Brisbane's Newstead Brewing will be hoping to convert more sports fans after signing a deal with Queensland Rugby Union ahead of the 2018 season. The brewery has been named the Official Craft Beer Partner of the QRU, with pouring rights for the home of Queensland rugby, Ballymore, and beyond.
It's the latest success for independent Australian breweries in the field of sport, following the likes of Gage Roads securing pouring rights at Perth's new stadium and Two Birds, Stomping Ground, Six String and Colonial brewing beers for the Western Bulldogs AFL Women's side, Melbourne City FC, Central Coast Mariners and Essendon FC respectively.
"This is the year of beer and sport," says Newstead CEO and founder Mark Howes in the wake of signing the biggest partnership of the brewing company's life to date.
"Big organisations are realising that the market is changing. Independent breweries are making significant inroads into major brewers' territory. Major sports were off limits a few years ago but mass-produced beer is putting a lot of people off. Me and my mates would 'pre-load' before going to a game, not drink at the stadium then go somewhere afterwards and more and more people are doing that.
"A lot of clubs are based around parochialism and a sense of local pride and that's what craft beer is about. We can do a QRU beer because we're small batch and nimble; the big guys can't do that."
The deal also represents huge personal satisfaction for Mark, who grew up playing rugby union and attending matches with his parents at Ballymore, where he and his mates would "run riot after the game".
"I'm ecstatic about this partnership," he says. "To have my two life passions – great beer and great rugby – forming a relationship that will get the public excited and engaged about homegrown talent is a privilege beyond expectations.
"We recognise the growing demand among consumers for greater variety of products. We look forward to supporting QRU this year and to an ongoing relationship that will see great beer and great rugby more accessible to the good people of Queensland."
The partnership follows hot on the heels of Newstead's deal with Alliance Airlines – which itself followed fellow Brisbane brewery Green Beacon's deal with Singapore Airlines – and, with more announcements in the pipeline, is a sign that Newstead Brand Ambassador Darren Magin's work over the past few years is coming to fruition.
"Darren has been sowing the seeds for two-and-half years," says Mark, "and we've had a couple of knockbacks from the rugby crowd. Setting up the Milton brewery [which is next to the Suncorp Stadium] helped put us in the public eye and we found some nice synergies between what they're looking to do and the crowd that we get here."
He says the deal is very different to the one just signed between the Wallabies and Yenda, the beer brand launched by Coca-Cola Amatil and Casella Wines under their Australian Beer Co joint venture.
"What I really like about Ballymore and Queensland Rugby Union is it's really grass roots," he says, describing the brewery's approach when looking to forge partnerships as one with a strong community focus.
"Sport and beer work really well, but we're open to all sorts of partnership as long as they align with what we want to do."
The new deal, which runs through the 2018 season, includes pourage rights at Ballymore Stadium bars, including at all Queensland Premier Rugby Finals matches. It has also seen the part of the ground known to rugby fans as XXXX Hill renamed Newstead Hill and there will be an official QRU branded craft beer brewed and made available throughout South East Queensland.
QRU CEO Richard Barker (pictured above left with Mark Howes) said: "We're delighted that Newstead Brewing Co is the latest commercial partner to join our rugby family. We're in a fairly unique position in that we have our own stadium – Ballymore – that hosts professional, pathway and community rugby games.
"The opportunity to create an 'Official Craft Beer Partner' was too good to pass up and we are excited that Newstead will create a new beer to celebrate this unique partnership."
With rugby union losing ground to other codes, the hope is that the partnership works two ways, not just bringing craft beer to a new crowd but putting new focus on to the sport as well.
"The number of urban clubs has significantly dropped from when I was playing 20/25 years ago," says Mark. "But it's still very entrenched in the school system, particularly private schools, where there's a huge crowd that play it. There's a lot of nostalgia; if you say XXXX Hill, it means something to people [so renaming it Newstead Hill] is about bringing it back to being local."
He also hopes to reinvigorate the social aspect of attending matches. Whereas he says you see crowds flood out of Suncorp once the match finishes, he recalls his parents staying for a couple of hours after games at Ballymore.
"Queensland Rugby Union have picked up on that and are looking to revive Ballymore," he says, highlighting the recent announcement that Queensland Roar and other football associations are looking to make greater use of the stadium too. "If that comes to fruition, then having Newstead beers on tap will help support it being more of a social enterprise."
It should help continue Newstead's rapid rise too. The brewing company hasn't even reached its fifth anniversary yet already operates two sites – the original brewpub site in Doggett Street plus the larger brewery in Milton – and, says Mark, now employs 70 Queenslanders.
"We're hoping this year will give us the chance to show QRU what we're all about," he says. "Hopefully it will be good for them and good for us."
And, indeed, good for the wider craft beer community too.