There’s a minor obsession in the craft beer world with market share. Depending on who you believe, and which breweries you argue should be lumped in with the crafty crowd, in Australia the figure is generally considered to sit somewhere between one and four per cent of total beer consumption. What’s not up for argument is how this section of the market is growing; gobbling up pieces of the pie like girthsome man at a cheap buffet. The question is more along the lines of how much can be eaten before the “wafer thin mint” arrives.
Part of the answer lays with how many new people can be introduced to craft beer. While market share for craft is increasing, total beer consumption is falling. This adds another dimension to the pursuit of market share in that it’s not simply a game of stealing pie off the bigger kids, but also helping to bake a larger one. And a key ingredient in doing so is introducing new people to the joys of better beer. That inevitably means taking craft beer to areas where it’s seldom, perhaps never, previously been. Places like the Sutherland Shire.
‘The Shire’, as it’s more commonly known, is an area just south of Sydney proper. Its population numbers approximately 200,000 but its craft beer venues number approximately zero. If there’s an area ripe for growth, this could well be it. That’s certainly something the Cochrane family are banking on because it’s where they’ve recently opened the Blackrock Brasserie.
The new venue, in the suburb of Sylvania, is run by siblings Lance (General Manager), Bryce (Head Brewer) and Lisa (Marketing Manager). It is, to most eyes, a brewpub. However, it’s also not. A matter of semantics it may be, but the Cochranes view Blackrock as a restaurant and brewery, not the other way around. They’re planning to win over a traditionally non-crafty community to better beer by taking a food first, fine dining approach. It’s a slightly different approach than most, but one that has merit, as Lance explains.
“We’d wanted to do a family restaurant for a while, but we wanted to differentiate ourselves,“ he says. "The brewery side developed from my love of craft beer and my brother playing around with home brew.
We explored the idea of setting up a 200 litre system and the idea just grew from there. Once we started looking at the restaurant and microbrewery together we could see that there was a whole world of craft beer and food pairing that hadn’t really been explored fully in Australia. There’s still a stigma in Australia where beer is only seen as something to be had at a pub, rather than something than can go hand in hand with, and often be the inspiration for, good food.”
The venue they’ve created to take on the apathetic Aussie drinker is nothing if not spectacular. Several dining areas sit snugly against the backdrop of a pristine, customised 1200 litre brewhouse. Fully enclosed in glass, guests are able to see every movement the brewer makes and it means that, however much the focus might want be on the food, the brewery remains the major point of difference and the star attraction.
The beer being produced will eventually serve 10 independent taps although, with production still in its infancy, the range – produced under the label of Blackhorse Brewhouse thanks to an existing trademark on the name Blackrock – is currently limited to a Kolsch, Australian Ale, Red Ale and Stout. But they’ve already done their first one-off release – a Dark Kolsch which debuted at GABS – and plans are afoot for an Amber Ale, Double Bock and Blueberry Wit.
Says Lance of the beer range: “The idea is that we’ve got our core beers and as we crank up production we’ll start filling the rest of the taps as well. But to have ten of your own beers on tap at any one time can be a bit of a juggle, so the plan is always to put a few guests on”.
To date, those guests have included the likes of fellow NSW brewers HopDog BeerWorks, Illawarra Brewing Company and Doctor’s Orders – brewers not shy of producing an upfront beer when offered half a chance. Which begs the question: how is it all being received?
“The locals are really starting to embrace us and, more importantly, the beer,“ says Lance. "We’re finding our customers range from first time craft beer drinkers to those who know what good quality beer tastes like. We get comments from people saying they’ve travelled the world – in particular America – and have visited brewpub venues and had been waiting for a venue like that to open up in Australia. We also still get the odd request for a VB or Corona so it makes for an interesting mix of customers.”
An interesting mix it may be, but the whole idea is to keep them interested. To do so parts of the menu have been designed to pair the food with Blackhorse beer, such as the bite-sized tasting menu and the Brewer’s Choice Degustation which takes the same approach but on a main meal scale. Those that have attended brewer’s dinners elsewhere will be familiar with the concept and mightn’t find it groundbreaking, but for a sizeable chunk of Blackrock’s customers this style of beer and food matching is likely to be foreign to anything they’ve seen, tasted or experienced.
