We’re just a month away from the end of the decade. And what a seismic decade it’s been, particularly in the world of beer.
We’re not ones for making “most incredible anything ever” claims, but the past ten years must be among the most transformative decades beer has experienced – and remember this is a substance that’s been around for millennia.
However you approach it – the growth of the small, independent, craft [add your own descriptor here] industry, the rise of the beer festival, social media’s ascent to prominence within beer, the insane amount of new styles and reinventions of old styles – it’s been a funny and fascinating old time.
The landscape here in Australia looks a lot different to this day ten years ago and if you can find anyone able to confidently predict how things will look in ten months, let alone ten years, can you ask them for this week’s Lotto numbers too, please?
What’s more, the speed of change, the level of madness, seems to be accelerating as 2020 approaches. An investment group that didn’t exist much more than a couple of years ago now has stakes of varying sizes in half a dozen brewing companies (plus other booze operations). CUB is set to welcome yet another overlord and, if the rumours that have reached fever pitch over the past ten days have substance, we could see the decade end with another independent industry-rattling takeover.
At the same time, there are brewpubs and taprooms popping up in rural towns and outer suburbs with increasingly regularity, some utterly incredible beers hitting taps and shelves, brewers forging beautiful, sustainable relationships with the land and local producers, and others releasing new beers every week.
In short: WTF?
It feels like it’s a time worth marking in some special way. Sure, we’ll have our annual Best New Beers lists from around Australia coming later this month and no doubt I’ll be pontificating at length on January 1, 2020. But we felt there should be something more.
So, inspired in a way by the beer advent calendars being ripped open by eager beer lovers from today, we thought we’d create an advent calendar of our own. It’s one in which each day we’ll seek reflections – personal and beer-related – and Christmas wishes from 25 people who’ve played significant roles in getting the local beer world to where it is over the past decade.
Many you’ll know. Some you might not. There will no doubt be some you feel we should have included and haven’t, but it’s been a big ten years and there’s only 25 days until Christmas.
We kick things off with a man who’s a genuine titan of the industry in every way, and one responsible for a beer we’re pretty sure all of you will have consumed at some point in your life. Probably many, many times.
Brad Rogers was one of the three mates who founded Stone & Wood in late 2009, and the man who designed Pacific Ale (then Draught Ale) on his home-brew kit. We’ve told the story of the beer (and the trio) at length already, one that’s changed the face of the Australian beer industry, arguably usurping Coopers Pale as the archetypal Australian pale ale, and helping the Galaxy hop on its way to global supremacy.
Brad’s connections with the beer world stretch back far further than the past decade, however. Starting out as a winemaker, he spent years at CUB, responsible for most of the interesting things happening on the beer front within the company and, ultimately, finding himself at the head of Matilda Bay.
There, he created beers such as the Alpha Pale Ale – an early example of a hopped up American pale ale in Australia, the Barking Duck – one of Australia’s first saisons, and many more. His departure along with Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich to found Stone & Wood is arguably the major tipping point that kicked off the brand’s decline over the past decade, with the brewery's original founder Phil Sexton now looking to ride to the rescue via a soon-to-open Healesville microbrewery.
In the decade or so that I’ve known Brad, he’s also held roles such as chief judge at the country’s biggest beer awards and chairman of the Craft Beer Industry Association (now Independent Brewers Association), a body he helped get off the ground.
More recently, he suffered a series of major setbacks, starting with a serious road accident and followed by further complications that led to fears he wouldn’t survive. He did and eased himself back into Stone & Wood, albeit working rather less than at times in the past.
Last year, he warned me he would making a big announcement the following week. I expected it to be his retirement from the industry following the health issues. Instead, it was a return to the tools as he launched Forest For The Trees, a new brand within the Fermentum family focused on farmhouse ales and barrel-ageing.
From a personal perspective, he’s been a great source of advice and support throughout the lifespan of The Crafty Pint (which hasn’t yet reached its own decade) and is just a bloody great person to enjoy a beer (or pinot noir) with, and someone who cares intensely about beer and the world around it.
Anyway, onto the advent Q&A. And I promise the other intros won’t be as long as this…
What's been your highlight of the past decade?
Pretty easy one: my decision to go it alone with Jamie and Ross, and start up Stone & Wood Brewing Company. It really does feel like it was yesterday… it's been such a great decade!
To drag my wife and young family up to Byron Bay has been my greatest move, both professionally and personally.
Building Stone & Wood has been the greatest fun, sometimes very difficult, but always very exciting. As we’ve grown into one of the biggest craft breweries in the country, we now employ about 150 people across the business. To be a part of the team's individual growth and development has been fantastic. It gets me out of bed every morning.
What's surprised you the most about the Aussie beer scene?
As we close in on something like 700 breweries around the country, my biggest surprise has been how eagerly and excitedly the drinkers out their have taken to the increasing variety of beer in this country.
The big question is: what’s next?
What are your thoughts on the health of the beer industry as we approach the end of a remarkable decade?
The health of the Australian craft beer scene is in good hands. The industry has developed a professional independent brewers association, so it now have a solid voice with a true collective direction.
What's your number one goal for the next decade?
My goal for the 2020s is to wake up every morning knowing that I’m going to be able to have a great beer by the end of the day, that’s been skilfully brewed and respectfully sold to dynamic venues all around this great country and the world!
And, if you had one Christmas wish for beer in Australia, what would it be?
My wish for beer in Australia is that as we all continue to grow we all continue to look after each other.
Every brewery and every brewer will have different and specific individual needs.
We're opening a door on Crafty's Advent Calendar every morning up until Christmas Day and you'll be able to find them all here. Thanks to Jessie at Craft Instinct for her wonderful design work on the calendar too.