The Gold Coast is well known in beer circles these days, not least thanks to the headline-grabbing rise of both Balter and Black Hops. You'll find other smaller brewing companies dotted around the region too, plus a selection of quality bars and bottleshops.
It's a stark change from my earliest research trips to the region in the months leading up to the launch of The Crafty Pint. When it came to beer, the two things that stand out in my memory most clearly were the size of the decals with which the country's big brewers looked to entice you to try one or other of their varieties of lager – bloody huge – and the relief when you chanced upon bottles of Coopers in the fridge, particularly if there was some Best Extra Stout; you could pretty much guarantee no one else was drinking it so there'd be a bit of age on the beer too.
There was one exception back then, however: Burleigh Brewing. Long before the Gold Coast was viewed as a viable location in which to set up and sell your own flavoursome beers, they were at it. Admittedly, in the early years, the beers they were selling – particularly in their home region – were the likes of a mid-strength Munich Helles style lager, a full strength lager and a traditional hefeweizen (one so good it beat all-comers to gold in the prestigious World Beer Cup in the US). What's more, in the first five years after they launched, they found it easier to sell beer in Brisbane than on their doorstep.
But, before the likes of Green Beacon and Newstead had launched in Brisbane, you'd also find them knocking out one of the best pale ales in the country, the 28 Pale Ale, and releasing what were then envelope-pushing seasonals such as the Black Giraffe coffee lager; their Figjam IPA was one of the earliest such beers to be given a spot in a local brewery's core range too.
They created the beers on a brew kit that is still bigger than the vast majority operated by the country's other independent brewers, steadily gobbling up one warehouse unit after another at their original site before moving to their current home in 2016.
As the craft beer industry has broken into the mainstream then become the noisy, exuberant, confused and vibrant place it is today, the Burleigh brewers – led by Brennan Fielding, who started out in commercial brewing in his home state of Hawaii in 1994 – have continued to follow their own path, resisting the temptation to knock out anything too outré and sticking to a DNA that pretty much guarantees any beer you pick up bearing the Burleigh name will be flavoursome and tightly constructed.
Along with Brennan's brewing skills, the other key factor in their success is Peta Fielding, the Gold Coast local who returned home with Brennan and a young family and focused on the business side of Burleigh. Without wishing to tar everyone with the same brush, it has to be said that the business part of running a brewing business has often been way down the list of priorities for many small local operations. Yet Peta not only helped create a solid and successful one at Burleigh, she has collected a swag of major business awards over the years to sit alongside those awarded to Brennan's beers.
She was also chair of the Craft Beer Industry Association at the time members voted to exclude the country's major brewers and become the Independent Brewers Association, and a board member of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) that delivered the global sporting event in 2018.
And here she is, getting fully into the Christmas spirit, as we near the midway point in our end-of-decade Advent Calendar series.
What's been your highlight of the past decade?
There have been so many highlights, it’s hard to pick just one. But overall, our family – both our blood one and our Burleigh Brewing one – have brought “Joy To The World”. We’ve worked, laughed and grown together. And the positive effects have been far reaching. It feels great.
What's surprised you the most about the Aussie beer scene?
I don’t know that I’ve been surprised by much to be honest. Sure, it’s unpredictable. But that in itself is not surprising. You’d have to be “Frosty The Snowman” to not at least be aware of the Australian craft beer scene now. And that is awesome.
The wave of understanding of, and support for, indie beer is gathering momentum now too – Aussies are getting behind the cause!
It’s certainly surprising to think we kicked things off in Burleigh Heads more than 13 years ago. Time flies when you’re having fun.
What are your thoughts on the health of the beer industry as we approach the end of a remarkable decade?
“It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.” But looks can be deceiving.
The Australian craft beer landscape at the end of this decade looks very different from the one we were working in at the start. Actually, there wasn’t a craft beer landscape on the Gold Coast a decade ago. It was pretty lonely and it’s nice now to have others around to enjoy the journey with!
The evolution hasn’t come easily and it will continue to be challenging. But, together with our team, we’re committed to what we do and why we do it, so in a crazy kind of way, we truly love it. We’re definitely looking forward to the next decade.
What's your number one goal for the coming decade?
If I could have just one wish it would be to “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!” Well, rain actually. Kind of a silly goal really, because rainy days aren’t necessarily the best for beer sales and obviously I can’t make it rain! But it’s more about continuing to be aware of the community around us and honouring our place within it by doing whatever we can, within our means, to band together for good.
It’s a massive part of our world at Burleigh Brewing and I want to keep doing more of that - focusing our efforts in Australia, giving back to our community and celebrating others around us who are finding ways to live their passion.
And, if you had one Christmas wish for beer in Australia, what would it be?
For Aussies everywhere to be “Rockin’ Around Their Christmas Trees” with awesome indie craft beer in hand. (I can recommend a few good ones if anyone’s after a tip!)
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. And you can read more about the Fielding's life in beer in a Brew & A we ran with the couple in 2018.