Lance at the helm
It’s a fair reflection of Sydney’s rapidly expanding and increasingly exciting beer scene that not only has Blackrock been created the way it has, but that it exists well outside what you might call a safe catchment area for beer lovers.
The Shire is now well and truly on the beer map.
You can keep up to date with everything at Blackrock Brasserie via its Facebook page and Twitter account. Look out for its listing in our craft beer directories of awesomeness soon too.
Such is the rapid growth rate of craft beer today, it is enough of a challenge trying to stay up-to-date with every new Australian beer release, let alone the hundreds arriving from overseas. Thus, while many have considered trying to find a means of keeping eager beer lovers up-to-date with what is on tap at the country’s beer venues and breweries, it is a monumental task. Not only is there an avalanche of new beers – not to mention new breweries and new venues – but any such scheme relies on the ability and willingness of the said venues and breweries to maintain it.
There are social media-based approaches, most notably the Pouring In… Twitter accounts that began in Melbourne early last year. The concept has since spread to other cities and looks to keep people updated on what is pouring when and where via regular tweets and retweets. As of this month, there is also a “Pouring in…” Android app that allows venues or users to upload photos of venue tap lists and find listed venues by map.
Another Aussie-based tap list app first saw the light of day just before this year’s Good Beer Week, however. Now Tapped is the brainchild of a Melbourne web developer who also happens to be the brother of one of the Brewers at 7 Cent Brewing. It was launched for iOS and Android in May and to date has managed to sign up many of the country’s leading venues which, with varying degrees of success, are maintaining their own tap lists.
These can be viewed by drinkers online or via said app. What’s more, by hooking into the community-powered resource that is Untappd, creator Angus Bremner has set up a second form of tap list that attempts to calculate what is on tap at venues by looking at what beers are being “checked in” on Untappd by visitors to a venue.
“It started out of frustration at not having a single place where you can get tap lists that are up-to-date,” says Angus. “Currently you can trawl through Twitter, Facebook, venues' websites or their own apps but it is always difficult having to go through all of them. The idea was to create a central location for venues to maintain their tap list and for users to easily find what is on tap.
“There’s quite a lot of Twitter accounts that do a good job of re-tweeting what is on tap but there is also a world beyond Twitter.
“I’m a craft beer enthusiast myself and consulted with [brother and 7 Cent brewer] Doug who offered a lot of industry advice and was able to help with a lot of venues that they supply to.”
As such, working in evenings and at weekends over a six month period he created Now Tapped. Based on the simple, stripped down iOS 7 aesthetic, it offers users the chance to see what is currently on tap at a particular venue, search for a brewery to find out which of the venues in its database is pouring their beers, or view a map to see what venues are in the vicinity and what they have on tap. If a brewery, venue or beer has detailed information on Untappd, that can be viewed too.
“The only true way to get an accurate list is for venues to update it themselves,” he says. “But venues are often simply too busy to update [their lists] so I made a second app specifically for venues that is as easy to update as possible. [I figured] staff would always have a phone with them and, using the venue app, it just takes a matter of seconds to add or delete a beer.”
Angus doing what he does: drinking beer and checking out taps
On top of the venues who are using the site themselves, he created lists for other venues based on Untappd check-ins. This means there are two types of lists currently available on Now Tapped: “Official” ones that venues maintain and “Reported” lists that are generated from Untappd.
“Untappd has become extremely popular and has a wealth of information so I’m able to use their database of beers. Venues [maintaining "Official” lists] just search for the name of a beer and when it comes up they can add it and it’s instantly updated on our website and on the users' app."
While it remains in its infancy, already there have been several updates based on feedback from users and venues and there are plans for more too, such as the ability for beer geeks to check in their beers on Untappd without leaving the app.
One of the first venues to sign up was The Terminus. The Melbourne pub had previously been using the US-based site Taplister, but found few Aussies were using it.
“I think it’s great,” says bar manager Dave Langlands. “I think it has longevity. The potential of Now Tapped is that people are actually using it. It’s really easy to use for a venue – it takes literally ten seconds to update our list.
