That actually doesn't sound like last week's macro--Budweiser--which has always been extremely forthright about their beer and production. It does, however, perfectly describe Newcastle. Behold:
A spokesman for Heineken confirmed: “We are in the process of changing our recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale and it will no longer include caramel colouring.This is pretty amazing--and revealing. I thought caramel coloring went out with leisure suits. I heard rumors that various companies would turn their regular lagers into "dark lagers" with judicious use of caramel color, but those were crude times when people thought "dark lager" was something impossibly exotic. That Newcastle, presumably to shave a few pennies off the bottom line, has been using it well into the new millennium--well, just spectacular. Better to spend all the money on ads like these instead:
“We will now achieve the distinctive colouring and flavour of Newcastle Brown Ale, that our consumers enjoy, by using roasted malts instead.”
Other things to know: the brand is owned by Heineken and brewed in this brewery, in Tadcaster, by John Smith's:
It is largely an export product. Boak and Bailey, who sent me a wonderful report showing that it has only 4.5% of the bottled ale market in the UK (and ales are a wee minority of the beer market), said, "We've only ever seen it in bottles but it's pretty widely available in pubs in that format, hidden behind the bar in the fridges next to Hofmeister Pils and Mann's Brown Ale." Mark Dredge agreed, "You might see it occasionally in supermarkets or a dusty bottle at the back of a bar fridge, but that's about it."
For what it's worth, when I was writing The Beer Bible, I tried to contact someone from the Newcastle division to hear about how the beer was made and maybe get some archival photography. It was I think the only English-language brand that completely blew me off. I have a clearer sense why now.
So to recap: made cheaply of filler ingredients? Check. Hid where it was made while still trading on the reputation of the old location? Check. Owned by a foreign company? Check. And finally, keeps the truth safely hidden away behind a massive ad campaign? Check and check.
You want an authentically crap beer where the cost of production is scrimped on to make way for the cost of sales? You could hardly do better than Newcastle Brown.