For a while, the brewing landscape in Tasmania was fairly static. The state was home to its two big names – Boags in the north, Cascade in the south – plus a handful microbreweries: Two Metre Tall, Iron House, Seven Sheds, Van Dieman, Moo Brew and, in 2011, Morrison. In the past couple of years, however, the number has been rising fast, with the likes of Little River, KICK | SNARE, Devil's Brewery, Captain Bligh's and the Hobart Brewing Company releasing their first beers and more in the pipeline, including The Winston, Last Rites and Double Head.
Yet, outside the beer bubble, the state's brewing industry hasn't received the same attention as that lavished on its wine, cider or whisky industries. Now, that could change with the launch of the Tasmanian Beer Trail, modelled on similar initiatives for cider and whisky.
As things stand, the Trail takes the form of a website and brochures that will be available at breweries and the state's entry points (airports and the Spirit of Tasmania terminal). But, with $250,000 committed by the State Government and a further $100,000 contribution from the Brewers Association, which represents Lion / Kirin, CUB / SABMiller and Coopers, much more is to come. This could include a major festival and a touring roadshow that would allow Tasmanian brewers to pour their wares at events across the country together rather than individually.
The initiative has been kickstarted by Will Hodgman, the state's craft beer loving Premier, who made a pledge to back the Tasmanian beer industry if elected when approached by Denita Wawn, CEO of the Brewers Association.
"I was at a conference a couple of years ago where the then Premier was saying [Tasmania] had these great wine and cider and whisky trails," says Denita. "I went up to her after her speech and said it would be really great if we could consider talking to the government about doing a beer trail, given the history of beer and hops in the state.
"She had no interest in it whatsoever [so I] went to see Will Hodgman."
He took to the idea, made it part of his election policy and, thus, a few weeks ago the promise became reality. At this point, 14 breweries are featured on the site; any brewery wanting to be added can contact Brand Tasmania with proof of their brewing credentials.
To date, around $50,000 of the $350,000 has been spent, with the remainder likely to be assigned over the next two years. It's a significant amount of money in craft brewing terms – one that will likely have brewers in other states casting covetous glances – so should deliver much for the state's brewers, big and small.
It's also very much about big and small working together, says Denita, with inclusivity at the centre of any decisions on where money will be spent.
"We need to be smarter about telling the stories [about the beer industry]," she says. "If you don't get these good news stories then you won't get good policy outcomes in a regulatory sense. We need to grow recognition of the beer industry and beer generally."
Stories are one of the features of the site, along with information on brewing's history in the state, events, spotlights on individual businesses and, of course, the Trail map highlighting where you can find them.
Among those set to benefit is brewer Will Tatchell, founder of Evandale's Van Dieman Brewing. He says: "What it's trying to do is promote Tassie as a beer experience and destination – to provide a central point for tourists [where they] can see where breweries are and make an informed decision when coming to visit.
"It's an exciting time within the state. People are seeing an opportunity and grasping it, pursuing a dream, which is terrific."
The launch of the Trail – not to mention the arrival of so many new breweries – has set in train a process to establish an association for Tassie brewers too. Representatives from most of the existing and pending breweries caught up earlier in the month with the intention of forming an association swiftly so it can help guide where the remaining $300,000 will be spent.
More than that, the aim is to create a guiding force for the state's industry as a whole.
"There's nearly 20 brewing companies registered in Tasmania now," says Dave Macgill, head brewer at Moo, which this year turns 10 and is in the process of installing a canning line as part of its ongoing expansion. "We want to see this money become a self-fulfilling prophecy, not just something that's spent in the short term.
"We want to create something with longevity and also to look at education. If you're going to have a beer trail then the quality needs to be good. There are a lot more drinkers trying craft beer for the first time and if the first beer that they have is poor then the chances of them having a second are slim."
He says education would also look at preparing the newer, smaller brewers for growth as demand for their beer increases, something the Tasmanian Beer Trail should encourage.
"It's a perfect format for the smaller guys who don't have the resources to market their brand," says Dave. "They can let people know from a quick search what they offer and when they offer it."
You can visit the Trail online here.