“From a user’s perspective, it’s all in one place. You can go into the app and see what’s on at various venues and you can search by brewery and see where their beers are pouring, which is great.
“The simplicity is the main thing that makes it so appealing. It’s not very detailed but has a lot of the information you need and ties it all together.”
For now, it is free for venues to sign up for an account and free for users to download too.
“I’m already hearing about users pushing venues to get on board,” said Angus. “Feedback has been generally very positive. People have enjoyed using it.”
If you would like to add it to your phone, simply search for Now Tapped at the appropriate app store. Any venues wishing to jump on board can head to nowtapped.com/venues and sign up for an account, then download the venue app.
For the most part, the ever-growing band of people who have taken advantage of Cavalier’s “community brewery” is as you’d expect. The brewery based in Melbourne’s west, which allows others to buy and install their own tanks there and use their brewery, has attracted a colourful mix of brand new brewing companies looking to get their foot in the door and more established ones needing some extra capacity for one-off brews. It has also attracted a couple of ladies best known for parmas (or parmis, depending on where you’re reading this).
Earlier this year, Fiona Melbourne and Melissa Leaney – better known as the pair behind Melbourne establishment Mrs Parma’s – decided to make their own beer. After almost eight years serving Victorian craft beers alongside comforting delights such as the fiery Parmageddon, the Red Dirt red ale became the latest step in a journey that began when they met in Alice Springs, continued through many fine dining restaurants before seeing them opt for an old school pub (with New World beer) approach to life.
“We figured it was about time we started making some,” says Mel. “It just gives us another string to our bow – another opportunity to stick our fingers back into the pie because we felt we had stepped back a little bit and been working more on the business rather than in it.”
Rather than pay a contract facility to knock something up for them, they contacted the team at Cavalier and asked about buying their own tank. Originally discussions were over a 1,000 litre tank; somehow it became 3,000, with Mel laying the blame squarely at the feet of her eager partner.
“I think Fi just wanted to call herself a brewer,” she says. As such, when brew day came around: “I have never seen her so happy!
“We want to do beers that are left of centre to fill up the profile of our taps. Things that are not so normal. The plan is to do a lager in summer and to bring a few different brewers in to work with us.”
The plan is to brew “four or five” beers a year, all of which will only be available at Mrs Parma’s. It represents a slight – and rare – tweak to proceedings at a CBD venue that is a true one-of-a-kind. For a start, it predates pretty much every good beer venue in the city as it has been serving nothing but Victorian beers since opening in 2006. And it is located at the end of Melbourne’s grid where you’ll find many of the city’s trendiest fine dining eateries, yet has survived – thrived even – longer than most on a diet of little more than parmas done multiple ways.
“We have plonked ourselves in the middle of the market,” says Mel. “We are giving people part of the Australian staple diet.
“We’re not going to be in and out of fashion and we’re not going to do fine dining. Fi and I have already lived that, so when we opened Mrs Parma’s we just wanted a place that was really accessible to everyone like the good old pubs were.”
It has proved a successful formula, with their longevity and unstinting support of the local industry ensuring they have ready access to limited release beers to pour alongside staples on their 10 taps. They even mirror terminology of the industry they partner with, calling their parmas “handcrafted” and embellishing their core range of parmas with their own limited releases – even creating crazy one-offs for Good Beer Week each year.
Mel and Fi celebrating the first glass of Red Dirt
“We were the first and only venue that was only serving Victorian beers when we first started. It was pretty tough at the start,” she says. “We had Carlton Draught because it was still classed as a Victorian beer. When they [CUB] sold out [to SABMiller] it was D-Day for us because we thought it wasn’t Victorian any more.
“We worked really hard to build good relationships with brewers from day dot. When we started out it was a case of one in, all in. We’d help each other and that hasn’t dissipated over the years.”
