The brew sets out to honour Bob Hawke, the Australian prime minister from 1983-91, who is as well known Down Under for his thirst as for his politics.
Clearly worse for wear after Australia won the Americas Cup yacht regatta during his first year in power, he famously announced that “any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up [the following day] is a bum”.
The craft beer that carries his name, Hawke’s Lager, is the brainchild of two Aussies, Nathan Lennon and David Gibson, who spent Australia Day two years ago in a New York bar discussing who they would most like to have a beer with.
“It was unanimous that it would be Bob Hawke,” says Luke Langton, a seasoned alcohol industry marketeer who joined the pair to take the idea further. “We all saw eye to eye and it progressed from there. The three of us formed a partnership and turned that idea into a brand. We took our proposal to Mr Hawke.”
Langton says the former politician was immediately receptive to their pitch, especially the “three pillars” of the brand: namely that it should be about Hawke’s values; produce good-quality craft beer; and have “an element of giving back”.
“When we took that to him, he immediately came on board and offered to give his share to Landcare, Australia’s biggest non-profit environmental organisation. He helped set it up in the Eighties, and it went from there.”
When we put it to Langton that engaging a politician as a figurehead might potentially reduce a brand’s market, perhaps by alienating those who do not agree with Hawke’s politics, he appears surprised.
“Not at all. All Australians would want to have a beer with him, one hundred per cent,” he says. “Everything he’s done represents what we regard as being Australian. He’s also a bloke who can have a beer in the pub with his mates.
“This brand is about quality beer and giving back. We have launched the beer and had overwhelming response to the quality of the product, and overwhelming response about the brand itself.”
Hawke’s Lager, which is brewed from Australian ingredients, is currently rolling out in 11 select Sydney pubs—dubbed Hawke’s First XI—before becoming available at other retail outlets.
"This [project] is particularly exciting because it combines a couple of my loves. I've been known to enjoy the odd beer, occasionally a quick one," Hawke quipped at the launch.
"As you sip that Hawke's lager, you'll be making a contribution to the environment and to your country.”
Langton believes the business, Hawke’s Brewing Co., is the first Australian craft beer maker to engage a public figure in this way. But though it looks like a natty attempt at branding by two former advertising creatives, he stresses the quality of the brew itself, which is described as having "a subtle citrus aroma, light bitterness and a gentle, dry finish”.
“Our head brewer, Justin Fox, is one of Australia’s premier craft brewers. He’s the man behind the beer. For us it was about formulating a great-quality recipe and brewing it accordingly,” he says, adding that the lager is produced at a contract facility.
Having such a well-known international figurehead cannot hurt the brand’s chances of entering the export market at some stage, Langton agrees, though he feels the “power of the brand” lies on home turf, where he hopes to grow the range with more labels once the business can support more staff—possibly even by the Australian summer later this year.
That a product born of a pub conversation in New York will now fuel many more discussions in Sydney is testament to the Labor PM’s personal brand, and the team behind it acknowledge this.
Langton adds: “There are not many figures in Australia that we think are as well fitting, culturally, as Bob Hawke is.
"It’s really not something we would ever have thought of doing if it hadn’t been for my colleagues’ genuine desire to have a beer with Mr Hawke.”