Batch Brewing Co this week completed the acquisition of fellow Sydney-based beer business Bucket Boys. It will see the latter's Darling Square bar transition into a Batch venue in the heart of Sydney's CBD, while Bucket Boys' Marrickville bar and bottleshop will retain the Bucket Boys name, with customers set to notice a greater Batch presence over time.
The move comes at the end of a challenging time for Bucket Boys, who'd embarked on ambitious expansion plans just before bushfires then COVID hit, later being forced to close their Penrith store, with co-founder Johnathan Hepner and his staff set to remain with the new business.
There's something of a synergy to the acquisition too. Both of Batch's founders are, like Johnathan, from the US, with Johnathan's first job in the Australian beer industry at Batch in the brewery's early days. Both businesses also embarked on crowdfunding campaigns in recent years, with the purchase of Bucket Boys fitting into the expansion plans Batch spoke about when they launched their $1.5m raise through Equitise.
For Batch co-owner Andrew Fineran, this was an opportunity to diversify their business, and one that first came up while they were working with Bucket Boys on an advent calendar featuring their beers last year.
"It was just during random conversations I was having with [Johnathan]," Andrew says. "I asked, 'Are you thinking about getting out and selling?' He was like, 'Yeah' – he wanted to be involved in the business but not running it.
"[Fellow Batch owner] Chris [Sidwa] and I got into it with him. We were looking to start new places, and he already had licenses set up, so we weren't going to have to start everything from scratch ... and could take over these bars and hit the ground running.
"The [Marrickville] bottleshop has so much potential, the bar upstairs has so much potential, and there's so much life in Marrickville – people are bouncing back. And Darling Square is a great marketing exercise as office workers and tourism come back."
Prior to this week's acquisition, Andrew said Batch had invested some of their crowdfunding dollars in the hiring of a new head brewer and head of sales while continuing their search for potential new Batch taprooms around Greater Sydney.
"What we realised is that most people who are into Batch are from our local area," he told The Crafty Pint. "We still want to expand and help the brand as per the plans; we looked at Wollongong and Cronulla, but nothing was standing out to me, and I didn't want to force the situation."
He says they figured taking over Bucket Boys' venues, online store and subscription service was "just different enough from what we're doing to diversify our business" to make it an attractive next step.
"It felt like this cool thing you can find in Portland or San Francisco where there's breweries who love to produce great beers but also love to have fun with great beers from elsewhere, like crazy stuff coming out of America or getting in really great classics," he says, adding: "We could also go to other Aussie breweries without much distribution in Sydney and sell their beers.
"There's just a lot of really cool stuff we could do."
This includes stepping up their small batch program, which is the ethos upon which they launched, and which drove the decision to create Small Batch in Petersham.
"When we opened Small Batch, the whole intention was to make sure we're still living out what we set out to do," Andrew says, with the hope being that a greater number of outlets will help them sell their limited releases quicker and more efficiently.
As for Johnathan, who was suffering with COVID when we spoke earlier in the week as he prepared to inform investors of the sale, it's far from the outcome he envisaged when embarking on the multifaceted Bucket Boys mission, but is one he believes can deliver a positive future for both brands.
"It's going into another local business, so that's good for everybody," he told The Crafty Pint. "They're really curious people and will thrive. They love to create."
"Batch was my first beer job in Australia," he adds. "They see the vision that we wanted and get it, and they have the resources. I'm excited to see the Bucket Boys idea go on – that was one of my main things. It sounds cliched but it's true – I didn't want to see the business close."
Opening two new stores in Penrith and Darling Square in the months before COVID hit took their toll, with Johnathan saying those businesses were too young, and lacking in sales figures, for them to take advantage of government support during the pandemic.
"We had some big dreams, and I just didn't get to really see what was going to happen," Johnathan says, adding: "It's a combination of things. We could have done some things better. And there was really bad timing that was out of our control, but I'm more excited about looking forward.
"The spaces that they're going to take over from us and grow and change things – it's really great.
"It will be a bit strange working for what was my own business, but it's probably a good thing because the past couple of years have been pretty tough, and I won't have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I'll be getting to do what I want to do – I'll still be at Bucket Boys in Marrickville and running the online store."
As for Batch, while they settle into their new venues and newly-diversified business, they're also working on significant plans outside Sydney too. But that's a story for another day.
We also added our take on the three latest releases from Batch to our New Beers page today. You can read about them here.