Bitter pils, and ales, to swallow

Some people like to claim there is no such thing as a bad beer, only that some are better than others. But if mind-numbing mediocrity and outright blandness count for anything, I've certainly sampled my share of disappointing brews over a quarter of a century of beer reviewing. Bad in the sense they weren't any good.

There are plenty of badly named beers, with ''Piss'' at the top of the list, followed closely by its low-alcohol little brother, ''Piss Weak''.

It may have seemed hilarious during a late-night brain-storming session and Piss has managed to be a regular house tap beer at Melbourne's Great Britain Hotel since 1998, but, presumably, punters who order a ''pot of Piss'' are not particularly discerning, and the same might be said about those who subscribed to Blowfly - Australia's first online beer.

Bad timing or ill-judged releases could cover a whole flotilla of disappeared beer brands, and also highlights the fickleness of the local beer market. When Foster's launched Diamond Draft in 1996 it was promoted as ''low kilojoule, less bloating'' and it sank without trace; eight years later, Pure Blonde similarly targeted the waistline-conscious and went gangbusters.

Does anyone remember Tooheys Maxim? It was touted as a ''low carb'' beer when it appeared in 2001 but was perhaps ahead of its time.

Coopers has been a huge local success story but even it has had a couple of misfires. In the early '90s, it brought out Coopers Clear Ale, because research showed the majority of drinkers were turned off by cloudy beer. It failed to catch on and a decade later it released Coopers Heritage, a filtered pale beer that walked a thin line between ale and lager. It flopped at the same time sales of its cloudy Pale Ale broke new records.

Slick marketing alone doesn't often work with Aussie beer consumers. Alan Bond found that out when he tried to impose Swan Premium on the nation in the late '80s. At the same time, he re-packaged Swan Gold as a women's beer and failed just as spectacularly. Every subsequent new female-oriented beer brand has met a similar fate; women, it seems, want to drink beer on their own terms.

The Guinness ''surger unit'' seemed like an ingenious idea when it was unveiled six years ago. Designed for small venues lacking draught beer facilities, it replicated the famous tumble-and-settle effect of tap-poured Guinness through the medium of ultrasound waves. Guinness announced it was going to roll out 1000 surger units across Australia in the following 12 months. Has anyone spotted one of these dinosaurs, lately?

Crown Lager had been leaking sales for yonks when someone decided to spin-off Crown Pilsner and Crown Gold, a mid-strength brand. Both were fizzers.

Beer importers everywhere have been chasing the Corona phenomenon since it appeared on these shores in the late '80s.

If an ultra-bland Mexican lager in a slim-line bottle can sell its socks off, surely there's something else out there that can match it. Well, no. Notable floperoos include Sympatico, a watery Mexican lager in a painted black bottle, and Brahma, a Brazilian beer in a clear glass, kinky-waisted bottle.

Burke's Premium Hemp-Filtered Ale enjoyed a brief cult following until consumers discovered it was just another forgettable beer. A ''rum-infused, brewed beverage'' might have seemed a good idea for the Queensland market but Bundaberg Premium failed to take off. And MeZ - a beer, tequila and citrus concoction - met a similar fate.

Fickleness in the local beer market is nothing new, by the way. When Castlemaine XXXX Bitter Ale was launched in 1924, it took Queensland by storm; but when rival Perkins rolled out a 5X ale in reply it flopped, Perkins went broke and was soon bought out by its major competitor.

On a positive tasting note

The inaugural Trainworks Winter Beer Festival at Thirlmere on August 25 features a host of craft breweries, including Balmain, Feral, Holgate, HopDog BeerWorks, Illawarra, James Squire, Little Creatures, Matilda Bay, McLaren Vale, Mountain Goat, Murray's, Redoak, Riverside, Stone & Wood, 4 Pines, Little Brewing, The Rocks and Two Birds.

See trainworks.com.au.

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