These days, contract brewing is far less contentious an issue than it was back in 2009 when the Hawthorn Brewing Company launched its first beer into the hands of Victorians. While financial realities mean more and more start-up businesses opt to have their beers brewed under license today, back then there was a feeling in some circles that only those who weren't serious about beer, those who wanted to spin a dubious yarn and try to make a quick buck, were at it.
It was into that environment that Hawthorn stepped, choosing to have their resident brewer Hamish Reed's recipes brewed initially at Mildura, then Southern Bay and, finally, at BrewPack. And, while the "Imported from Hawthorn" tag may have ruffled a few feathers early on, they were quick to be open about the way they operated and, rather more crucially, Hamish's beers proved well worth drinking – no matter where they were brewed.
The journey of the self-styled "Flavour Merchants" is one that resonates like many in the craft beer world too. Hamish and his business partners Darren Milo and Peter Willis all grew up in the same suburb, Mooroolbark in Melbourne's east, and knew each other via family friends. Later in life, Hamish would rock up to BBQs with his home brew, which, according to Peter, went from "pretty bad in his teens" to "better and better" until his mates suggested they should be released commercially. Between that point and the forming of Hawthorn Brewing Company in 2008, the trio worked and travelled overseas, exploring beer cultures wherever they went and, particularly in Hamish's case, soaking up inspiration for the beers that are now available nationwide.
The beers are of the approachable sort, designed for broad appeal. There's nothing too wild, nothing too crazy. Instead, to a man, they're well crafted examples of their style, from a piney take on American pales and a fruitily aromatic yet light on the palate Golden Ale to a juicy Australian IPA.
While the oft-discussed brewery of their own, ideally located somewhere near Hawthorn where two of the three live, remains at the discussion stage, their decision to "dip our toes in" via contract brewing continues to pay dividends. Having racked up a stack of medals of varying hues at major beer awards in Australia, they've sent their beers overseas to be judged too. It's a decision that's reaped rewards, particularly in the UK, where their Australian IPA collected a trophy at the International Beer Challenge – the world's largest packaged beer-only competition – in 2013; a year later, their Golden Ale snapped up another trophy while their range performed so well overall they took out the Supreme Champion Brewery title.
In 2017, Hawthorn became the first brewing company to be bought by the Salt Brewing, a new brewing division launched by Dixon Hospitality, which is now part of a larger enterprise under the Australian Venue Co banner. It's a move that has seen its beers appear on tap in more of the group's growing number of venues across Australia. Not bad for three boys from Mooroolbark.