Young Henrys: Ten Lessons From Ten Years

Young Henrys feel like such an ingrained and ubiquitous part of the Australian craft beer landscape that it can be a little hard to accept the brewery only launched a decade ago.

When they opened the doors to their Newtown home in 2012, there weren't too many inner-city breweries to be found in any of our capital cities, with craft beer typically the domain of small bars and pubs. What's more, Sydney's inner west was a rather different beast then too, especially when it comes to brewing. Today, the sheer number of breweries in Marrickville alone makes visiting them all in one day something of a Sisyphean task.

The reach of Young Henrys goes well beyond their Newtown backyard, however. Their flagship Newtowner can be found pouring at pubs across Sydney and much further afield, while the brewery's partnerships take in all manner of people and businesses. They've collaborated with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the University of Technology Sydney's Climate Change Cluster, artists, skaters, countless bands and even the current Australian of the Year, Dylan Alcott.

On the music front alone, their collaborations have included beers brewed with the Foo Fighters, You Am I, the Melbourne Fringe Festival, and Rolling Stone magazine, while you'll find them putting their weight behind live music, bars and local community groups too.

Despite the diversity of their partnerships, the Young Henrys brand feels inherently strong: it's Newtown, it's black t-shirts, it's music, and it's the inner west community. And, according to co-founder Rich Adamson, so many of the team are still part of the live music industry that those connections couldn't feel more ingrained in the business.  

"Basically everyone in the company is connected with music or art in some way," Rich says. “So it still feels really natural.

“But there is a continual discussion of what’s cool, and I'm certainly learning a lot and many of the discoveries about what’s happening at the moment doesn’t come from the founders.”

 

Rich, Dan and Oscar at Young Henrys' Newtown home. 

 

Although Rich is quick to point to the importance of the wider Young Henrys family when it comes to pushing the brewery forward today, he remains one of the driving forces there, along with Oscar McMahon and Dan Hampton.

Rich and Oscar launched the brewery together after bonding over a shared love of music and beer while either side of a bar in the inner west: Rich had previously worked for Barons as a brewer while Oscar was in the hard rock outfit Hell City Glamours, at the time. Their meeting led the pair to launch a monthly Beer Club at the Roxbury Hotel.

Dan became an owner in the business late in 2013, following a period spent working in sales for Little Creatures; prior to that he was a police officer. Like the other owners, Dan had spent many years building better beer appreciation through his own business, Beer Snobs. 

Beyond collaborations, Young Henrys have also shown a willingness to do things in their own way: from launching Noble Cut Gin in 2014 to taking on private equity investment and outsourcing much of their production to partner breweries. 

“Quite a few places have started as gypsy brewers and then built a brewery," Rich says. "We've built a brewery, grown with the support of contract – at times rapidly – and that can come and go in the journey depending on your needs. As you take on more investment, maybe you go for that next phase of growth and invest more in stainless steel or you might use the available capabilities and capacity available at other breweries." 

To mark their tenth anniversary, Young Henrys have released a limited edition red ale that spent time in Port and rum barrels. It goes by the name 10 Years Strong and, living up to the brewery's motto, "Serve The People", they're giving the beer away to people who buy any two six- or four-packs of Young Henrys beer. You can find participating retailers here

As the Young Henrys crew celebrate their first decade in beer, we invited Rich, Dan and Oscar to share some of the lessons they've learned along the way.


DAN

Dan through the years (clockwise from left): a shot for their tenth birthday celebrations; brewing with Oscar in 2012; and in 2013.

 

1. Trust your gut

If going with your gut feeling on business ideas or concepts and in response to issues doesn't result in positive outcomes, you're probably in the wrong job or role.

There definitely comes a time when you need to support your gut feel with data or other people's views, but to kick things off in a new business, I would say that good gut feel is the difference between success and failure. The good news is it's free, but the flip side is you can't buy it if you don't have it. Experience helps though...


2. Acknowledge and accept your weaknesses and ensure you hire the right people around you

It's very dangerous to think you're the best at everything, so the sooner you identify your weaknesses, the sooner you can surround yourself with the right people to fill the gaps.

Early days, I tried to educate myself on parts of the business that I didn't fully understand, or roles that didn't come naturally to me, but in the end I probably just wasted time when I could have been pushing harder using my strengths.

The most satisfaction I get is when I'm running company projects surrounded by the right people and everyone is using their superpowers effectively and efficiently. It's a sweet tune.


3. People buy people – it's as important as a great product    

In a perfect world, your amazing product would speak for itself. Newtowner gets national distribution and sells the shit out of itself in every state, regardless of support. But that's definitely not true.

