Since setting up shop in 2008, Kooinda Brewery has undergone its fair share of changes. The brewery’s first incarnation was a backyard brewery set up by a group of mates with tanks cooled by water pumped from the nearby swimming pool. They then moved to an industrial lot in Melbourne’s Heidelberg West, since when those original owners have left the business at various stages.
Early last year, we wrote about a refresh of the brewery and its beers under new management and now another team has taken up the reins at Kooinda. In an effort to showcase how much Kooinda has changed, this month they rebranded their beers, while much of their brewing has been outsourced to allow for more experimental brewing at its Heidelberg home.
With eight years of history associated with the brewery, changing the branding was no easy decision to make. What's more, with Australian beer fridges becoming increasingly overcrowded in bottleshops, the need for drinkers to recognise a brewery quickly is becoming more and more important. Yet there was a feeling that change was necessary because, as the years had passed (and craft brewing has surged), the old labels had become stale.
“We decided to go with this modern take on Kooinda and from there it’s full steam ahead,” says Kyle Brereton, the new manager and the son of one of the current brewery owners. “I wanted to show how we had a new team behind the brewery.
“[We wanted to] modern it up a bit while still keeping that classic Kooinda look. So we added the gold and black and there’s less clutter on the label than before.”
For those who have grown used to the sight of Kooinda on shelves, the change in the brewery’s new-look labels is noticeable. The oversized hops that were previously front and centre have receded into the background to be replaced with the name of the brewery in bold white typeface embossed over a black background.
Another notable change is the removal of the brewery’s old motto from the front of the label. The name Kooinda comes from an Aboriginal word meaning happy place, and the old labels used to come with the call to “take yourself there”; that too is now gone with more prominence given to the style of beer inside the bottle.
The new look isn’t the only change. For some time now the brewery has had to contend with concerns over the consistency and supply of its beers. They often had trouble keeping up with the popularity of lines in their core range (such as cult favourite Black IPA), while some venues reported receiving poor quality or inconsistent products.
In an attempt to resolve those past issues, Kooinda has decided to outsource most of its core range to BrewPack. Located near Cambelltown in NSW, BrewPack is one of Australia’s most popular choices for businesses wanting beer brewed under license. Customers include many award-winning craft brands as well as larger businesses, including Coles for whom BrewPack brews lines such as the Lorry Boys and Three Pub Circus. BrewPack also produces its own beers under the Stockade Brew Co label.
“We knew we needed to upscale because we knew from the past management that they couldn’t produce enough stock to keep up with demand,” Kyle says.
“So we decided to look at some contract brewing for the core range so we can focus more here on speciality releases. So Kade [Wilson]’s main role as head brewer – and what he has been doing since he started – is developing new beers.
“We now have the room and time here to focus on new ideas and not just work on those same four core beers that we [would otherwise] need to brew day in and day out.”
Having previously worked in graphic design, Kade comes from a homebrewing background, with this his first foray into professional brewing. And, as the person responsible for developing new recipes, he sees the benefits of contracting out their core beers to allow him to be more experimental.
“We really want to be able to push the craft side of things more,” Kade says. “We’ve got the core sorted and we are now able to do really interesting things.”
Contract brewing isn’t exactly new to Kooinda as the brewery has offered the service to a number of smaller Melbourne breweries. They are also aware of the negative perceptions that some drinkers may hold towards contract brewing.
To combat this, they have made sure to be clear about their relationship with BrewPack, hoping that transparency will pay off.
“We’re overseeing everything,” says Kyle. “I go up there almost every two weeks at the moment. We have a meeting every week with them and are on the phone constantly.
"If something is running low, we still have the ability to brew it here. We want to upscale and there’s no way we could work on new beers and new recipes [if we didn’t contract]. We’d easily be at capacity constantly with just our four core beers.”
The brewery also hopes that its venue can become better known as a destination for locals, many of whom are still surprised when they find out there is a brewery just down the road from their house. Located practically in the heart of Melbourne’s northern suburban fringe and across the road from La Trobe University, there are clear opportunities.
As such, they have taken on a new events manager to push functions at the brewery. Currently their bar is open to the public on Friday nights, where Mario Kart 64 is still played regularly (Bowser’s Castle and Yoshi Valley remain as frustrating as ever), and there are plans to extend those hours once summer arrives.
As a brewery that once caught the attention of drinkers so well thanks to its unique story and punchy beers, it's reassuring that Kooinda is working hard to reinvent itself. As Kyle suggests, if they keep producing good, consistent beer, then past concerns over consistency should disappear.
“There’s been a lot of trust issues, which are still happening at the moment," he says. "Getting that trust back in the brand as a good quality, consistent craft beer is our main focus.”
About the author: Will Ziebell is a history graduate who finds the greatest use for his degree is telling anecdotes to anyone who will listen. Often they involve beer, especially when hosting Melbourne Brewery Tours. He can be found on Instagram and Twitter.