On November 14, Mane Liquor celebrated ten years in business. In this extended Behind Bars article, owners Elliot Moore (above right) and Josh Daley (above left) talked to Guy Southern about witnessing a decade of craft beer evolution from behind the counter, how an old drive-through bottleshop became one of Australia’s best beer retailers and what they reckon is the future of beer.
What is your team drinking after work?
Elliot Moore: “At the beer festival (Perth Craft Beer Festival), we were drinking Anderson Valley Gose; it’s just so refreshing. It’s a beer that you finish with after work.
A lot of the staff are drinking the big stuff. They are loving stuff like Omnipollo (Imperial Pecan Mud Cake). They go for those barrel aged stouts. There’s always that top of the tree stuff that they want.
Personally, I go for those light styles still: XPAs, pale ales, something that’s fresh, that’s well made and that’s very clean. I’ll always take what’s freshest in the shop home.
What are punters asking for at the moment?
EM: The whole shop is driven around new beers, right, so tomorrow it’s War Hog (Feral Brewing). We’ll receive 100 cartons and we expect them to be gone by the weekend. It’s whatever is new.
The week before that it was the Mash (Brewing) DIPA, next week it’s going to be Mash Barrel Aged Copy Cat, the week after that it might be a new Pirate Life or something. It’s whatever’s new is what they want. It’s the big brands, the pedigree brands.
What about the general change in customer change in opinion and style?
EM: Definitely more towards mixed singles than we ever have before. People used to come in and get a six-pack of a trusted brand like Stone & Wood and then maybe a couple of singles. Now they are just buying six mixed singles and maybe a four pack of Pirate Life Double (IIPA) so it’s shifting in price point, dollar sales per head are up but the quantity is down.
People are spending more money on good beer, more adventurous beer.
So what was it like back in 2006 then?
EM: We were selling Woodstock & Cola, we were selling Corona, Weihenstephaner was our only craft beer. I think maybe Matso's – we were buying Matso's from Justin (Wiebrecht) out of his dad’s garage and that for us was a big deal. So we were always looking for new products but there wasn’t really anything available.
Um, Eagle Bay. We were one of the first ones to stock Eagle Bay when our growler system arrived six or seven years ago. The first few years, yeah, it was a drive-through when we first bought it. It was a scrap for a few years. It wasn’t pretty!
So what was the tipping point?
EM: The biggest tipping point was the road started coming though*. We were warned a few months earlier that they were going to extend Great Eastern Highway. They said: "We’re going to make sure you boys have access" and overnight they (Mainroads WA) put up a fence.
The Berlin Wall went up and overnight it halved our turnover and the only people coming in were the guys still coming in for those craft beers, which we only had maybe a couple of hundred by that stage, but they were the only things that were selling. So that’s when we decided that’s the only thing that’s going to keep us alive and that’s what we were passionate about anyway. Well, stuff it, let’s just go all in. That’s when we decided to go all out craft.
I feel like, for us, it was half the business life of us finding our feet, trying out wine, trying out all sorts of stuff, trying to be a specialty store with wine and that didn’t work and then, about five years into it, we kind of flipped a little bit and had the motivation to go that way and from that day onwards things have been great.
*Large scale road works severely limited venue access between June 2011 and February 2013.
What about a certain beer that changed your thinking or the direction of Mane Liquor?
EM: Beer wise, Rogue was our biggest one. Rogue got us really motivated. Jock (Wilberforce) was involved with that. Jock had heard about that and we decided to get some in together. That was one of our biggest wins then. It was all driven with us being in love with these beers. We couldn’t believe the flavours, stuff we’d never tried before.
For me it was John John Dead Guy, which is a barrel aged Dead Guy Ale.
Josh Daley: Every shift finished and the deal was you’d take a beer home but it had to be a different beer.
EM: “Soon after that, 8 Wired Hopwired and iStout. The Hopwired blew our mind. That rocked us and then that was it. We wanted to slowly get more and more in.
Our philosophy was: "The more we can find, the more we can put in and delete some everyday products" and that’s still out philosophy today. We still delete everyday products and now we’ve got 16 doors of craft beer and maybe three doors of everyday beer and it used to be the other way around. It’s like a fungus taking over the shop!
It’s probably three years ago that we got it to this setup and now we are just extremely passionate about keeping it fresh, keeping it moving, getting our stock holding right, always having stuff first or as soon as possible and doing cool events.
Building on all of that experience, what do you think is the next big thing?
JD: I still reckon we’ve got a long way to go. When you go to America, every man and his dog drinks craft over there. You can go to the most shittiest, dive sort of pub and they’ll at least have a Sierra Nevada or a Founders IPA. They’ll at least have something that’s really solid, whereas here there’s still so many bars over here that just have Swan Draught, VB, (Emu) Export and (James) Squire. Squires is their "craft"m you know what I mean, and it’s like that in way too many pubs.
EM: One thing that we don’t see enough of in Australia, which they do a lot of in America, is brewery to brewery collabs.
JD: We see that coming through on our shelves from overseas but you rarely see it here. Sometimes some Victorian collabs but it’s pretty rare.
Which is interesting because for WA Beer Week it’s all about venue to brewery collabs. The list is huge.
EM: That’s just blown out. I remember when we approached Eagle Bay three years ago to do Saisonnay. I was like to Margie (Wallace): “Is it weird that we would do a collab with you, just come and brew a beer?"
The idea hadn’t really been floated. It wasn’t really known of in Perth so it was kind of a weird thing to suggest. They were like: "We hang out anyway so let’s just do a beer while you’re here."
Now it’s like every man and his dog is pumping them out.
Where do you think beer is heading in general?
EM: Barrel aged programs, sour barrel aged stuff. 4 Pines have started a Barrel Room, White Rabbit, Soren (8 Wired Brewing) over in New Zealand. Garage Project have got huge foeders coming in. They are going to do a huge barrel room, foeder room in the middle of Wellington, that’s where it’s going. It’s going to those serious guys pushing heavily into barrel ageing [like] Bridge Road.
Those things [can] take years to fruit you know. By the time you get your barrels and put your beer in you’ve still got years before it shows any goods so those guys are on the front foot and those guys will get rewarded later.
JD: The beer festival that we were doing this weekend, besides White Rabbit’s Red, we were the only ones doing sours and heaps of people were saying they were so glad that they could get sours. Aussie breweries haven’t really hit that yet. When you go to America, sours are everywhere.
What about from about from an "everyday" point of view?
JD: You’ve still got people discovering what an IPA is or what a good pale is.
EM: [Pointing to the growler station tap list] Just look there: session IPA. Hoppy pils. IPA. IPA. IPA. IPA. Hoppy Pale. IPA. People still want hops.
It’s still aggressively pushed towards IPAs but maybe flavoured IPAs, something that makes it a little bit different. Um, Pineapple Gose. Mudcake Pecan Imperial Stout. Coffee, coffee is quite big.
JD: I think because they (IPAs) sell better now more people are more into them. They’re a lot fresher all the time now. Back when we first started, we really didn’t know too much about how long an IPA should sit around.
EM: And the awareness of the customer for a fresh beer, for a fresh IPA has increased.
JD: Sometimes we’d be drinking an IPA and we’d be going: "Oh, that’s not that good" but we wouldn’t have realised it's not that good because it’s six, seven, eight months old or whatever. It took us a while to learn that and now if beer gets old we just give it away, but we rarely have to do that anymore because the turnover of stock is so much higher than it’s ever been. Ninety percent of people that come in want hoppy stuff.
Mane Liquor has been rated by Ratebeer users as Australia’s best bottle shop 2013, 2014 and 2015.