Marketing budget aside, the more really good, passionate, like-minded people you can have in your sales team (your entire company, really) will give your brand the best chance of success. Finding and keeping those staff is a journey in itself, and turnover should be expected, but I've witnessed first hand what a really good purveyor of booze (sales rep) can achieve in a territory that was previously deemed too tough to crack. Beer still has to be good, though – can't have one without the other.


4. Balance is key to longevity

When you start a business, it's all in, all day, every day. Your business must consume you if you're to have any chance of success. Founders need to be prepared to sacrifice all other things but then, as the business matures, work-life balance becomes key to longevity. My first daughter came only a few years into Young Henrys and my wife reminds me quite often that I only took a couple of days off after her birth before jumping back into travel to support the sales teams. 

I also relocated my family to Queensland for 18 months to help grow that territory, even though that meant my wife's photography business died. Actually, the real lesson here is to make sure you have the best wife in support of your dream. Man, I owe my wife some flowers. Side note: she rebuilt her business and is now killing it. Happy ending. 

Back to balance... find your passion outside of work and give yourself that downtime. Founders are no good to a business if they're burnt out. Every time I give myself some time to breathe and think, I end up coming up with sales and marketing plans anyway. Golf rules. Play more golf. I love golf.


RICH

Rich and Noel Fielding Oscar during the early days; photo in top right photo taken in 2010 at a Beer Club event at the Roxbury Hotel.

 

5. Mistakes will be made

Mistakes and missteps, we’ve had a few. In the early days, it was easy to think everything you touch turns to gold. Mistakes remind you that you are human and not infallible. It’s important to learn from them, but not let them define you.

Take the lessons, don’t throw out the good with the bad, and move forward with a clear purpose.


6. Passion is great, but execution is the key

Young Henrys has allowed us to combine our passions of music, arts and culture with great booze. The success of those combinations in a beer release, promotion or event has come from a lot of effort from teams of people in planning and execution.

Great ideas are worth pursuing, but you need to follow through, focus on the details, and plan for success.


7. Continue to innovate and adapt

Whilst we are no longer knocking out 50 different beers a year, or 50 variations of the same beer, we still work hard on R&D for new recipes that we feel are truly innovative and reflect our interests, brand, and values. We added to our core range – hello Stayer and Motorcycle Oil – removed an original – goodbye for now Real Ale – expanded into the world of RTDs – gin in a tin – and released countless B-Sides and collabs. We have also worked hard behind the scenes honing processes and procedures, added new hop varietals. like Eclipse hops into Stayer, tested and adopted new product, equipment and processes.

At the same time, we kicked off a multi-year research project in using algae for CO2 sequestering and methane abatement. I think it’s a fine balance of the shiny new versus long-lasting impact.   


OSCAR

Ten years of running a business clearly haven't impacted Oscar's locks, with the photo on the right taken on the brewdeck in 2012.

 

8. Understand and remain true to your brand

Good brands must be both strong of conviction and consistent as much as they must be ready to grow and adapt to an ever-changing marketplace and consumer set. A deep understanding of what your brand and company stands for at its core is the constant that allows your brand to grow and change without seeming like you’re changing tack or flip-flopping all over the place. 

If the values and purpose of your company are your guiding principles and you make decisions based around those values, your brand will be able to evolve along the way.


9. Your crew know more than you

Seriously, apart from a few notable exceptions in the international business world, business owners don’t always have all the answers and bright ideas. If you hire great, engaging, creative people and allow them to truly have a voice, the amount of creativity you then have in your organisation is truly unstoppable.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than when my ideas are the worst of a brainstorming session… it means that the future remains bright.


10. Sustainability Gives Instant Returns

Sustainability is expensive and takes ages to show a return, right? Wrong. Choosing the more sustainable path at any given decision point will give you an instant return in your team's, your customers' and your own faith in your brand because you have decided to invest in your brands "goodness" as opposed to just bottom-line thinking. It feels good to do good. It feels good to stand for something. 

I know that some of the YH crew believe in and love this business because of some of those decisions we make – decisions made together, might I add. If you want to add value to your customers and stakeholders, you can either drop your prices or do something valuable.

As we all, as a people, become more discerning about the companies we support, make sure your company is doing good things because goodness is good and it’s nice to have values in common with your people.


If you're keen to take other trips down Memory Lane, Two Birds joined us for this series last year, while Boatrocker were the inaugural guests back in 2019. And you can read about the tenth birthday beer here.

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