As vibrant as Tasmania’s local beer industry has become, there’s still a truism that’s survived intact even as more and more breweries have opened: it can be pretty hard to find Tasmanian-brewed craft beers on the mainland.
Sure, a few make it over Bass Strait – the radically different Moo Brew and Two Metres Tall immediately spring to mind – but, for the most part, to drink Tassie beer you have to travel to Tasmania (aside from during Pint of Origin of course).
That feels like it's set to change, however. Last year, we wrote about Fox Friday embarking on construction of breweries in Hobart and Melbourne; now T-Bone Brewing are edging closer to completing their own production brewery (pictured above is its recently-installed signage) located in Huntingfield, a short drive south of Hobart. While their North Hobart brewpub is staying put, Carla Bignall, who founded and runs the brewery with husband Tom, says the expansion has been needed for some time.
“We’ve been at capacity [in North Hobart] for a couple of years,” she told The Crafty Pint. “So, we were getting pretty serious about it just before COVID.”
After the country's first lockdown, despite the lack of tourists who traditionally flock to Tasmania, demand for their beers has been outstripping what they can produce. The brewery with which they launched their business is a 1,200-litre system that sits in one part of their brewpub in the heart of the excellent good beer strip that is Elizabeth Street in North Hobart. It's been the home of T-Bone since late 2016; prior to that, they brewed at the property of rye whisky specialist Belgrove Distillery, run by Tom's dad.
Carla says the success of their cans is in part thanks to their arrival in 2018, back when there were fewer local packaged options in Tasmania, as well as working with wine merchants David Johnstone & Associates.
“We got onto a really good distributor from the start,” Carla says, adding the decision to introduce cans helped them expand their footprint across the state.
“That changed everything dramatically," Tom says. "It opened up so many more doors and put a whole lot more pressure on the wholesale side. It changed the whole business effectively.”
It has meant brew days in North Hobart are long, often involving triple handling and hours spent loading and unloading gear before punters walk in for a beer. It's also hampered Tom's ability to experiment as much as he’d like, with their production schedule tied up in meeting demand.
“We’ve been pushing this gear so hard, there’s no real flexibility for us and there’s a lot of frustration with that," Tom says. “We can’t try any styles that might take a little bit longer because it throws everything else out.”
More frustrating than the long brew days, they say, is knowing more people want to try their beers than can actually get their hands on them – their current 1,000-litre system is maxed out at around 75,000 litres a year.
“We know the demand's there,” Tom says. “Locally, we could be producing a fair bit more than we can here and that’s without even looking to the mainland for opportunities.”
The new setup features a four-vessel system from America’s Alpha Brewing (supplied locally by FB*PROPAK) that will allow them to brew closer to 3,600 litres at a time, while the sizeable warehouse space means there's no longer a need to play Tetris with beer, equipment and ingredients.
“I’m really looking forward to a nice flat ground and driving a forklift around,” Tom says.
Having said that, the area around Huntingfield in Hobart’s south has both industry and residents surrounding it, meaning there's a lot of potential local beer fans in their vicinity. As a result, they’ll look to open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays, even if the focus there is very much production first.
“We didn’t want to get into that same trap,” Tom says. “We’ve got the venue here and we don’t want a place where the brewery is hanging off the back; we want the brewery, and if there’s retail on top then great.”
While Tom and Carla are keen to satisfy unmet demand in their home state, they're also looking towards the mainland, and plan to start working with mainland distributors to get beer across Bass Strait.
While that's undoubtedly an exciting prospect for the couple, there's an even more immediate milestone they're eagerly anticipating: the day they no longer have to set up and pack down their canning line every time they need it.
As Carla says: “We won’t know ourselves.”
If all goes to plan, Carla and Tom hope T-Bone's new production site will be ready in late April. Once the venue is open to the public, it will appear in the free Crafty Pint app.
If you'd like to join T-Bone as they expand, they're hiring a brewer.