#32 – Stoke Bomber Smoky Ale

Good, but probably not good enough.

Name: McCashin Family Original Stoke Bomber Smoky Ale
Style: Smoked Ale
Brewed by: McCashin Family brewery (Nelson, New Zealand)
Alc: 5.7% abv.
Price: $10/650ml bottle @ Thorndon New World.

Today’s review is brought to you by the letters ™.

Lots of baggage with this beer. Following on from the kerfuffle caused when Montieths trademarked the term ‘radler’ (which I ranted about in review #12), earlier this year Stoke decided to do the same to, er, protect the term ‘bomber’ in reference to their 650ml bottle size. It’s bad enough when DB does this sort of thing, but when it’s one of your own, as McCashin’s or Stoke (whatever they want to call themselves) were considered to be, it’s been a bitter pill for many to swallow. But are they really still one of the good guys? On the flashy but almost entirely useless website mentioned on the label, you’ll notice – eventually, if you look for it – they’ve even gone to the lengths of trademarking the water they use (and sell on the side, in either sparkling or clear form). A little further investigation reveals some quite astounding claims: that the Paleolithic era is also known as the glacial era, and lasted from 26k to 14k years ago. Oh, and these guys reckon they use the purest water in the world. There’s more. In a claim that could easily have come out of an advertisement from DB themselves, McCashins apparently “revolutionised the way beer was produced”, and continue to pioneer beer-making today. Me, I reckon some kiwi brewers and drinkers would like a quiet word with them especially about this last bit. But why pay attention to these kinds of things? Isn’t it just pedantic nit-picking? Well, it matters to me because I am of a suspicious and frugal nature, and I tend to judge a brewer’s range on any and all aspects of their craft, not just my own very fallible senses when I encounter a solitary example. So if it looks like festering, insidious brandwank, and if it sounds like festering, insidious brandwank then I would say some fairly reasonable suppositions suggest themselves, and if you want to convince me that you’re still genuinely trying to produce interesting, rewarding brews and not just trying to get those contemptible proles to shell out for your particular brand of yellow, turgid swill you’d better have made a very, very good beer (/rant).

This is a good beer. Not quite very good. Hazy, darkish amber with a decent enough off-white foamy head, there’s an unusual (to me) floral, perhaps resiny woodiness to the aroma, maybe some subtle coconut, maybe something else. Imagine walking into a Body Shop with a wheelbarrow of good, sappy firewood (while you have a bit of a head cold) and you’ll be close to what I was thinking. The flavour has only a subtle smokiness – I was expecting and hoping for more – but it certainly isn’t disagreeable. There’s a light tang, as promised, with a slight pepperiness as well and the sweet caramel/toffee malts are prominent; I didn’t get a lot of roastiness. It feels nicely creamy in the mouth but still with a tingle on the tongue and there’s a lingering, sticky, slightly sweet finish. Overall there’s a lot of subtle complexity going on that tells me some care went into this, but it isn’t anywhere near as good as it thinks it is and I think the label oversells it just a touch.

So to accompany this beer I would suggest a course of Evermore, a local band made up of three brothers that has, one feels, done bewilderingly well in Australia, a band who started off with some well-crafted pop, if a bit lacking in finesse, who then became oddly bland, then unconvincingly synthy and confused, and then minogued an unwarranted greatest hits album. They had certainly tried a lot of things over their long (almost eight-year!) career leading up to this album, whether in pursuit of commercial appeal or artistic vision it’s difficult to say – at least without being unkind – and though they’ve certainly achieved something it’s fair to say not all of it worked along the way. And yet, for all the restless, eager complexity and scattergun approach nothing about the band (or indeed the beer, which was the point of all this) seems to stand out in particular. It feels like a swing and a miss. Perhaps I’m being unfair, perhaps it’s just Evermore irked me when I saw them supporting Jimmy Barnes in Dunedin in the mid 00’s and they faffed about onstage for a good ten minutes after the bass player broke a string (hey, admittedly it almost never happens but professionalism counts, lads. Have a back-up next time) the same way Stoke have irked me with the whole “bomber” thing. Perhaps it’s just it grinds my gears when I see overblown claims to greatness or unjustly forgiven mediocrity, particularly when no-one bothers to reward my own far more profound mediocrity. Or perhaps it’s just there really is something here that promises much and that I don’t get. Something worthwhile and appealing that has earned the admiration of a wide range of people…who aren’t me.

Verdict: More delicate complexity than bold intensity, good but not quite good enough to compete with the better NZ beers or to ignore the baggage that comes with drinking this brewery’s products. 58/100

One thought on “#32 – Stoke Bomber Smoky Ale

  1. There’s a remarkable level of brandwank developing in the craft beer (and craft beer wannabe) segment – coughMoacoughsplutter. Plus I thought the lesson from the Radler debacle was that trademarking random things you didn’t invent was considered poor form by the people who care about such things – IPONZ clearly being in the category of people who don’t care about these things.

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