Behind Bars: Dane Adkins

September 28, 2016, by Kerry McBride
Behind Bars: Dane Adkins

In the outer Adelaide ‘burb of Semaphore, Sweet Amber Brew Café is doing its darnedest to bring craft beer to the people. As something a cultural hub for Semaphore and surrounding suburbs, the bar regularly hosts live music and art exhibitions, while on the beerier side of things they put on tap takeovers, tastings, and meet the brewer sessions.

In a state where the name Coopers has held court for so long, Dane Adkins and his team of beer lovers are helping to bring more beer in from around Australia and endeavouring to keep their fridges stocked with beer from every corner of the country.

As the second subject of our new Behind Bars series, Dane fills us in on what’s hot in Adelaide, the pursuit of the "new", and his hopes for the beer industry in the coming years.

What are the bar staff drinking after their shifts?

Higher ABV beers than during their shifts! No, we’re a pretty tame bunch, actually. A few of the staff will stick to cider, while others will make a point of trying any new arrivals in the fridge. It’s a given that most will sample whatever is on tap that day, which is encouraged.

I wouldn’t say there are any favourite styles among staff. However, It’s always interesting to hear people's preferences towards styles when we host our own judging. We'll often critique two to three beers of a similar style and bounce feedback off each other and customers. Can’t say I’ve picked up any common theme though; it varies remarkably.

As for myself, I’m exploring Scotch ales at the moment. I find them to be a challenging style – the peatiness can sometimes be off-putting since I’m not much of a whisky or scotch drinker, but I love a boozy, malt driven beer and so I persevere!

What's the uptake with the staff favourite among general customers?

Sweet Amber Brew Café's beer garden.

I quickly learnt that what we as staff like isn’t necessarily what our customers will like. We love sours but our customers don’t. The industry in Australia is still so underdeveloped, even more so in South Australia. Although we have some world class beers available to us, I find we still have to be calculated, or selective, with what we offer the public – it’s a balancing act. 

Some venues attract a very knowledgeable customer base, while others cater for a wider audience. You just have to offer enough of a selection to satisfy one side without alienating the other. I’m sure the balance point will slowly shift in favour of the beer-savvy drinker as time goes by. At that point we’ll start to see the non-offensive, gateway beers begin to lose popularity.

What are some general bar trends? What are people asking for?

We beer drinkers are a promiscuous bunch; we'll always flock to the "new beer". If we’re four deep at the bar and a keg goes out, no one will buy anything until they see what’s tapped next, so you best be tappin’ quick! Same with packaged – we’ll introduce a new beer to the fridge and sell through it in a day. So, I guess you could say the trend is the next "new beer". Customers have their favourites, which are typically well balanced, consistent and true-to-style beers, but they’re always looking to try something new.

There was a trend last Summer that created a bit of a cult following, but it wasn’t a beer: it was an 8 percent lemonade. Lemon squash with a kick! It’s just what people needed after a day at the beach. I’m sure we’ll be pouring a lot more through the taps this summer!

Are more people starting to drink craft where they didn't before? What's winning over the newcomers?

Definitely. This is certainly the case in South Australia, particularly here in li'l suburban Semaphore. It’s been very rewarding to witness the progression in our customers' tastes. Craft beer was a new, and somewhat scary, concept for many of our customers when we first opened – they wouldn’t venture much further than a crisp pilsner or something with "pale" in the description. But they’re increasingly adventurous and beginning to really enjoy pushing the boundaries of beer styles. 

A 12 percent IIIPA was one of the fastest kegs we sold! I’ve also been told that I’ve “ruined” their ability to enjoy a beer at the TAB, which I’m quietly proud of.

Above all, I’d say curiosity is the main reason for winning over the newcomers. They love the fact they can try something different each time they stop in for a drink. It’ll be interesting to see what direction our customers take us in in the future.

What do you think is the next big thing to take off?

To be honest, I hope there isn’t a "next big thing". I’d be quite content seeing the industry evolve naturally to the point where it’s sustainable for all involved, even for little niche breweries to exist amongst the craft brewing fraternity. 

I can’t wait for a time when there’s enough public demand for unique, well crafted beer that it becomes viable for dedicated brewers to exist only to release tiny volumes of cask ales, or specialty sours, or barrel-aged stouts. That’ll be the next big thing I look forward to.

Finally, you're at the front of the bar, you see the trends, you see the people; any general comments about where beer is heading?

I know a lot of people (me included) keep a close eye on what’s happening in the States, believing it’ll catch on here shortly thereafter. If this is the case, I think women are the next big focus for the craft beer industry in Australia. There are a lot a passionate female crafties out there, but I believe there could be a damn lot more. Once beer loses it’s "high-vis-bogan-Aussie" stigma we’ll start to see a lot more ladies jumping on board the beer wagon. 

Breweries like Burleigh Brewing Co, who’ve partnered up to offer Sunday arvo yoga sessions, are ahead of the game when it comes to bridging the gender gap in the industry and educating the public about the benefits of small batch beer. I think it’ll be exciting times for the industry when this truly catches on.

On top of that, I predict that we’ll start seeing breweries opening multiple venues / bars / brewpubs in their local cities and suburbs, rather than focusing their efforts on interstate / international distribution. This is already the case with a few established breweries in Victoria and New South Wales but we haven’t seen it yet in South Australia. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

You can read our first Behind Bars Q&A with Josh from Perth's Petition Beer Corner here.

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