What has changed is drinking habits. So it’s not just been “See ya!” to Carlton but also “G'day!” to a wider range of often bigger and more challenging beers on tap and in bottle over the years. That said, the aim when designing their own beers is to create something that is “connected to the food” but also sessionable. And following good feedback from regulars on the Red Dirt (named after the Red Centre where they first met) they are now lining up a Scotch ale for next month. They have lined up their first collaborator too: Brendan O'Sullivan of Boneyard Brewing, thanks to a longterm association with his Boneyard partner-in-crime, Chris Badenoch, who worked at Mrs Parma’s in pre-Masterchef Australia days.
“We’ve been mates with him for ages,” says Mel. “We got in touch with them as we really liked their beers. It’s good for us to be able to get involved with more brewers and understand their uniqueness.
“Ultimately, we would like to fly in some brewers [to create beers for us] and will work on that a bit later.”
Red Dirt is on tap now. Look out for Hopscotch around the end of August / early September.
The dates have been confirmed for next year’s Good Beer Week festival in Melbourne and Victoria. The organisers today announced that the fifth festival will run from May 16 to 24. Registrations for anyone wishing to run an event open on October 1 via the festival website. For the first time, Good Beer Week is also putting out applications for the Festival Hub and Pint of Origin venues to tender (see below).
The organisers of the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular have also announced their dates. GABS 2015 will take place at the Royal Exhibition Building on the closing weekend of Good Beer Week (May 22 to 24).
Media Release: 2015 Dates Announced!
Good Beer Week is delighted to announce the dates for the 2015 festival. The fifth Good Beer Week – yes, that’s right, the fifth already – will take place across Melbourne and Victoria from May 16 to 24.
Now firmly established as one of the world’s leading celebrations of great beer, Good Beer Week will see another kaleidoscopic array of fantastic beer-centred events take over the state’s best breweries and venues. Already plans are afoot to bring more international stars Down Under to join our homegrown brewing heroes for the week and also to take the festival and good beer itself further into the public sphere.
“After another record-breaking year, we are already well into planning for the fifth Good Beer Week,” says festival director James Smith. “We can’t wait to see what breweries and venues come up with and look forward to springing a few surprises ourselves.
“It has been great to witness the flourishing of the craft beer industry in Australia over the past few years and we’re honoured that Good Beer Week has taken up such a central role within the country’s beer calendar.”
Once again, the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular will return to the Royal Exhibition Building on the closing weekend. It will take place from May 22 to 24.
“There are tremendous synergies with GABS and Good Beer Week working together as we are accomplishing far more together than we could do separately. We both began in 2011 and it’s really exciting to be part of a dynamic week that has done so much, in a relatively short time, for the advocacy of craft beer and its brewers,” says festival co-director of GABS Steve Jeffares.
Registrations for the 2015 festival open on October 1 and will close on October 31. Anyone interested in taking part for the first time should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to ensure they are on the festival’s industry mailing list.
You can view the tender application forms for the Festival Hub and Pint of Origin here and here.
The Australian National Homebrewing Conference is on the move. As the fourth conference approaches, the baton has been passed from the organising team in Melbourne to a crew in Canberra, who will take ANHC outside Victoria for the first time. Australia’s biggest gathering of home brewers and brewing experts will come together in the capital from October 16 to 19, with the main days of the conference on October 17 and 18. Tickets are on sale from today.
Past favourites return, such as the popular Club Night, the Gala Awards and Pairing Dinner (featuring more beers than ever before) and heaps of talks and seminars. There will also be a “Magical Mystery Tour” of Canberra beer venues on the Thursday before the festival kicks off, with judging for the Australian Amateur Brewing Championships also taking place on October 16.
Once again, the organisers have attracted some big names from the world of brewing, not least in securing Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River, creator of some of the best, most sought after and genuinely innovative beers in the world. John Keeling from London’s Fullers is also flying in, while mead makes a first appearance on the program with Michael Fairbrother of Moonlight Meadery (USA) coming to Canberra. The world’s most popular beer podcast, Brewing Network, is sending one of its hosts, Nathan Smith, over, while master of yeast, Chris White of White Labs, will be presenting too.
The international guests are joined by homegrown talent, including Hendo from BrewCult and Brendan Varis from Feral, with CUB’s Tina Panoutsos bringing her sensory masterclass back to the conference.
