just don’t find robustly-hopped pales below 5% here. That is to Fuller’s credit, though–the company has signaled its inspiration, but the beer is British, not a faux import.

Americans do this constantly. We call beers, say, kolsches, brew them to 5.5% and put in 40 IBUs of hopping. That tends to irritate non-Americans, but no one argues that the beers are pretending to be German imports.

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