WHOSE BABY IS THAT?
The first thing that you have to know in order to understand why the James Ready brand exists is that the Oland family, scions of Maritime brewing, had extraordinarily bad luck with their breweries based in Halifax. The brewery burned down in 1878 when fire from a kiln sparked some timbers and the whole place went up. They recovered from that brewery disaster just in time for another fire to gut the building less than a decade later. Everything went along tolerably well until 1917 when the Mont Blanc exploded in Halifax harbour and levelled basically everything. Not only was there no brewery, there was no city.
Since building a new brewery was out of the question, they purchased a few. In 1918, it was the Red Ball brewery in Saint John, NB. Then, in 1928, they purchased both the Alexander Keith and Son brewery in Halifax and the James Ready brewery in Saint John. As far as I’m aware, none of these breweries ever burnt down or fell over.
If you take over a brewery, you’re disinclined to continue using their brands, especially if you’re a family of brewers well into its third generation. The James Ready company had registered Moosehead as a trademark and it had never been used. A brand new brand for a new province.
The James Ready brand came out of mothballs in 2003, 75 years after the purchase. While some of the brands are available in New Brunswick, the majority of them exist only within Ontario.
WHAT’S THEIR ANGLE?
The nice thing about James Ready is that what marketing there is, is supremely basic. The website provides a relatively minimal amount of information about the actual product, but it does so in a relatively entertaining way. This is a good thing, because the target audience for the discount beer section doesn’t really care all that much. It gives you a sense of the lineup and has some attractive graphic design that persists throughout the lineup of products.
This is basically targeted at young beer drinkers, probably between 19 -25. It’s got “THE BUTTON OF AWESOMENESS” which links to pictures of tolerably diverting stuff (which would probably be more diverting after a couple of cold James Ready products) and, inexplicably, a short youtube clip from Caddyshack. This probably suggests that if the beer is good enough for Carl Spackler and his ball washer, it’s good enough for you.
It’s a pretty good example of Resource to Efficacy in marketing. The website never has to change and most of the effort goes into social media through Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook presence is especially impressive because people send in content and whoever is running the thing is swift on their feet. They updated to crowdsource content on the Super Bowl power outage for pity’s sake.
I can’t imagine that it costs much to maintain the brand, but it looks good and is handled well.
WOULD I BUY THAT?
Being as this is the first actual review of DISCOUNT BEER FEBRUARY, I don’t know whether I’m starting out lenient and will eventually become somewhat more stringent. Will the sameness of the category eventually drive me to use increasingly gimmicky ways to describe very similar flavours? Will I do one in Homeric couplets just to entertain myself? We shall see. Either way, the nice people at James Ready got their samples in first, which is a bit risky.
James Ready 5.5% is a lager of some variety or other, but the website doesn’t specify. The Beer Store website says Lager comma Pale. The aroma, typical of an adjunct lager is grain and corn, but there is a hint of floral noble hop in there. While it’s relatively sweet, it’s actually fairly soft on the palate and there is some noticeable hop bitterness in the mid palate and on the finish. I think it’s a little dark in colour for a Pale Lager, and the mouthfeel is actually not entirely unlike a Munich Helles if you discount the adjunct.
VERDICT: For the money, this is a deal better than you might expect. I have had beer that I liked a lot less than this. Not only did I finish the can, but I had a second one while watching Monday Night Raw.
James Ready Lager has less to recommend it. There’s no real hop presence here and this falls pretty squarely into the American Adjunct Lager style. It has a slightly sour finish to it that I don’t find appealing. It’s a little like Gertrude Stein’s opinion on Oakland: “There is no there there.” Now, typically, for the people who will be buying and drinking this, that’s not a problem.
VERDICT: I can’t really recommend this one, but that’s because it doesn’t really do anything except contain alcohol. Since I’m trying to remain positive for the month ahead, I will point out that it laced nicely in the glass and retained its head well.
However, doing something is sometimes worse than doing nothing, and that brings us to James Ready 6.0%. It displays every bit of its alcoholic content in the aroma and it’s worlds too sweet. The finish is vaguely medicinal while remaining cloying. It lingers on the palate like smoke in a hallway. I know that I’m not the target audience for this one, but I can’t see what would recommend it even to the layman except of course for the extra 0.5% alcohol. In university, sometimes the ol’ wobbly pop is enough of a sales pitch.
VERDICT: A world of no. A whole solar system of no. Nice looking cans.
Finally, there’s good news. James Ready Original Ale is actually interesting!
The Beer Store suggests that it’s a Blonde Ale, but it’s closer to a cross between English Pale and ESB. The aroma has some toasted whole grain bread, toffee and some roast character like coffee. There’s maybe a hint of diacetyl, but it’s low and probably stylistically appropriate. If it had slightly more bitterness and body, I think you would have been hard pressed to differentiate between this and Ontario Pale Ales ca. 2007.
VERDICT: If this were coming out of a craft brewery, I would be inclined to turn my nose up at it. Given its provenance and price point, it’s actually kind of awesome. The only real downside is that it only comes in two-fours, meaning that I shall have to begin looking for recipients for some of the remaining bottles.