Four Pines Stout (Guest Post by The Devil Drink)

WHAT IS THAT THING ON the side of the bottle? I think it says “Certified Vostok Space Beer”. I’m reading it right, but what on earth can it mean?

A bottle of Four Pines Stout with a small label reading 'Certified Vostok Space Beer'

Alcohol marketing is traditionally the worst of all forms of advertising. As the prolific blog commenter Nabakov once observed—and despite creative use of Google I haven’t been able to find the original source—expecting intelligence and taste in a beer commercial is like owning a dog and being disappointed when it farts. It’s true, on one hand, that some of the best ones end up in the national vernacular, and some of them are just cheap and ludicrous enough to step onto the right side of the invisible shifting line dividing a good joke from failed, embarrassing humour.

More often, though, you get internally incoherent, chauvinist, far too often unfunnily sexist dross which gives advertising and alcohol itself a bad name. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with using sex as a marketing tool; but most often it’s exploitative, crass and simply not very good at selling booze. I have a feeling Fast Forward did a sketch about a the latest wine cooler on the under-18s market called “Legs Opener”, which was a truthful reflection of the genre if any example of comedy ever was. Anyone who watches televison though could probably name half-a-dozen commercials without effort that insult drinkers’ intelligence with stereotypy.

I mean really. Alcohol: a habit-forming substance that tends to produce mild euphoria, reduces social inhibitions and is entirely, immovably embedded in Western culture of food and social gathering. The stuff sells itself, or it should do.

Less reprehensible than the bimbos-and-bogans environment of Australian beer advertisements is, alas, the Craft Beer Fridge at your local bottleshop. Next to the very small bottles of mind-smashingly alcoholic beer brewed by Belgian cultists, and the water-coloured half-litre German objects, with pictures of goats and unpronounceable names, and genealogical claims back to before the Reformation that defy suspension of belief, lie the Australian small-brewery beers. They’ve got names like “Twenty Lashes”, and “Admiral Byng”, and “For The Term Of His Natural Life”, suggestive of a fashionable colonial brewing history. (I’ve suggested “No Chinese” and “The Other Side Of The Frontier” as potential brandnames, without luck). Some of them are good, some of them appalling.1

So, to Four Pines, the stout in my hand. On the one hand, it’s purple, it’s got a picture of four pines on it, and big claims of being brewed in Manly. On the neck it’s got an overly-sincere couple of sentences, sentences you have to uncomfortably turn the bottle in your hand to read, about four pine trees on the peninsula that were cut down in the 1940s to make way for machine-gun pillboxes and artillery spotting bunkers. It’s a decent enough story, and so far it’s so good.

But then? Then there’s the rocketship. The brewers sent this pine-themed beer from Manly to a group of scientists who drank it on a plane making parabolic zero-gravity arcs. And then they had a dress-up party and put pictures of themselves on a website.

That’s called diluting your brand. Are you suggestive of WWII sacrifice? Are you a Northern Beaches niche product? It it a beer made by astronauts for astronauts? Is science involved in the brewing? Does it appeal to a market of Warringah cosmonauts I’ve never heard of? More importantly—what kind of beer is it, and what does it taste like?

I can answer that last one. It’s pretty good, and better than a lot of over-crafted stouts that go flat too fast and smell like air freshener. There’s no mucking about with chocolatiness or hops, or special effort to make a stout taste like anything but a stout. It’s dark, bitter, heavy and one-point-three standard drinks.

Ticks all the boxes except for the very strange, very incoherent marketing.

1 “Like licking the bottom of an opened golden syrup can past its expiry date” was the fruity description of one woeful Australian small-brewery craft beer I won’t name.

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