The local beer world is facing one of its toughest challenges right now, with COVID-19 first shutting down the entire hospitality industry and now creating uncertainty and restricting the way owners can run their businesses.
At the same time, breweries and many pubs and bars have shown themselves to be vastly innovative in adapting to the new reality, finding ways to survive and, hopefully in the long term, emerge as stronger businesses.
Little surprise then, that the story of the year – if not the millennium to date – is the focus of much of Beer Cartel's annual Australian Craft Beer Survey.
Since launching in 2016, the survey has grown into a significant snapshot of attitudes, opinions, trends and spends in the local beer world. In 2019, around 24,000 people took part, crowning Balter the country's best brewery; with CUB acquiring the Gold Coast operation a few weeks later, it will be interesting to see how they fare in 2020 given the impact of past sales.
Of the decision to focus many of the questions on the impact of the novel coronavirus, Beer Cartel director Richard Kelsey says: “There has been a lot of media coverage on alcohol consumption throughout COVID-19. From the peak of restrictions, through to now where we are seeing some states with minimal restrictions, and others that are experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases. It will be fascinating to look at how craft beer drinkers have approached this period.
"It will also be interesting to look at the different states, with Melbourne in lockdown and Victorians banned from other states, and other states where there's a lot more freedom."
As well as a continued focus on areas such as independence, use of beer media, social media and apps, spending habits and views on the best breweries and venues, the 2020 survey also includes questions on the consumption of gluten free and alcohol-free beers, the latter of which we looked at on the first day of Dry July.
"We are starting to see some great innovations in alcohol-free beer," Richard says. "This study will help to uncover if those innovations are turning into consumption habits amongst craft beer drinkers.”
He told The Crafty Pint they hope to engage with as many – or more – people as last year, describing the 24,000 who took part in 2019 as "a phenomenal number".
"The survey helps give an insight to the industry," he adds. "Everything goes back to different breweries and venues and publications to give them an understanding of their customers."
As for his own thoughts on life in the beer world in 2020, from a Beer Cartel perspective, while they closed their physical store in Artarmon from March to June and now work in two teams in case one gets sick, they – like other established online retailers – have enjoyed a boost in sales and have been expanding their team. Looking more widely, Richard says the future is "going to be interesting".
"When you consider that places have had three months plus of having no or much reduced income," he says, "you can only survive for a certain period of time. As the noose gets kind of tighter, it makes it much more challenging. Most businesses can wear a couple of months of pain but once it starts getting longer then that does get tough.
"The more that everyone can do to wave the flag for Australian craft beer the better. Hopefully, as many as possible make it through."
The survey takes just five minutes to complete. Anyone who takes part goes into the running to win a prize of $500 to spend on craft beer.