The national body representing more than 200 of Australia's independent brewing companies has launched a new campaign encouraging drinkers to support local brewers. The Independent Brewers Association (IBA) unveiled a seal of independence at Stomping Ground Beer Hall in Collingwood last night, inspired by similar endeavours elsewhere, including the US and UK.
The new seal – stating boldly "CERTIFIED INDEPENDENT" – is set to kickstart a national campaign designed to raise awareness around the issue of independence in beer. It will be available to all members and supporters of the IBA, which last year voted to withdraw membership from operations with major brewing company ownership.
The process that led to the launch began with discussions at the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference in Adelaide in July.
"In Adelaide, we got a fair chunk of the key breweries in the country together to sound them out and see what the feeling was," says Will Tatchell, Van Dieman Brewing owner and part of the committee responsible for the new campaign. "Everyone was on the same page."
Last night, the committee formed to turn those discussions into something tangible also unveiled their plans for supporting the seal.
A website – Ask For Indie Beer – with accompanying hashtag #askforindiebeer – has been launched, with a number of leading venues and retailers across the country invited to become champions for the campaign; look out for the seal appearing in a variety of ways throughout supporting businesses as well as on beers and in breweries over the coming months.
With a number of the country's larger and best known craft brands now owned by the likes of AB InBev, Lion and Asahi and supermarket brands, including Steamrail, 3 Pub Circus, Sail & Anchor, John Boston and Lorry Boys, that look to all intents and purposes like beers from a small brewery available nationwide, the seal is designed as more than a rallying point for the industry. The aim is to give beer drinkers an easy way of knowing if they're supporting an independent Australian business when they buy a beer.
"Consumers deserve the right to make an informed decision at their point of purchase," says Will. "We hope they'll come to understand independent stands for Australian-owned, often family produced, fresh and local rather than multinational-owned and mass produced."
At last month's Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, the US Brewers Association announced the brewing companies responsible for 75 percent of all independently brewed beer in the States were now using their seal in one way or another – this despite some criticism of its inverted bottle design. The IBA has stated its aim is to have 90 percent of members using the Australian seal by the end of 2019.
"The trend towards locally brewed, handcrafted beer made by small independent breweries is not a fad," says Will, "it is a fundamental shift on a global scale that is bigger than just beer and more so about the stories behind the product."
On the new website, the IBA states: "Where independent breweries could previously say they were different from corporate breweries because they brewed more fuller flavoured beers, were more innovative and didn’t compromise on ingredients, these acquisitions of credible independent breweries mean that this is no longer the case.
"Ownership, however, still matters to a growing number of beer lovers and the growing taste for beer from independent breweries is a consumer-based social movement. Clearly defining the word ‘craft’ has proved difficult and elusive and the corporate breweries have successfully co-opted the term, causing confusion among the growing number of consumers that like to support independent breweries."
Thus a focus on independence and "indie beer" instead.
The hope now for the IBA, including incoming CEO Alexis Roitman, is that members and supporters will help spread the message. Existing members will be receiving packs so they can start displaying the independence seal in the coming days and are encouraged to add the seal to their packaging, vessels and tap point. They're also being encouraged to take the message to their local venues and retailers with the intention they'll become advocates for supporting local and independent beer.
An accreditation system for venues, which would highlight the best operators and those supporting independent beer – something we've written about in the past – has been discussed, but is deemed beyond the means of the IBA for now. Instead, the focus will be on getting as many as possible to join the #askforindiebeer campaign.
"The hope," says Will, "is that it doesn't fall flat and will take off."
Stone & Wood was one of the first breweries to go public with its response, saying it would be adding the seal to its packaging, website and marketing collateral as soon as possible.
Managing director Ben Summons said in a statement the brewery would "remain firmly focussed on being a local independent brewery, supporting the community, minimising their footprint, and bringing their employees on as co-owners in the business."
He says: “This way of doing business balances creating a sustainable profit with doing good. It sets us on a course to remaining an independent company for generations to come.
“There are over 420 independent brewing businesses (and growing!) so we’re looking forward to seeing this seal unite us as a marker that represents not only independence but also community, but also one that helps drinkers choose ‘Independent’ when they make their beer purchases.”
The IBA defines an independent brewery as any brewery or brewing company that is less than 20 percent owned by a large brewer and produces less than 40 million litres per annum.
We kicked off a short series looking at the issue of ownership and independence in beer here. Look out for follow up articles featuring brewing companies that have been sold recently and an infographic outlining the lie of the land.