After somehow squeezing in between Melbourne's lockdowns last May, bringing joy to thousands of beer lovers and relief to brewers and venue owners alike, Good Beer Week will not be returning as planned in May 2022.
The Independent Brewers Association (IBA) took the decision to cancel its event program for the year – including the annual conference BrewCon – at a board meeting earlier this week. BrewCon will now return in Queensland in August 2023, after COVID forced the cancellation of the conference scheduled for the Sunshine Coast last year and in 2020.
The Indies awards will still go ahead later in the year, and are likely to follow a similar format to the past two years when the pandemic saw them streamed live from a studio with parties taking place around the country.
IBA CEO Kylie Lethbridge, who made the recommendation to the board to cancel the 2022 events program, says Good Beer Week will return. The association will use the coming months to assess how the festival will look after introducing some changes to the format, including greater support for indie brewers, over the past couple of years.
Kylie says the IBA will also be rolling out a raft of other measures in support of measures, and is already well advanced with plans for BrewCons in 2024 and beyond. What's more, the events calendar won't disappear completely as a program of state and regional networking lunches and knowledge-sharing Mash Ups are set to be rolled out across the country.
"It's been so great to be optimistic for the past two years, and to work in an industry that is fundamentally optimistic," she told The Crafty Pint. "But you need to be realistic.
"We have a responsibility to deliver for members, and to evolve the IBA, and listen to what the industry wants from us.
"How long is our membership or people paying us for a service going to be patient or understand you when you are spending all your time and effort gearing up for BrewCon, only to cancel again?" she says of the decision to refocus resources for the year ahead, adding: "There are real costs you don't get back."
While there is a feeling within the brewing and hospo communities that things are starting to pick up after another dire summer, Kylie points out: "People are still self-isolating. The states are still not back to normal. Pubs that might normally be heaving are still closing at 10pm. It's not really getting back to normal."
Events of all sizes have been making a comeback over summer and the GABS events scheduled for Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are still going ahead, yet the ongoing ramifications of the COVID pandemic have continued to wreak havoc. HomeBrewed 2 in Adelaide was cancelled late in the day after new restrictions were put in place due to the rise in Omicron cases in SA, while GABF Geelong was postponed until April for similar reasons. In terms of beer weeks, after scraping over the line in March 2020, Brisbane's Brewsvegas didn't go ahead last year and there has been no announcement from the organisers regarding 2022.
In a statement issued this morning, the IBA said: "We have not made this decision lightly and the options have been weighed and measured but given the current uncertainty for many events we feel it is prudent to make the call early by managing the collective risk that large gatherings in pose."
As well as taking into account the ongoing risk posed to events by COVID and measures taken to combat it, the decision was guided by a need to refocus resources already stretched to the limit by the challenges of the past two years on projects that support members nationwide.
Among the other projects the IBA will be focusing on in 2022 are:
- The launch of a 10 Year Roadmap developed by KPMG, a push to see it adopted by government as the guiding policy for indie beer, and working with Project Groups, State Chapter Leads and partners to prioritise and deliver key actions outlined in the plan, including shared technology platforms/systems, group buying power, technical guides, sales tools, HR and legal services, sustainability programs, guidelines for navigating regulatory obligations, funding and business models and so on.
- Implementing the Indies Awards Review. More on that here.
- Launching a new HR toolkit and commencing work on a Diversity Plan for the industry. A new Code of Conduct was introduces by the IBA last year, as we covered here.
- Expanding efforts in the education and training space to address the skills shortage of brewers.
- Working with other beer event organisers to introduce the Indie Seal and experiences.
- Launching a national consumer direct Indie Seal awareness campaign.
- Plus a series of in-progress activities, including improvements/alignment of CDS schemes, working with FSANZ on the co-design process for the proposed energy labelling, responding to state licensing, planning and regulation reviews, and advocacy efforts ahead of state and federal elections.
Of their plans for 2022, Kylie says: "We'll be taking the IBA to our members, rather than coming together at BrewCon. The networking lunches and Mash Ups mean the industry still gets together to engage with each other face-to-face."
In terms of engaging with the beer-loving public, the intention is to roll out a consumer awareness campaign based around the independence seal and building "the indie story", with a launch scheduled for April. Their associate membership scheme, which is open to non-brewing businesses in the beer world, is also set for a relaunch.
As for the future of the country's biggest beer week, Kylie says: "Whether Good Beer Week looks a little different, there's no doubt about its future.
"It will still go ahead, but how it looks, we will take the time between now and then to do a bit of a 'Where do we go?' – we've already been having discussions around that. We'll use this period to look at what changes we might want to make – to focus more on indie brewers and provide more opportunities for interstate indie brewers.
"It's a good time to look at what it should do."
Kylie admits making the decision behind today's announcement "wasn't easy", but says the board – which includes a new chair and three new members – was understanding and supportive. "Hopefully, the support the team and I got with the Indies awards [audit] will apply to this announcement."
There's not doubt that as the country's largest event of its kind – one which celebrated its tenth running in 2021, and attracts visitors from across Australia as well as, pre-pandemic, high profile guests from all over the world – the cancellation of Good Beer Week will come as a blow to many, not least venues who would have been looking for a restorative shot in the arm similar to that delivered by GBW in 2021, as well as those beer fans who book the week off or travel from interstate.
A third year without a BrewCon represents a significant loss for the industry too, but given the scope of both events and the resources and costs involved in putting them on – not to mention the ongoing impact of past cancellations on the IBA team and its finances – the board's decision to postpone and plan ahead of a return in 2023 is understandable.
As for what lies ahead from The Crafty Pint's perspective, let's just say: "Watch this space..."
You can find out more in this video from the IBA.