“It is extremely rewarding to see the baby we brought to life continue on in its fourth incarnation,” says ANHC co-founder Andy Davison. “At the end of the day we work hard for 18 months to deliver a great experience to brewers across the country, and seeing everyone having a great time and learning at he same time is the reward we cherish.
“The conference was born when John Preston, owner of Grain & Grape, brought four of us together at a VicBrew meeting in Melbourne in 2007. Back then we knew that we wanted to bring together brewers across the nation, not just in Victoria. So the idea of moving around the country was initially floated, but put on the back burner because we were struggling just to keep our heads afloat running the 2008 event.
“We started thinking about how to move it in 2010, but is took us a couple of years to get to the point where we felt the conference was mature enough to let it loose on the rest of the county. So now in 2014 we’re really happy to see the conference take its first steps outside of Victoria, into the very capable hands of the enthusiastic committee in Canberra.”
One member of that enthusiastic committee is Kevin Hingston, who told us: “[Fellow organisers] Billy, Charles, and I attended ANHC Three in 2012 and had an absolute ball. We learnt a bunch, drunk a bunch, and made a heap of friends.”
As such, when they caught wind that there was a chance the conference could hit the road and the preference was to keep it on the East Coast, they grabbed it with both hands.
Some of the stars of ANHC 4. From top left clockwise – Peter Aldred of Ballarat University, Hendo, Caleb Defrees of Gladfield Malt, Brendan Varis
“The move has been a baptism of fire for the Canberra team. We started work about 12 months ago and really ramped up after the Nationals last October. Getting the program down pat and tickets on sale has been a big milestone for us, but things are just hotting up for getting the conference off the ground.
“ANHC is an amazingly fun event, but it’s also hugely educational. The exposure to styles, techniques, and ideas is second to none in this country. Whether you’re a serious all grainer, or a K&K [kit and kilo] brewer just starting out, you will learn more in the two days of ANHC than you will in the two years you spend waiting for the next one.”
They are introducing a few ANHC firsts that include broadening the invite to the worlds of mead and cider, with local cidermakers David Pickering and Garry Watkins-Sully appearing. At the Gala Dinner, they will be pairing two different beers with both the main and dessert courses, taking the total beer list for the dinner up to six.
“We’re working with one of Canberra’s key cultural institutions to provide a completely new take on the Gala Dinner entertainment – details are still under wraps,” he says.
The conference is being held at University House, a classic building on the grounds of the ANU. Tickets are available in a number of formats, from the full package that includes conference, Gala Dinner and Club Night, for $390 to tickets that allow guests to choose which elements they would like to attend.
As for the elements he is most looking forward to, Kevin says: “Vinnie Cilurzo is definitely a huge drawcard. He’s an expert on renaissance brewing techniques like sours and barrels, as well as the classic holy grail of the perfect IPA. He’s also bringing some amazing beers with him that you just cant get in this country.
“We’ve also got the Brewing Network coming out. They have a huge following here in Australia – our Facebook page went off the charts when we announced their involvement.
“In terms of education, Tina Panoutsos' sensory session is sure to be a hit again, giving people a scientific understanding of their flavour and aroma thresholds to help improve their judging.”
Anyone interested in attending can find everything they need to know on the ANHC 4 website, including speaker profiles, the full conference program, details on accommodation partners and, of course, ticket sales. You can also sign up to the festival’s mailing list, Facebook and Twitter feeds.
As for what the future might hold, Andy says: “We certainly hope to continue moving the conference around the country, but only where and when it makes sense. At the end of the day, although no one wants to, you need to look at the conference as a business to make sure it keeps running. So if we had someone approach us with a plan that shows that people will come and the event can be run successfully we will definitely consider it.
“I’d personally love to see it head over west to Perth, or perhaps even find its way over to our cousins in New Zealand.”
Photo at top shows Chris Badenoch presenting at ANHC Three in Melbourne in 2012. Photo by Joel Larson.
As an independent craft brewer, it’s fair to say that when you own a grain silo you’ve made it. So, when you’ve got two grain silos, well… Such is the situation these days for Stone & Wood, the New South Wales brewery that has been playing a game of catch up with demand since putting the first beer through its new facility in Murwillumbah a few weeks ago. That first beer was Pacific Ale, the most stunning success story of the last decade in the Australian beer world and, for the foreseeable future at least, the only beer that will be filling the 250,000 litres worth of tank space at the $4m facility.
