Ten years on from the launch of Two Birds Brewing, the fact the brewing company started by Dani Allen and Jayne Lewis was the first in Australia to be owned by women feels less central to their story than it once might have done. This is in no way to undermine the way in which they broke the mould when they sold their first Golden Ale, more an acknowledgement of just how much they've gone on to achieve since.
The long-time friends – Dani an entrepreneur who had been carving her own path through the corporate world, Jayne a winemaker turned cidermaker and then brewer who had become Mountain Goat's first head brewer – have gone on to amass trophies galore at the country's biggest beer competitions, release inventive beers, forge partnerships outside the beer industry, and act as an inspiration to so many others in the wider beer community (although they'd no doubt be too humble to admit the last of these).
They started out brewing their Golden and then Sunset Ales as contract brewers, quickly winning a big following and helping the golden ale style enjoy its moment in the sun. The clearly colour-coded approach to their beers in the early days appears to have inspired many others, while their Nest – home to their brewery and venue – in Spotswood played a major role in the rise of craft beer in Melbourne's west once they had a brewery of their own.
Despite the challenges of running a brewing company in a fast-evolving industry, both Dani and Jayne (who we featured in our end of decade Advent Calendar) have given their time generously, whether as judges or educators or guests at events. And they've won over countless friends throughout the industry thanks to the warmth and energy they bring with them when they enter a room.
Just before they reached their ten-year milestone, they entered a new chapter of Two Birds, becoming part of the Fermentum Group of brands alongside the likes of Stone & Wood, Fixation and Sunly Seltzer.
With such an incredible tale to tell – and this is just scratching the surface – we invited them to look back on their decade in beer and share with us the key moments and lessons learned along the way in our second Ten Lessons From Ten Years feature.
1. Things move quickly, don’t think you can ever rest!
When we first started in 2011 or even had the idea to start a brewing business in mid to late 2010, it was such a different landscape. I would never say it was “easy” to sell beer but I remember the first pallet of stock that we received for me to sell in Sydney – stored in my home lockup garage, as I was based in Sydney until two years ago when I moved back home to Perth.
I literally took two six-pack samples in a backpack with me and cold called around my home suburb in Crows Nest and Artarmon. I got three for three!
I was beyond excited to have landed two indie bottleshops – Beer Cartel and Cutty St Cellars – plus the coolest new place on the strip - Small Bar Crows Nest. We also launched with kegs - my poor car.
Selling beer to pubs was a totally foreign concept for me. I’d only had experience in retail from working in marketing and product development for ALM and Woolies. It was also relatively easy, surprisingly. Don't get me wrong, having the ability to walk in and say “the brewer is ex Little Creatures and Mountain Goat” definitely helped get the foot in the door.
Time moved on and everything changed: more breweries, competitive pricing, trading terms, pallet buys, retail displays, tap fees, bonus kegs, Instagram, webshops, databases, sponsorships, support local, bloody rectangle decals that cost so much more, tap handles, professional images of beer, beer styles, beer styles and beers styles galore!
I found it’s important to not get too caught up in what everyone else is doing, and stay focused on your own plan, but it’s also equally important to keep evolving, to keep interest and relevance.
2. As you grow, business gets complicated
Like many breweries, we started on spreadsheets and with the basic cloud-based MYOB as Jayne and I were in different cities and each processing our own orders. We then stepped up to another cloud-based finance accounting software, but this one could do inventory management! We could do transfers between different third-party logisitics. It was ground-breaking.
In 2014, when we built the brewery and were hiring our first employee – it was just the Birds for the first few years – we knew that housing our data was going to be important. We then moved into a full enterprise resource planning resource and to the Rolls Royce of Cloud Based Accounting software: Netsuite. It cost us a bomb and in order for it to see its true potential, we needed to bring in an additional dedicated resource. Netsuite was our one-stop-shop for CRM, Finance, HR, Sales – including wholesale data, sales reports, live inventory and batch recording – cut in any way I needed it to help the sales team and I to sell more beer.
I might be a bit of a weirdo but I like looking back at ten years of data.
3. The personal journey (a woman in a man's world)
I decided to “jump ship” and begin my entrepreneurial career at the age of 32. Although, I’d probably argue I was an entrepreneur at the age of ten when I was selling work gloves and dust masks that I’d scavenged from Dad’s workwear business bin at the markets at 4am...
I worked for five years at IBA (Independent Brands Australia), a division of Metcash Indie brands, and then for five years at Woolies supermarkets in the early 2000s, and being the only or one of few women in the room was normal to me. It’s something I’ve never had a concern about or lost sleep over. I’m fortunate in that way.
From a career perspective, ten years of the corporate world gave me both life and business experience, as well as the confidence to embark on starting a brewery. I’ve found the world of beer overall extremely welcoming and dickheads are pretty few and far between. They still exist, of course, but I’ve definitely tried to live by the mantra of not sweating the small stuff.
Even though we are “Australia’s first female-founded brewery”, to me, that’s just a fact and I’m personally not trying to prove anything to anyone, other than myself. Somebody was going to take that title, and I’m very proud that it was us!
I became a mother in 2016 and began the work/family balancing act, which has made me so respectful of any parents that do this juggle. Those little ones sure are needy! I’ve matured, I’ve partied my backside off, and I’ve woken up every day for the last ten years, checked my work emails, put out some fires and tried to just keep selling more beer. Some years were easier than others. Let’s not talk about 2020.
