Catchment Brewing Co have acquired Fortitude Brewing Co and offshoot brand Noisy Minor as part of ambitious growth plans over the coming years. It follows the West End-based operation's purchase of Paddington hotel Darling & Co in September last year as they target ten venues as well as additional beer brands across South East Queensland and, potentially, interstate too.
Catchment's 100 percent acquisition of Fortitude includes the latter's brewery, taphouse, restaurant and functions business on Mount Tamborine. And it will allow the new owners to bring brewing back in-house after they'd hit capacity on their brewpub kit in West End and outsourced much of their production. Since buying Darling & Co from Australian Venue Co, they've been pouring Catchment beers through 40 of the hotel's 45 taps and intend to take a similar approach with any future additions to their portfolio of venues.
The move comes at a time when the craft beer and hospitality communities are looking to rebound after more than two years of unprecedented challenges; in Queensland, businesses have been dealing not only with the ongoing impact of the pandemic but also devastating floods. And it continues a pattern of consolidation in the state too.
Ballistic bought Bargara Brewing and The Whitsunday Island Brewing Company in March 2021 and renamed them Ballistic Bargara and Ballistic Whitsundays respectively. That followed Black Hops' acquisition of Semi-Pro Brewing – now Black Hops Brisbane – five months earlier. In this latest example, however, the intention is to retain the Fortitude and Noisy Minor brands, which first appeared a decade ago in 2012, and, according to a media statement from Catchment announcing the acquisition, to "bring our passionate hospitality values to the business".
Speaking to The Crafty Pint following the acquisition, Matt Newberry – who joined Catchment as CEO as well as becoming an investor on March 1, 2020, just as the nationwide lockdown approached – said they were particularly keen to take on Fortitude's light beer, Pacer, and their alcoholic ginger beer brand Roots & Leaves, as well as the seasonal releases under the Noisy Minor with cult followings, such as Admiral Ackbar and Bad Wolf.
"The kit there is eight times the size of ours. It gives us a lot more room for growth," he says, adding: "We love their brands. There's some double up brands within the core range but what excites us is the Pacer – a light beer, which nobody has really brewed much. It's got a lot of life in it once the rush to zero percent runs out."
The new owners also cited the ranging of some Fortitude brands, including the ginger beer, in major retailers, and past awards success enjoyed by Noisy Minor beers as part of the Mount Tamborine operation's appeal.
The plan outlined by Matt would see the group become another "family" of businesses, like Good Drinks (which grew from Gage Roads in WA), Fermentum (created by Stone & Wood and now part of Lion/Kirin), Tribe Breweries or Mighty Craft (which owns or has a stake in Jetty Road, Ballistic, FogHorn, Sauce, Slipstream, Sparkke and Mismatch as well as a number of other alcohol brands and venues).
Ultimately, he says, the aim is "to get to the point where we list it on the market and provide a really good return for shareholders."
And while the company's primary focus is South East Queensland, including two more venue acquisitions in the next financial year, Matt adds: "We're not limiting ourselves to that.
"We've got some irons in the fire in Sydney at the moment, but there's still a lot of opportunity here," he says. "The ten venues we're looking at as our starting point. It's going to be a mix: rebooting some big venues that have been closed for a little while, which is exciting ahead of the Olympic Games, and we'll need more brewing capacity if they're high keg volume venues."
His take on the health and mood of the hospitality industry in South East Queensland is that things are "pretty good", bouncing back after a "terrible" January and February, when they were hit with the double whammy of Omicron and the floods.
"There's a lot of people around, and a lot of functions," he says. "The issue is getting staff to run businesses, particularly in the kitchens.
"There's some businesses that won't make it through – that have high gearing and high levels of debt [and] get to a point where it's too hard, and we're looking for those distressed assets where a lot of capital has been put into them."
As Catchment embark on this next phase of growth, they do so with a CEO who brings a breadth of experience in the industry stretching back decades. Matt's CV takes in running F&B at the five-star Conrad Jupiters in the late 90s, 18 months at Ayers Rock Resort, and seven years helping Coles expand their retail business in Queensland, before becoming COO of the group developing Salt Village in northern NSW, holding director roles at the Kyko Group and Broo, and having involvement in hospitality management and training businesses.
Despite the busy CV, Matt says he'd largely been retired before a couple of mates of his who were investors in Catchment enticed him back, only to spend the next 12 months dealing with COVID.
"I love the industry," he says of his two-plus years at the helm of Catchment. "It's very different. In the hotel world, you're sort of competing with the people up the road, but in the craft beer world it seems to be you're all collaborating, and everyone knows each other. It feels much more collaborative than other [industries] I've worked in.
"The first 12 months was shutting [Catchment] down and rebooting it for a COVID world, which was good. We cleared a lot of things out and built again."
Building which, if all goes to plan, is still very much in its infancy.