Is it an Aussie classic in a can?
“We’ve got those Mick Fanning beers in if you want to try one. We’ve been selling heaps.” The guy at the bottle-shop had me. I felt like that sucker of a kid who’d just walked into the corner store and seen the new flavoured ice cream or chocolate he wanted.
Two minutes later he dropped a two-tone cream and green can of Balter XPA in front of me and asked for seven bucks. Sure it was Bondi but I had to admit I winced a little at the price. Mick and his beer-tinkling mates who are in on Balter (including Josh Kerr, Bede Durbidge and Joel Parkinson) had obviously aimed to place their boutique ale on the Bottlo top shelf.
“How much for a six pack?” I queried. They actually come in a four-pack and they’re 22 bucks.” Again the tight-arse within roared, but I had to have just one. (A case of 16 Balters was $65)
Once in possession of my prized new pro surfing beer I took a moment on the couch to examine it. It immediately occurred to me that Mick and his mates had done something far more ambitious than endeavour to win a world title, they’d attempted to introduce a beer can that would make an impact on the Australian public. In OZ beer cans are iconic and the tinny you thrust forth at a barbie is in many ways an extension of your identity. Who could mistake the staunch green and red of a VB, the warm yellow glow of a XXXX, the bold blue of a Tooheys new, the striking red of a WA Emu Export and perhaps somewhere in the backblocks of our memories the golden sparkle of a KB lager.
So what does Balter have to offer against this calibre of competition? As mentioned the special sealed can (better than regular cans according to the guy at the bottlo) features a pastel aqua and cream combo, which some-how reminds me of the blue, pin-line you often see on Fanning’s boards. Up against the other colourful cans it strives for stylish understatement. The graphics include a smiley face and a gift-card kinda message, “From us to you with enjoyment.” You won’t find that kind of cutesy goodwill on those other canned beers that you "drink down hard". Nor will you see a jazzy description of the flavours that includes phrases like, “A fruity palette that will punch your taste buds in the pleasure zone”. It’s certainly a long way from the macho 'Australiana' of old and tag lines like the one from the famed VB ad – “A hard earned thirst that needs a big cold beer.”
Everything about Balter suggests it’s angled towards the modern beer drinker who wants to lend a hint of sophistication and fun to their beer purchase. It’s a craft beer, but drinking it out of a fancy can is suppose to make it cooler and a little more risqué. In the sensible four pack, with the mellow colours and the feel good message, you could get away with taking it to a BBQ where you meet your girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Explain to the future father in law as you hand him a Balter that the guy who nearly got eaten by a shark went on to make his own beer. He'd have to be impressed with you and Mick.
Enough with the academics of the external aesthetics. What does it taste like?
Although another one of those printed messages on the can suggest it’s better from a glass it seems somehow sac-religious not to enjoy the first sample through aluminium lips. Kshhhhh! The sound of a tinny opening still has a certain allure, like the first crashing wave in a paddle out.
As the description implies, that all-important first hit of flavour is definitely akin to swallowing a packet of fruit tingles, but after a couple of mouthfuls the after-taste kicks in with a decidedly heavier undertone. The end result is a beer that’s delightfully flavoursome, but with enough body to ensure you don’t feel like it’s an alcoholic soft drink. The four pack option makes sense because despite being easy to down, it’s the sort of beer that is better sipped and savoured than guzzled. However, for those more accustomed to the drier taste of a VB or a Tooheys new it might be a leap of faith.
Call me a yuppy or a beer snob, but despite the iconic status of the Australian beers mentioned before, I never much liked the taste of them. Perhaps it was because as a four-year-old I apparently went wandering on the hill at the Sydney Cricket Ground and got drunk on the dregs of the beer cans that were lying around. Maybe I never got over that initial cheap beer hangover.
Based on one taste, in a king of the Aussie cans contest I’ll pick Balter every time, even if it does hit the bank account a little harder. However, if Fanning and co are to achieve the perfect fusion between beer and surfing, there still remains one major challenge to topple. In the 80s Mark Richards and Barton Lynch both featured in Tooheys ads. While MR had his own fabulous jingle, Barton jived and snapped to the sound of James Brown’s classic ‘I feel good’.
Call them cornball if you like, at the time the ads took surfing to a new level and funnily enough gave it a mainstream legitimacy it had struggled to achieve by simply appearing on brief segments of Wide World of Sports.
Imagine Mick and the Balter boys collaborating on their own beer commercial – something a little more upbeat and quintessentially Australian than the engaging but decidedly low-ebb Corona adds. After all aren’t they the two things in the world Australia does best – beer and surfing.
In any case It’s nearly knock off time on a Friday arvo, what better time to do your own taste test on a Balter.
Note: There will probably be waves tomorrow. It never pays to let your beer count jeopardise your barrel quota.