4. Know your strengths and weaknesses
The wearing of many hats got tired pretty quickly and, in hindsight, and I realise I stubbornly held on too long, trying to do things that I was no good at. I think I know a little about a lot of things but I am definitely no financier or even a marketing or sales expert. Once we brought in people or employed services with a skillset in finance, administration, software development and PR, it freed up some of my time for bigger picture thinking.
As the business grows and more people join, however, it does become more about managing people and the big picture does get pushed aside at times. The people that we’ve worked with over the years truly helped us shape the business and provided new inspiration to draw on, to ensure we kept evolving. Without the passion of our flock, we would have never achieved ten years.
5. Trying to learn to embrace the ups and downs. The long game.
I’m smart enough to know that it was never going to be a straight upward flight to success. There have been several points over the past ten years when something "bad" happened and I felt a sense of despair and was wondering what’s the point? At times it felt like I couldn’t get through it, and when it impacts you on a personal level, and you think as extreme as you might not even have a home to live in, then it can be pretty scary.
For me, most days like that motivated me to do better. Be better. A new opportunity always showed up soon after and the "bad" was long forgotten.
1. Stardust taught me to trust my gut
Stardust was my tribute to David Bowie. Served with glitter in the glass, it looked like a swirling galaxy. The idea struck me on the day Bowie died: I wrote the recipe that day, while doing the late brew and mainlining Bowie tunes. I was so excited, but when I pitched the idea, I kept hearing why it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. All of which were valid, but I just knew that there was something in this idea and that it deserved to come to life.
Two years later, I finally worked out how to dose the glitter with the minimum amount of mess and fuss – we all know that glitter has a tendency of getting into everything. When it was released in 2018, the buzz around the beer was phenomenal; I remember watching the likes and shares just skyrocket on the socials and realised that we were witnessing this beer go viral!
It taught me to trust my gut and that, if an idea keeps coming back to you and won’t leave you, consider how you might bring it to life, because there must be something in it.
2. Sunset – our most awarded beer and proving ourselves
When Dani and I first started Two Birds, as Australia’s first female-founded brewery there was plenty of rhetoric that the company was just a gimmick. I was determined to silence our critics and put aside any notion that we weren’t 100 percent serious about what we were doing, so I set out to make the best-damned quality beer that I could, with the best-damned brewers. The beer hasn’t always been perfect and we’ve had some issues along the way, but I am relentless about quality and am by far our harshest critic. It’s challenging, but it’s part of what makes Two Birds what it is. That and the commitment from our brewers to put quality first at every decision point.
This commitment has resulted in Two Birds winning multiple trophies across The Indies and AIBA, including trophies for Sunset, Taco and Lager and multiple Champion Brewery trophies. The one that was most significant to me was the AIBA Champion Medium Brewery trophy in 2016 (pictured above), which was a massive hat tip to our consistency and ability to brew high quality beers across the board. Being recognised in the largest annual beer comp in the world meant a lot. It was a highlight of my career so far and marked the moment when I went, “OK, I’m done, I don’t need to prove anything any more.”
After a bet with our then head brewer Wilson Hede that we wouldn’t pick up a trophy at those awards, and we picked up two trophies, I had to mill in every brew we did for four weeks. That's the brewers equivalent of having to do the dishes every night for a month. Worth it.
Sunset has gone on to be our most awarded beer, picking up two AIBA Champion Amber/Red trophies and also winning a trophy at The Wetherspoons Real Ale Festival.
3. Trailblazer Lager taught me the power of aligning values
I remember going to the AFLW Western Bulldogs games at Whitten Oval in the first season and thinking, “A women’s AFL team based in the Western suburbs, our heartland, this would be the perfect partnership for us, we need to go after this."
Dani and our sales manager Sulti went to work pursuing this and making this dream a reality, resulting in Two Birds sponsoring the AFLW games at Whitten Oval for 2018 and 2019.
We designed a beer, Trailblazer Lager, to be drunk on the hill at Whitten Oval, while watching the Western Bulldogs AFLW team play, which was our tribute to those trailblazing women on the field and in all walks of life.
I shed a tear the day that I got to enjoy my first can on the hill, and that partnership will always be a career highlight for me and something that I am so proud of.
I have learnt that aligning your values with those around you, especially those you’re in business with, can result in great and powerful things happening.
4. Taco – simple can be beautiful and powerful
In 2013, Dani and I were brainstorming a beer for GABS and came up with the idea of taking inspiration from tacos to do a twist on a Belgian wit. Instead of orange peel and coriander seed traditionally used in witbiers, we decided to use lime peel and fresh coriander leaf and corn in the mash.
It was a simple, uncomplicated beer but somehow it managed to stand out among the craziness that is GABS and, eight years later, is the beer that we are best known for and still the biggest seller at The Nest.
This taught me that things don’t always have to be complicated and there is beauty and cut-through in simplicity.
5. My journey
I came to the business as a brewer but rapidly realised that the thing I was good at wasn’t going to be the thing that would occupy most of my time. Dani and I wore multiple hats from sales to accounts to delivery driver to venue manager to counsellor.
Owning a business has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and, over the last ten years, I have grown and changed and learnt so much about myself. The ten years have been full of highs and lows. It has tested my resilience, my belief in myself, my relationships...
I’m a better person for it, just with more grey hairs.
The journey has led me to a new passion for psychology and managing people, now with a side of managing breweries. We are now part of a new family and I’m grateful to have amazing support and to be able to pursue this new thing that I have discovered that I’m good at.
If I knew what I know now, would I have started my own business? No.
But would I change anything? Absolutely not.
Thanks for taking the time to contribute to this article, Dani and Jayne, we're excited to see what the next decade brings. You can read our first entry in this series on Boatrocker by heading here.