In times of crisis, the craft beer industry tends to come together quickly. In Australia, we’ve seen large-scale collaborations and fundraisers to provide support for those impacted by natural disasters and other life-changing events. Even on the day-to-day and hyper-local level, breweries are often quick to lend a hand to other businesses and community groups whenever they need assistance.
But the impact of bushfires, floods or any other serious event can stick around long after the immediate challenges are dealt with, not just for those in affected communities but also on first responders – and that’s where Firehouse 51 Brewing Co comes in.
The business was conceived out of a desire to support emergency services and communities over the long term. It’s the brainchild of Haran (Haz) Chinniah who knows the impact of responding to trauma only too well, having worked within Victoria Police before becoming a firefighter.
The brewing company’s name was inspired by the American TV show Chicago Fire and, like many Australian brewers, Haz was in part inspired to launch his own brewing company on a trip to the States. It was less the hoppy beers he enjoyed there that inspired him, however – it was the positive contribution one craft brewery in particular that was the lightbulb moment for an Australian Emergency Services-focused venture.
While in Anaheim, California, Haz visited the veteran-owned and operated All-American Brew Works and witnessed firsthand how they helped current and former army personnel through direct employment and by creating a community where they could comfortably connect.
Determined to create something equally positive in Australia, Haz started working on an idea to bring something similar to Melbourne. His determination to use beer to raise money for first responders and build a supportive community impressed the judges of the first Brew Rocket grant. Created by brand agency Craft Instinct in 2021, and supported by beer businesses including BentSpoke, The Crafty Pint, Peach Business Management, Rapid Labels and Sun Tap Decals, the grant was developed to support nascent brewing companies with sustainability and social good at their core.
Considering Haz is running the business largely on his own, it’s the kind of support he’ll have appreciated to ensure he hit the ground running. So much so, in fact, that when Firehouse 51 launched their first beers in March 2022, batch one of Firehouse 51 Pale Ale was sold out ahead of his launch event, greatly exceeding Haz’s expectations. Aside from the support of Craft Instinct and friends, Haz’s own network of firefighters, other emergency workers and associated charities made it clear just how many different groups wanted him to succeed.
That first beer was brewed with the team at Burnley Brewing and is a pale ale that’s both well balanced and on the leaner side, putting classic American hop flavours of citrus and pine alongside a more modern tropical medley. At the time of writing, a wider core range and limited releases were being planned, test brewed and tweaked.
Supporting charities will always be at the forefront of Firehouse 51, with a percentage of profits from each batch going towards meaningful local causes. Where the money goes will change with each batch, while you can always check who and what they’re supporting through the brewing company’s website; the first batch of pale is being sold in support of Fortem Australia – a group that supports the mental health and wellbeing of first responders and their families.
Of course, having seen what All-American Brew Works were doing for their community, finding a home for Firehouse 51 remains key to Haz’s ultimate goal. Choosing the location of a taproom is never easy but for this brewing company it’s all that much harder due to a desire to make it as accessible to as many emergency service workers as possible. Not only does Haz want to employ former emergency workers, he also wants it to be an accessible place where current ones can come for a knock-off beer.
After all, when you’re on the frontline helping people, no day is the same and a place where you can debrief and connect with colleagues outside of work can do a power of good. With Firehouse 51’s mission statement being to strengthen community and empower people, when he does find a location, we’re sure it will be a venue that does plenty of good too.