ONE of Australia's largest beer companies has been hit with hefty fines and shamed by the nation's consumer watchdog for plugging a local Byron Bay lager, which had in fact been brewed and bottled hundreds of kilometres away.
Using images of Byron's iconic lighthouse and a map suggesting the beer came from the local Byron Bay Brewing company, Carlton & United Breweries began supplying its Byron Bay Pale Lager to the wider community last year.
An investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has since revealed that the Byron Bay Brewing Company only brewed the lager in kegs for sale on tap at its Arts Factory brewery and the bottled beer bearing its name came from the CUB brewery at Warnervale, north of Sydney.
The judgement does not apply to the Byron Bay Brewing Company's keg beer - only to the bottled beer produced under license by Carlton United Brewery.ACCC chairman Rod Sims confirmed on Tuesday that CUB had agreed to change the labelling and paid two fines, totalling $20,400.
Describing the advertising as "misleading", Mr Sims said the ACCC would be writing to other breweries and "putting them on notice".
"Many small brewers cater to consumers who prefer to support small, niche businesses," Mr Simms said.
"When large companies portray themselves as small businesses, it undermines the unique selling point that such small businesses depend upon, and it misleads consumers."
While the Byron Bay Brewing Company brewed the original beer, the ACCC found it had licensed to CUB the right to supply the lager Australia-wide. CUB acknowledged the labelling "may" have misled consumers.
The ACCC decision was welcomed by Jamie Cook from Byron Bay brewing company Stone & Wood, which despite the beer's growing popularity in past years, never outsourced to bigger companies.
While he believed local beer drinkers were "pretty savvy" and often read the fine print, Mr Cook said it was important for investigators to keep a tab on people who were "trying to pull the wool over their eyes".
However, Barry Schadel of the Byron Bay Brewing Company said his company had always tried to be up-front with customers.
"We contract our award winning Pale Lager to CUB and they brew our beer under license to exactly the same formula that we developed in our brewery at Byron Bay," he said.
"There are so many beer brands on the market that don't even disclose they are manufactured under license like the Byron Bay Brewery has always done with its contracted brands.
"The ACCC had an issue with the back label that needed to disclose the place of manufacture.
"The Byron Bay Pale Lager label has now been updated and approved by the ACCC to include the place of manufacture."
Mr Schadel warned the ACCC decision would "have a massive snowball effect to all companies that use contract manufacturers in the food and beverage industry".
"Its very difficult to bottle beer in small packing lines and maintain consistency of product , also micro bacteria can be a real headache for small craft breweries as well," he said.
"Our business model is very popular with small micro breweries world wide and works well for us.
"Our business model is to design and formulate award winning Craft beers that our customers can appreciate on site in the brewery.
"We have six house brands and seasonal beers for our customers to taste and test at front of house in our brewery/bar/restaurant.
"Our licensing agreement with CUB enables our gold medal Pale Lager to be produced and distributed nationally so our interstate and country customers can enjoy our beer at home."
"It's extremely important to us that our beer is manufactured to the exact formula that we create in the brewery at Byron Bay, so the consumer can be guaranteed that every time they taste one of our beers at home the purity and flavour is identical."
Mr Schadel defended his beer's Byron credentials, saying he had lived in the town 35 years and still lived only a few hundred metres from the Arts Factory brewery, which employed 20 people over winter and 30 over the summer months.
"The Byron Bay Premium Ale Brand was created by two mates in Byron Bay 10 years ago with only a Idea to produce an all natural brew," he said.
"The original brew was contracted and produced by the Blue tongue brewery .
"I purchased the fledgling company knowing that I had to build a brewery in Byron Bay that could grow the brands organically.
"After an 18 month search The old Piggery building at Skinners Shoot Road became available and it was the perfect site that captured the fame and spirit of Byron Bay .
"The piggery was the first venue for national and international live music in Byron and was the birth place of the blues festival back in 1990.
"With $3.6 million spent in the construction of the brewery and the total renovation of the restaurant and Bar in 2007 we continue the tradition of the Old Piggery with live entertainment in the brewery every week."
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