Parallel import beer taste test

How do premium imported beers shape up against the locally brewed versions?
 
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01 .Introduction

beer

We've tasted Peroni, Stella, Heineken and other imported favourites to find how the premium imports match up against their locally brewed versions.

About the taste test

  • Imported brands and their locally brewed counterparts were purchased from local bottle shops around Sydney.
  • Experts were presented with unlabelled pairs of local and imported beers and asked to arrive at a score out of 20 for each, taking into account appearance, aroma, flavour and technical composition.
  • We bought beers that were on the shelf, whatever the best before date, to replicate what is generally available to the consumer at any one point in time.

How do parallel beer imports work?

Each franchised brew comes with its own brand manual outlining the intrinsic properties of the beer, right down to equipment, raw materials and even the composition of the water used at the brewery.

When you order an imported beer off the menu at your local restaurant, it would seem reasonable to attribute the premium price to the cost of shipping Peroni from Italy, Stella from Belgium or Grolsch from a canal-side beer hall in Holland. But this isn’t always the case.

International beer giant SABMiller, which took control of the formerly Australian-owned Foster’s in December last year, brews a handful of European beers right here in Australia, including Grolsch and Peroni Nastro, both of which are brewed at the Bluetongue Brewery on the NSW Central Coast. 

Danish Carlsberg and French Kronenbourg 1664 are brewed under licence by Foster’s. Lion also has a share of the market, responsible for the local brewing of Dutch brand Heineken and German Beck’s.

Head brewer at the Bluetongue Brewery, Paul Feasey, says there are many factors beyond country of origin that can influence the flavour of a beer. Each franchised brew comes with its own brand manual outlining the intrinsic properties of the beer, right down to equipment, raw materials and even the composition of the water used at the brewery. 

“We do everything we possibly can that is in line with the brands in their home countries,” says Feasey – including shipping in Italian maize to brew the local Peroni Nastro and European hops to ensure Grolsch remains true to its Dutch heritage. In order to uphold his commitment to authentic flavour, Feasey tastes the beers every day and sends monthly samples to the home breweries for feedback.

To welcome the beginning of spring, CHOICE enlisted a panel of seven beer experts who brew, buy or imbibe for a living to bring imported European beers face to face with their brewed-locally- under-licence counterparts.

Fresh is best

“Age makes a big difference,” says Feasey, who argues little can be done to prevent flavour degrading over time. 

“If you drank a fresh Peroni here today and then flew to Italy and drank a fresh Peroni in Rome, they would taste identical. The problem is, a container can take eight weeks to get here and spend three to six weeks at the docks in temperatures that can reach 70-80°C at certain times of the year.”

Panellist Ian Watson told CHOICE that beer starts deteriorating shortly after bottling and tastes best at the seven-day mark, although Feasey believes ideal consumption time can be stretched out to three months. 

The Australian industry standard requires that all beers brewed for consumption here be labelled with a best-before date of nine months after the date of bottling, although Feasey says a six-month shelf life would be preferable to get more fresh beer into the market.

 
 

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