It’s not just a case of two grain silos, either, as they now have two breweries. Their original site in Byron Bay is still operational – and looking rather more like it used to before Australian’s insatiable desire for their beer forced founders Brad Rogers, Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich into a state of almost constant expansion. The old haunt is now responsible for producing Lager, Jasper, Stone Beer, Garden Ale and any other limited release beers they choose to brew, such as those from side project The Mash Collective, which drinkers are likely to see more of now that the new facility is online. It will also remain the venue for semi-regular events.
“It’s a nirvana site,” says head brewer Brad of their new home in Murwillumbah. They had first laid eyes on – and fallen in love with – it in 2011 but dismissed it as beyond their wildest dreams. When it became blatantly apparent that they would never cope at Byron Bay, they returned and took possession last year. “It’s a perfect building for us,” he says.
According to Jamie, with tongue somewhat in cheek, when it came to filling the space it was simply a case of taking the scrap of paper they’d drawn the original brewery on and making it bigger. And while that is true to an extent, in that there is the same physical flow from utilities through brewhouse (the same make as before but twice the size), tanks and packaging, it’s also a considerable step up. The extra space has allowed them to plan wisely, with plenty of room to manoeuvre around the steel towers that rise like a mini-CBD between brewhouse, complete with steepling hot and cold liquor tanks (“A giant phallic symbol,” jokes Ross), and a packaging line that can push through 10,000 bottles an hour and features a high end German filler that has been attracting inquisitive owners from other larger craft brewers like moths to a bulb.
It’s an impressive setup because it has to be. Despite huge shortages of Pacific Ale across the country, Brad, Jamie and Ross chose not to bridge the gap via contract brewing. While many other Australian breweries have managed their growing pains by paying others to brew their beer, it was never a consideration for Stone & Wood. Instead it was a case of keeping their independent customers as happy as possible and cranking out as much beer as possible, 24 hours a day, through Byron Bay; then, once the new place was ready, the fermenters were transported the short drive to Murwillumbah and were being filled within 24 hours.
“It’s been very difficult,” admits Brad of the time spent repeatedly telling retailers and in turn drinkers that, sorry, we got no beer. “It’s been difficult across the business, not just the brewers but the guys on the road and in the office. We don’t want to go through that again.”
Their celebratory beer: Cloud Catcher
With the Murwillumbah brewery fully operational, The Crafty Pint was invited on a whistle-stop tour alongside a handful of other drinks journos. A former Bunnings trade warehouse site, it sits under the gaze of Mt Warning, which lends its name to the beer they’re releasing to commemorate its opening. Cloud Catcher is a single batch (unless it proves hugely popular), all-Aussie affair brewed in Byron Bay with Galaxy and Ella hops and rather delicious to boot.
“It’s a celebration of where the business is – not just opening the brewery,” says Brad.
Where the business is, especially with Pacific Ale tasting great at the new site, is at the start of a new era, ready to take another leap forward, to put craft beer into more new hands, and possessed of a seemingly irresistible force. In fact, such has been its incredible growth despite the owners frequently taking tough decisions, such as buying back the 20 per cent share that had been owned by Little World Beverages (owners of Little Creatures and White Rabbit) once that was taken over by Lion, it’s easy to forget how young the business is.
It feels like Stone & Wood has always been there, that its rise was inevitable, what with its founders' skills and past experience – including many years spent within the craft arm of CUB – combined with an easy charm, a sense of community and, not least, a beer that has made incredible inroads into the mainstream while remaining loved and respected by beer geeks. Yet it wasn’t always thus.
During the tour, the three reminisce over the early days, when they would share tiny digs and pound the streets trying to sell beer. Brad would have a batch of kegs ready to go and would call Ross to see how the sales were going.
“I only sold one keg,” Ross would tell him.
“Just one today?”
“No. One all week.”
2008: one keg. 2014: two silos. Little wonder they’re celebrating.