Every British beer drinkers knows Foster's - an 'Aussie' lager brewed under licence in the UK, the second-biggest beer brand in the country. I like lager as much as ale and I try to keep an open mind, but I used some in a beer tasting recently (they wanted to learn about lager) and a can from the supermarket proved utterly undrinkable - not just in my opinion, but in that of the beer-tasting novices who had poured it from a can and really thought about the flavour for the first time in their lives. Maybe that's why Foster's these days trumpets the virtues of 'extra-cold' so loudly in their ads.
Not a lot of Brits know that Foster's lager is also available in the US. And today, when I was looking at funnies on The Onion, I was held up by a banner ad for their latest product launch:
Yes, Foster's has launched an ALE. At least, it claims to be an ale. It has caramel colouring added, and may be a lager in disguise, but the website makes a great deal of how it tastes different from the lager: caramel and fruit aromas versus 'light malt aroma', and a 'smooth caramel finish' rather than a 'light hop finish'. More interestingly, the beer aficionados at beeradvocate say on the whole that it tastes pretty decent. I'm sure it will never give the likes of Stone or Dogfish Head sleepless nights, they've seemingly launched a perfectly drinkable beer.
It makes me want to cry, really it does. What does it say about this country and its attitude to beer that this kind of launch would be unthinkable here? Crucially, Foster's in the UK is brewed and marketed by S&N Heineken, whereas it's a Miller brand in the US. But Miller are here too, doing a very good job of Peroni and Pilsner Urquell, and they show not the slightest intention of going anywhere near ale.
This is not a CAMRA rant; it's a flavour rant, the latest example of how beer is summarily excluded by drinkers, major corporate brewers and food and drink writers alike from the revolution that's happening on the British palate. Every year it feels like we make little bits of progress, then something like this makes you see how far there is to go.