Some time ago, when Neil and I were doing experiments to make our own ginger ale, Neil’s friend and mentor, Bill Gosper brought over a few bottles of Bundaberg Ginger Beer, which he said was the best ginger ale he had ever tasted. He was right, and it soon became a special treat in our household, but not a regular one, because it was expensive — typically $7 for 4 bottles when you could find them at a Cost Plus.
Then, last summer, much to everyone’s surprise, Bundaberg Ginger Beer appeared in our local Costco. And it was priced relatively cheap. First it was $14 for a small case of 12; later, as the stash dwindled, Costco halved the price to $7/case. Every time I went in, I bought several cases, some of which Bill bought off of me. At one point, I had 14 small cases stacked up in my garage, enough, I thought, to last me for the rest of the year.
Ah, but we had all become addicts to the wonderful sweet ginger-y brew. I’m already down to my last case, so Bill went back to Cost Plus and bought a little 4-pack at the regular high price. To our surprise, the Bundaberg Ginger Beer he got at Cost Plus tasted considerably different, and worse, than the Bundaberg Ginger Beer I’d stocked up on in the summer. Bill noted that the bottles had different labels:
The bottle on the left with the kangaroo is the less flavorful Bundaberg that came from Cost Plus recently; the one on the right with the brewer on it is the better Bundaberg that came from Costco this summer. There’s no other indication of difference on the bottle or the label, though curiously, the more recently purchased Bundaberg has an earlier best-by date.
Bill speculated that Bundaberg may have two different bottling plants, with different recipes. Peter thought that they may have different formulae for their domestic product vs. their product meant for sale in the U.S., but if so, which of these is which? Cost Plus is known for carrying foreign products that have practically no U.S. distribution; Costco kind of has the “fell off a truck” adventure shopping experience of being either a test market, or a place where manufacturers dump their one-offs. Personally I wonder if, despite their good-naturedness, the Australians are like my German cousin, who bragged to me that the Germans drink all the good wine from their vineyards themselves, and ship the mediocre stuff abroad. That would mean we’re doomed to the kangaroo-labeled Bundaberg now and forever more, left to pine and remember the summer of the good stuff until that memory fades away.
So it’s a mystery. I’m looking out for more Bundaberg Ginger Beer to see if we can solve this case.