Anybody who knows where the town of Plzen is located is probably a bit of a beer geek. Plzen translates to Pilsen in German, and is the home of Pilsner beer. First brewed in 1842, the Pilsner style was a clear, slightly hoppy style beer that was very different to the much darker Ale that had been commonplace across Europe for centuries beforehand. If you’re a true beer fan you’ve possibly visited Plzen and been to the Pilsner Urquell factory – if you haven’t, it’s something that should be on the bucket list of every true beer geek as the factory tour is a fantastic experience.
Boundary Road is a brand of Independent Liquor, a company created by New Zealander Michael Erceg in 1987. Erceg was a true genius, who was sadly killed in a helicopter crash in 2005. Erceg pretty much created the ready to drink (RTD) market in New Zealand and in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Independent Liquor tightly controlled this highly profitable market with other players struggling to gain any traction in the market. In the early 2000’s beer became a growth area of the business as supermarket beer sales quickly took market share from traditional bottle stores that were at the time owned by industry giants DB and Lion Breweries. This allowed Independent Liquor jumped at the chance to gain traction in the beer market by aggressively pushing product in supermarkets, as they had previously been unable to do this in bottle stores owned by their much larger competitors. Some of this beer was terrible (Ranfurly anybody?) but as with the RTD market, they targeted price conscious consumers and quickly gained market share in the off premise market. The addition of some large imported brands such as Grolsch and Carlsberg gave them a portfolio of products that allowed them to compete head-on with DB and Lion offerings in the marketplace.
After Erceg was sadly killed in a helicoper crash with Grolsch executive Guus Klatte in 2005, Independant Liquor was ultimately sold to a private equity companies Unitas Capital and Pacific Equity Partners. It was then sold to Japanese company Asahi in 2011. In recent years they have continued with a strategy of flooding the market with products and hoping that large supermarket end displays and multiple facings of cheap beer would drive growth, and to some extent this has strategy has paid off. Whether the significant amount of money that would have been spent on Public Relations companies to drive this strategy was money well spent is a hot topic of debate, as attempting to grow the Ranfurly Brand failed miserably with what must rank as one of New Zealand’s worst ever advertising campaign. As to whether their beer is any good is also a hot topic of discussion – Boundary Road have numerous “craft” beer brands and consider themselves a “craft” brewer however many of their products are anything but unique. There is a significant market of price conscious customers who aren’t worried about the quality of their beer, and they are doing well in this category.
All of this leads to the horrible revelation that Independent Breweries don’t actually know how to spell Plzen. I was given a dozen Boundary Road Bouncing Czech beer a few weeks ago and yesterday decided to drink one while engaging in the great Kiwi tradition of cooking food on the BBQ. The beer was very average for a Pilsner style, but what was worse was the spelling. Where in the world is Pizen? One can assume that they actually mean Plzen (note the l rather than an i). Considering that the Pilsner style beer has only been brewed since 1842 their reference to the world “centuries” also seems a little strange.
I think a certain company is in need of not only a better Pilsner recipe, but also a history lesson and spelling lesson as well.
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