Something Doesn’t Taste Right:
Sam and Jack Davies, two brothers from Adelaide, managed to clinch a sizeable investment to take their home-brewed, craft beer to new heights. The two had developed a taste for artisanal lagers after a trip to Germany for the ever-famous Oktoberfest, a world-renowned beer-centric event held annually in Munich.
The investment came following the launch of their dark, smoky-flavoured lager at a small event they held in August of 2010, when a Chinese businessman happened to stumble upon their marquee. He was taken by their charm, enthusiasm, dedication to their trade and, of course, the unique taste that Sam and Jack had managed to produce. On the day of their launch, they noticed him lingering around their promotions stand, as he watched to see how many people took a shine to their product and how many units they managed to sell – needless to say, he was impressed enough to front them a few extra thousand for marketing purposes, in exchange for distribution rights in Hong Kong and a percentage of their profits.
Sam and Jack wanted to use only the finest ingredients in their beer, so before settling on which ones to use, the pair spent months travelling around Australia, stockpiling different samples of malts, yeasts, hops and even rice. They ordered small batches of their chosen ingredients, went home and began brewing.
Having been to Oktoberfest and tasted some of the world’s most extraordinary beers, Sam and Jack produced a wide range of different variations, based on the ingredients they managed to source and, albeit those ingredients were some of the finest in Australia, the brothers were not overly impressed by the lagers they initially created. Some were too soft on the pallet; others were far too course – one particular batch from a strain of hops they’d sourced from Tasmania was so alcoholic after the fermentation that they feared it wouldn’t even be legal to sell it as “beer.” As such, after spending close to two years developing their brew, they decided that it would be best to order their ingredients in from overseas; from Germany and Holland, to be precise.
Although the two Aussies had vacationed there before, neither of them spoke a word of German, or Dutch for that matter, and moreover, neither did they have any idea of where to start their search for the ingredients they needed.
With that being said, Jack had taken the initiative to take a few flyers and business cards from some of the breweries they bought their beers from in Germany and so, they began making phone calls. Unfortunately, their questions were generally met with unsympathetic responses, a lack of understanding or simply no answer whatsoever. So the two turned their attention to agencies; they were looking for a professional, in Germany, that could source a variety of ingredients for them, have them sent over to Australia for production and then, depending on the results, order in bulk.
After spending weeks on the internet, making hundreds of phone calls and sending a multitude of emails, Sam received a reply from Heinrich Rötter, a networking specialist in a small town just outside Munich called, Freising. Heinrich’s English wasn’t the best, but it was enough for him to understand what the pair needed and he managed to pull a few strings and have a batch of 267 different samples of local hops, malts and yeast strains sent over.
Given how strict Australia’s borders are in terms of importing any plant matter, Heinrich, Sam and Jack had to make sure that their shipments had all the necessary paperwork, that the ingredients were packaged correctly and that each had undergone a series of anti-parasite checks before making their way to the brothers’ home brewery. Thankfully, their father had previously been involved with importing products from overseas on a large scale, and so was able to lend a hand in ensuring that everything in their paperwork was in order. After all, it would have cost them a fair bit to have had everything seized!
Three months later, the shipment arrived. Sam and Jack, excited as ever, drove to the depot in their father’s Ute to pick everything up and raced home to set their beers up for brewing.
Being as analytical as possible about every single litre they produced, the pair documented everything they could about every batch; how many micrograms of each ingredient they used and in what combinations; the time delay between adding one ingredient before another; the temperatures at which their brews were being maintained; how often they would increase or lower it and by how much. They even went as far as to trial different filtration methods, their most anticipated of which was crushed coal, leaves and petals from flowering Golden Wattles; Australia’s National Tree. The tree itself is known for its wide variety of uses, the most interesting of which, to Sam and Jack, was its tannin production and the fragrance of its flowers. They hoped that these two traits would entwine themselves into their lager to give it a unique finish.
Two years later, in 2008, after taste-testing over 1,000 variations of their brew, the brothers whittled down the selection to just 3 that they wanted to share. They needed feedback before they set out for mass production and they wanted to enter the market with just one, awe-inspiring lager. As such, over the next few weeks, they set up numerous stalls at festivals, gigs and even a few pubs to let people taste the beers for free, asking them which they preferred and why. It was unanimous and, not only did their one particular flavour win the hearts of so many, but it was revelled in its complexity, light finish and refreshing taste.
