The crew at Your Mates Brewing don’t have a "build it and they will come" mentality. They have more of a "go to where the people are" mentality.
Which goes some of the way to explaining why, last week, co-owner Matt "Hep" Hepburn crested the northernmost point of Australia in a Your Mates-branded LandCruiser, having spent the previous few weeks shouting a thousand schooners of Larry pale ale in pubs along the east coast of Queensland, and sharing tinnies with various strangers he’s met at campsites along the way. And why he’s got two more months of this to go.
But before we get to tales of makeshift log bridges and bartering beer for crayfish, perhaps we should back up a little bit and explain the Mateship Tour.
Before they were business partners, Hep and Christen McGarry were mates. They loved the great outdoors: camping, boating, fishing, surfing, four-wheel driving… with a few cold beers always fitting in there somewhere, shared with old mates and new. And so when the pair started Your Mates Brewing they built the brand around this lifestyle, always intending to bring more mates into the fold. You only have to skim back through their social media to see said lifestyle at play.
After the mess of the last couple of years – pubs closing, events and festivals cancelled, horrid weather causing all kinds of problems for all kinds of people – the Your Mates team have been champing at the bit to get back to making new mates and putting beer into their hands.
Which is what led to the idea of the Mateship Tour: "We're touring this great state and shouting 100 cold schooeys of Larry at every stop to celebrate mateship and Queensland being back open," he says. "We've dubbed it the Mateship Tour, and the goal is simple: share as many good beers with good mates as we can.”
The plan is to host 30 bar shouts in three months, which involves Hep travelling around the state in a decked-out LandCruiser and caravan with his wife Chantelle and their small child along for the ride (not to mention another tiny mate using Chantelle as a caravan). And when I say "all around the state", I mean "all around the state": the bar shouts are reaching as far north as Cooktown (though Hep couldn’t help but nip up to Cape York and duck out to Roko Island), as far west as Mt Isa, and as far south as Stanthorpe. Meanwhile, Hep brought along loads of tinnies and merch, so at campsites and caravan parks along the way he’s making new friends by saying: "G’day!" and having a Larry with people.
And if he can squeeze some four-wheel driving, boating and fishing in there as well, why bloody not?
While Hep is being the ultimate Your Mates mascot, embodying the spirit of the business in a way few owners do, it must be said that this isn’t a solo gig. The crew back home is dealing with a lot of logistics.
“From our side of things, it’s been a planning and logistical nightmare!”
Rob Naylor, the marketing co-ordinator at Your Mates, isn’t complaining. But between moments of awe at what Hep is doing, he’s one of people constantly scurrying to support Hep from back on the Sunshine Coast.
“Hep is pretty well prepped with a few cartons in the caravan, but he’s putting a keg on at every pub… he’s on the road and we’re trying to tee him up with kegs and merch on the way.
“It’s a constant, ‘Where are we at, what’s next, what’s working what’s not?’,” he says.
In South East Queensland, none of this would be an issue: the brewery could get a keg to a venue the same day, or at worst the following day. But some of the remote places Hep is going to? Rob has found himself organising a barge delivery of kegs, and sending to towns that have a truck head out there once a month.
He’s realising why craft breweries don’t generally service regional towns in Queensland – but also finding satisfaction in the pay-off.
“That’s the how. As for the why: it’s something that should be done. We want to get the brand out there. What’s better than putting a can in hand?" he says.
“Nobody goes out that far. Nobody goes more than a couple of hours out from the major centres. But the response we’ve been getting from these smaller towns… half the town turns up! Instagram blows up with comments and photos.”
Despite the fact Hep has no phone service half the time, so far he’s managed not to run into any major problems.
“Luckily he hasn’t had any breakdowns or anything like that,” Rob says. “Get on the road and anything could happen… especially in a brand new, untested, four-wheel drive towing a two-tonne caravan that’s 20 feet long.”
Hep needed a vehicle that could tow a caravan, and was also able to access some of the out-of-the-way places they wanted to get to. So he saw the chance to get a shiny new toy and have his friends at ARB Maroochydore kit it out for him.
I could pretend to know something about four-wheel drives, but I’m more go a "car go vroom" person, so I’ll hand it over to Rob to tell you the details…
“[He went with] a 79 Series LandCruiser. It’s a big unit - dual cab, V8 turbo diesel ute… basically one of the last really tough built utes out there. The guys at ARB threw everything bar the kitchen sink at it. It’s got massive tyres, diff locks…
“My favourite part: on the back it’s got a custom canopy from a mob up here called Zone RV. And there’s two fridges: one is purely dedicated to beer, and one is for food slash beer.”
OK, now we’re speaking my language again.
Apparently there’s been just as much buzz on socials about the car as about the bar shouts. Which makes sense, since Your Mates tends to appeal to people who love the outdoors, and who loves the outdoors more than 4WD fans? And as far as vehicles go, this one isn’t exactly subtle.
So when Hep headed off at the start of the tour – video here – he roared away at the wheel of this five-metre beast, ready to rip up the road.
(McGarry was jealous watching Hep drive off without him, but don’t worry – he, his wife and their 18-month-old baby swung up to 1770 to join the Hepburns camping for the weekend. The boys got in some surfing, and apparently the bar shout at the Agnes Water Tavern went off.)
Hep’s going to come out of this with a few crackin’ yarns.
Like adventuring along the one of the best 4WD tracks in Australia, the Old Telegraph Track. Along with the Explore Life guys, who Hep had tripped with before, the Hepburn tribe tackled every obstacle along the 350-odd kilometre trail. There were some sticky moments – I'm not sure how my nerves would hold up if I drove a two-tonne ute over a bridge I’d built myself by strapping bundles of logs together – but they got to the tip of the peninsula, and Larry has now officially reached the northernmost point of Australia.
Or meeting some guys at the campsite up at Agnes Waters who’d just got back from crayfishing and had themselves quite a haul. Hep, of course, had a solid supply of cold Larrys in the ute, and so they had themselves a good ol’ fashioned trade: beer for crayfish. The Hepburns had already been eating well, and it wasn’t their first fresh seafood of the trip, but sitting down with new mates in the afternoon to a feast of lobster and Larrys? Surely, that’s a memory you can savour for a long time.
I imagine Hep has plenty more yarns to share, but it turns out he’s hard to get a hold of while he’s on his junket – ahem, I mean his work trip. But I can't blame him too much; if I were on that trip, I'd pay more attention to the people in front of me than the people on my phone, too. So perhaps you’ll have to wait til he gets back home to sit down with him and hear more stories from the horse’s mouth.
In the meantime, you can follow Your Mates’ socials; there are photos aplenty, and a number of Instagram stories have been saved as highlights, so you can catch up on some gorgeous ocean views, some fishing with Hep’s mate Rooster (of course he has a mate called Rooster), and some punters who are happy as Larry to get the chance to meet Larry.
The video montages from the first week and second week show the warm welcomes Hep is getting from the good folk in these towns, pubs and campsites; I suppose there are worse ways to make friends than travelling around with a truckload of free beer.
Really, the Mateship Tour has only just begun - Hep’s just over one month in, has only travelled a scant 4,000km and shouted a measly thousand schooners of Larry. He still has two months to go through central Queensland and down to Stanthorpe!
If you catch up with him at one of the 20 bar shouts still to go, tell him Mick says hi – and that he owes me a beer and a chat.
You can follow Hep’s progress on the Mateship Tour here with a map and a list of the bar shouts he has planned.