By James Atkinson

Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) is unmoved by a social media campaign calling on the brewer to be more transparent about its licensing agreement with boutique beer brand, Byron Bay Brewing Company.

CUB's public relations agency, Liquid Ideas, last week issued a press release announcing that Byron Bay Brewing Co, a small northern NSW brewery that is independently owned by Barry Schadel, had released its Pale Lager in packaged format.

The bottled beer was in fact produced by CUB at its brewery in Warnervale under a new licensing agreement with Byron Bay Brewing Company. 

But as with the packaging of the beer itself, the press release did not disclose that CUB had any involvement in the production or rollout of the new beer.

In an open letter to Carlton & United Breweries CEO Ari Mervis, beer writer Matt Kirkegaard called for the brewer to be more transparent in its marketing of the beer.

"When I read the media release, it seemed to be strongly suggesting that the beer was being brewed and bottled solely by the Byron Bay Brewing Company," Kirkegaard says.

"Without an intimate knowledge of the Australian beer market, anyone reading the media release or seeing the beer's packaging would be very surprised to learn that the beer is actually being made, marketed and distributed by Carlton and United Breweries, albeit under licence," he says.

"The way that your company is marketing this beer, at the very least, lacks transparency. At its worst, it could appear that your company is actively seeking to hide your involvement from the consumer."

But Byron Bay Brewing Company owner Barry Schadel told TheShout he didn't understand why he should have to declare CUB's involvement in expanding the distribution of a brand that he created and continues to own outright.

"It's not their product, it's my product. It's ridiculous," he said.

CUB spokesman Jeremy Griffith told TheShout that he would understand the reaction if Byron Bay Brewing Company was owned by CUB, but it's still Barry Schadel's brand.

"We are providing the opportunity for a small craft brewery to expand its distribution and bring its beer to a national market," he said.

"We think this a positive step. The beer and brewery remain independently owned by Barry Schadel."

page entitled "Dear Ari Mervis: Please Fix It" has attracted 263 'likes' on Facebook since it was created on Monday.

The incident continues an international debate over transparency in labelling of beers. 

The Brewers Association – which represents small and independent American craft brewers – recently said large, multinational brewers "appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today's small and independent brewers". 

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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  1. Thanks for looking into the story James, you seem to be the only drinks media representative that has managed to get a response from CUB.

    As for that response, Mr Schadel can question all he likes about why ‘he’ should have to put CUB’s name on ‘his’ label, but I expect that under the licensing agreement it is CUB’s label and therefore CUB’s responsibility to disclose. It was certainly CUB’s media release that failed to disclose it.

    I am sure that if I am wrong on any material point CUB will correct me and explain the precise nature of this licensing agreement.

    I will also point at that the last time Mr Schadel licensed his beer, to Barons, he did let consumers know. Perhaps he can explain what has changed this time?

    Matt Kirkegaard

  2. I have long maintained that it is important that consumers can make purchasing decisions with full knowledge of where, and by, whom food and beverage products are made and/or packaged. Beer should not be an exception and so it should be mandatory for such information to be to be indicated on all labels and promotional material. This, I know, may be in breach of confidentiality clauses in some contrast brewing agreements but I think it only right that we know ‘who brews what for whom. For example, does labelling such as ‘Brewed by or under licence for [name & address of brewing co concerned] tell us all we want/need to know? Such labelling is, however, preferable to that which is blatantly or overtly misleading.

  3. In some cases I believe that some brewers intentionally do not disclose who produces their products for fear of being detrimental to their brand. For example, Matso’s Brewery, located in Broome, WA, have their packaged beer bottled under contract by Gage Roads Brewery in Perth. The label on the bottle only states the Broome address for the brewery/pub. No indication for where it is brewed is disclosed at all. If the consumer knew that this was in fact produced in Perth, not Broome, would the brand be viewed somewhat differently? Although, in saying that, I don’t think the majority of consumers really care where the products are produced, as long as the taste is consistent every time.

  4. Hi James,
    Does Matt also think that small brewers that use contract breweries should disclose where, and who specifically is working the pots and pans in production?
    This is an important point in his ‘campaign’..

  5. Sumo – Not sure why you’d ask James what he thinks I’d think but, but
    As you’ve asked, I think contract brewers should be open about it too. This is even more so in the case where the contracting brewery’s brand is closely tied to a geographic location.

    In the case of a brand such as Mountain Goat, I don’t think people will care much are all and it is very marginal a question for them ,but unless breweries such they are clear, everyone else just tries to get a little advantage over everyone else until the line has slipped right down to the case with CUB.

    This is not a ‘campaign’ about contracting. Byron is a great venue and CUB have made a high quality product. But people do care about who make their beer and this is a very clear case where they are not being told.

    If you’re interested in my thoughts on the benefits of contract brewing you can read them here:

  6. Matt – I asked James as it’s his article about your campaign.. geez.

    I wasn’t being critical of James’ piece but clearly it leads to the obvious talk on contracting.. and since this is a discussion generated by James, it’d kinda seem odd to address comments to you.. (?)

    Appreciate the link.
    For what it’s worth I agree with you.. simply put, anything that educates the consumer must surely be a good thing… despite the risk of consumers either;
    declining a great beer due to it being made by a large commercial operation..
    or equally due to it being made by a third party.

    Some of my frequent purchases
    are crafted lovingly at contract breweries… I’d hate to think what I missed out on if I had some kind of elitism blinkers on.

  7. Sumo – sorry if I seemed touchy! Agree regarding contract. My only issue is that in a brewing industry that admits there is a problem, no-one thinks the problem is them. Everyone has a reason for not telling, and it’s generally “why should I when X doesn’t?”. The end result is something like CUB coming in and simply licencing a brand that it has no prior connection to, not brewing it in the town bearing its name and saying “hey everyone else is doing it” even though they have taken it that step further again.

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