Sam and Jack, as excited as ever, immediately got Heinrich on the phone and made their order; enough to produce 15,000 litres for further marketing. They also set about creating the lager’s iconic logo, designed, helpfully, by their youngest sister, Valerie, and it was after this production and a hefty marketing push, that they met Ying Liú, their Chinese business associate, and now partner.
Further to Mr Liú’s investment, Sam and Jack were also able to win the hearts of numerous local bars, pubs, bistros and restaurants, all of whom wanted to sell their premium lager, and so over the next four years, the brothers were able to expand their breweries, away from home, and develop a real, sustainable and profitable business.
However, early on in 2015 when the brewery had just entered its final stages of production for a 500,000 litre batch, Sam noticed something was very wrong. The pre-taste test from the initial 1,000 litres was way off the mark – it tasted nothing like it was supposed to. Very concerned, Jack and their father raced over to the site and too were dumbfounded at what had happened. They checked everything to ensure that nothing in their set-up had changed and to their utter confusion, indeed everything was just as it was supposed to be. They inspected the remnants of the ingredients they had left over and found little in the way of any evidence to suggest an error there either. Now they were stuck.
They debated whether to sell on the tainted stock without saying anything, but risk losing their clients if someone realised that the taste had changed so much – to note, it had become more acidic, the lager was lighter in colour and the smoky flavour they were aiming for was far in excess of what they’d hoped. All-in-all, it wasn’t a nice beer anymore. Hugh, Sam and Jack’s father, told them to inform Ying immediately and ask him what they should do, as, after all, her was their sole investor at the time and was expecting 200,000 litres within a few months to sell on in China.
Ying was incredibly disappointed, to say the least, but was also adamant to have the original brew made available again and so, through a connection and previous client of ours, Mr Liú recommended that Sam and Jack have their German agent investigated, considering he was the only link in the chain that could have put a foot wrong. Further, and to their great surprise, Ying also offered to pay for the service.
And so, after a call to Precise Investigation, Sam and Jack arranged to have one of our specialist operatives, through our dedicated global network, pay Mr Rötter a visit – discretely of course. We were able to pin-point Heinrich’s home and office addresses within a few hours, and so set about installing hidden cameras and audio equipment in and around his place of work. Our operative managed to gain entry by posing as a courier, making his way into Heinrich’s office. There he managed to make enough of a scene by leaving his bag behind; then his mobile phone; losing his way within the building; asking to pee; then asking for water – and in the process, planting one small camera on the window’s edge just behind Mr Rötter’s desk, in view of his computer screen, with the transmitter tucked away neatly behind the blind, one microphone and its transmitter secured to the underside of his desk and a small bug placed on the back of the water cooler.
Immediately after the placement, the operative informed Sam to get in touch with Heinrich to place another order. As the call was being made, our operative, along with a German associate, listened in and watched Mr Rötter’s movements carefully. Within just five minutes of the call being made, the investigator at the scene was able to see what Heinrich was up to; instead of placing the order with the original traders and paying the relatively higher fees for the organic ingredients, Mr Rötter was palming the order off onto a much smaller, cheaper supplier… thinking that Sam and Jack wouldn’t notice the difference. Considering they were still paying the higher price, Heinrich had obviously taken a chance to make a few extra bucks, by charging the same rate as he had before, but now buying a much cheaper product.
Following the discovery, Hugh, acting as Sam and Jack’s lawyer, sent a stern email to Heinrich, informing him that they had discovered what had happened and, in light of the situation, wished to cancel their contract and that the names of the original farms and suppliers be made public to the brothers, failing which Heinrich could expect to here from the Police and associated fraud investigators in Munich.
No less than one hour later, the received a response stating that it had been a simple processing error, with sincere apologies, but in light of the situation Mr Rötter would step away and resign the information to Sam and Jack. From that point on, the brothers and Ying Liú made savings in excess of 22% for going direct to the suppliers and, moreover, managed to re-establish production over the following 20 months to have their stunning lager ready and available once more.
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Please note: The names, locations and details of any persons, places or objects described in this article have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.