July 25 2011 by Crafty Pint
OK, we admit it. Sometimes here at The Crafty Pint we’re so busy waving our cheerleader’s pom poms and shouting about all the good things going on in the craft beer world that it takes a quiet word in our ear to remind us that there remain beer deserts all over Australia. Certainly, we won’t be hurrying back just yet to Ouyen, home of the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph, to see whether the town pub’s tap offering has improved from our last visit: Carlton Draught, Carlton Draught, Carlton Draught and Carlton Light…
But while it can be good to remain grounded (although considerably less fun), we believe that if you put decent beer into pretty much any bar anywhere, there will be people who appreciate it, no matter what their previous loyalties. The success of venues like The Spotted Cow in Toowoomba and craft beer crusaders like the guys behind Bendigo Beer is proof of this, as are the recent achievements of a few passionate beer people in Ipswich. There, sparked by one man’s desire to get a beer he liked drinking onto a tap in his hometown and aided by an open-minded venue, a pocket of Queensland is enjoying its own little craft beer revolution.
That one man is Wade Curtis, who Queensland residents may have seen cropping up fairly frequently on their TV screens and in their newspapers. He’s behind 4 Hearts Brewing, which began brewing beer at Brisbane’s Bacchus Brewing last year, and is on a seemingly successful mission to bring better beer to his locals.
“I’m passionate about building a market for craft beer in Ipswich,” he says. “It was pretty much the standard four beers on tap everywhere. Some pubs were supporting bottled craft beer but not many.
“As I have a background in marketing, every time I have some craft beer news I advise the Ipswich paper the Queensland Times. Off the back of three of their stories I’ve been interviewed twice by 4BC radio station and Channel 10 Brisbane ran a story on the beer too.”
The path that brought him here is a familiar one: an eye-opening trip to Europe sparked a desire to brew beers at home that were more interesting than those at the pub and cheaper than imports from Europe. From there, it was a case of wanting to give more people the chance to try something new. Having brewed a batch of 4 Degrees Pale under contract at Bacchus, he secured a tap at the Yamanto Tavern and, after that proved popular and the venue proved supportive, more have followed.
“I don’t view other craft brewers as competition as the more beers people try the more they will be open to trying different beers more often,” he says. “CUB have been driven to respond, as they saw 4 Degrees take a tap off Lion Nathan. Then Yamanto was going to drop VB for a craft beer so CUB agreed to supply two kegs of [Matilda Bay] Alpha Pale Ale.”
In the case of the Yamanto Tavern, there appears to have been a happy aligning of the planets. Twelve months ago, a new manager with a background in wine joined and plans were hatched to open a craft beer bar in the venue’s old bottleshop. The venue starting stocking a few new packaged beers, found people were interested and then along came Wade.
“We put the 4 Degrees Pale on just before the first State of Origin game,” says manager Peter Coultas. “The response was phenomenal. It started off as interest in a local boy getting a beer on at his local pub, but since then people have continued to embrace it and we’ve had to get another batch in. Now we get people coming in and saying, ‘Give me a 4’.
“We’re an independent pub as the owner is smart and doesn’t want to be tied. People loved the beer and the flavour so we’ve expanded on that, rotating whatever beers we have on tap, including Bacchus' Queensland Ale brewed with macadamias and local honey.”
At present, three of its taps are dedicated to craft beer, with a fourth set to follow. More importantly, inspired by the success to date – and of nights such as a recent Pale Ale tasting – there are plans in place to open a separate 24 tap craft beer bar.
“I don’t think anyone has put [craft beer] in front of people [in this region] like Phil at The Spotted Cow,” says Peter. “I know how hard he has worked, as this is something that has to be driven by somebody at an outlet not just for a week but chipping away doing little bits slowly. Not a lot of venues have passionate people in place and owners willing to give them the autonomy to put the right things in place. But now we get people coming in here who’ve heard about the beer and leave saying they wish it was their local.
“What’s amazed me is that it’s not one age group that’s enjoying these beers. There are wine drinkers who are looking for something a little different and, one Saturday recently, we had mostly seniors in and I looked around to see them drinking La Trappe and White Rabbit beers. It blew me away!”
Since winning over the regulars at the Yamanto, Wade has secured a second tap at Ipswich’s Strand Hotel and is hopeful of securing a third soon. He says the tap contracts most venues have signed up to with the major brewers present a tricky obstacle, but progress is being made.
“Both their bottleshops now carry a good range of imported and local craft beers, which is definitely helping the cause,” he says. “Also, with Dan Murphy’s in Ipswich, a lot of people are now being exposed to beers they never would have seen before. The Queensland Times has also joined the crusade and their support has been great.”
Looking ahead, Wade’s plan is to open a brew pub or brewery in or close to Ipswich, get his beer distributed more widely and, of course, quit his day job. In the meantime, he’s helping get a brew club off the ground in Ipswich.
“Getting two taps at two pubs was great. The craft beer word has also gotten out at the RAAF base at Amberley, which is a great support for craft beer. I think if craft beer can thrive in Ipswich then it proves that you can educate people and create a market. I would love to see more restaurants and pubs open in Ipswich and more craft beer in those outlets. I would love to see three or four craft breweries open up in the area too and create a real craft beer hotspot.
“The other thing Ipswich can provide is brewing training and courses as we have a large TAFE, uni and agricultural uni all close by. There is a real hole in the beer education market in Queensland; Ipswich would be a perfect hub for that.”
Give that man some pom poms!
The Yamanto Tavern is keen to hear from any brewers who would like to get their beer on tap. If they like it, they’ll give it a go, so drop in or give Peter a call on (07) 3294 4400. Similarly, if you’d like to give Wade’s beer a try at your bar, get in touch at email@example.com.
The next beer tasting session at the Yamanto is on August 17. We’ll bring you full details soon.
Also, if you’re fighting a similar crusade in your neck of the woods or know someone who is, drop us a line – firstname.lastname@example.org – and we’ll do what we can to help you spread the word.