Clare Burnett's name will be familiar to anyone paying close attention to the beer industry. The journalist spent years covering it for Brews News, culminating in the trophy for Best Media at the 2022 Australian International Beer Awards.
But, while her stories and Yorkshire accent well be well-known to regular listeners to Radio Brews News, her pathway to becoming a journalist in Australia will be less familiar, as well as the connections that brought her to this country.
Although she grew up mainly in England, Clare's mum is Australian and her dad's role in the British Army saw them move around frequently; as such, she spent time living in Australia and Canada before settling in the UK.
“I was a total army brat,” Clare laughs. “And we lived in three different countries before I was ten.”
After finishing high school, she moved to Dublin to study literature and history at Trinity College and, while journalism might not have been her focus, she did pick up the sort of skills she’d later utilise, including editing a magazine and enjoying a stint as a film critic for the campus papers.
“I always liked synthesising ideas to make sure that people can understand the context of what's happening in a news story,” she says.
Upon moving back to Yorkshire, Clare’s friend told her about an opening for a journalist position at the place she worked; having secured the role, it was one she was to embrace, going on to cover regional business news for close to six years.
“It sounds a little bit dull but, actually, it was really exciting,” she says. “That was where I first got into beer as well. I mean, I’d already liked it as a student but there were a lot of breweries opening in Leeds at the time and there were all these fantastic places.”
They included popular breweries Northern Monk, in Leeds, and Magic Rock, the Huddersfield-based operation which sold to Lion in 2019 and is now owned by Odyssey Inns. And, after becoming an editor, Clare says she was able to focus more on the areas that interested her.
“What I wanted to do ended up being a lot of hospitality and things like that,” she says. “But also with an eye on the business side of things: looking at how macro-economic issues were impacting businesses in the region.”
Eager to leave the cold of England behind, Clare and her partner made the move to Australia in 2018; her parents were already living here and she'd visited a number of times since graduating.
“We blew all our savings spending six months travelling South East Asia and then the East Coast of Australia with some friends who had preceded us,” Clare says.
By the following year, they were keen to settle down and she soon found herself in the senior journalist role through which the beer would come to know her.
“I got back [to Brisbane] on a Friday, I saw the advert for Brews News on Saturday, and it was closing on the Sunday. I just handed my CV in and heard from [Brews News founder Matt Kirkegaard] on Tuesday.”
Despite being worlds removed from Leeds, as well as writing about a new beer market, Clare’s background covering the economic and external impacts on businesses and how they run clearly left her well-placed.
“Those are foundation blocks of what you need to make a business work, which is fundamental in any industry,” she says, adding that her transition was aided by just how transparent brewery owners could be, particularly compared with other industries she’d previously covered.
“There are so many people that were happy to share the challenges they’ve had and the issues they’ve come across. That transparency was a real breath of fresh air.”
Her previous career in journalism also saw her champion prominent women in the industries she was covering, a practice she continued at Brews News. Her work also gave her the freedom to go into the kind of depth you rarely get with general news, whether it was stories exploring sustainability or a large-scale research project like the State of Brewing report.
“As a journalist, you don't get taught to write a 50-page report,” Clare says. "So, it was nice to be able to do that for the industry and have something out there that they could use and point to and lobby with.”
Big projects became a significant focus for Clare over the last couple of years and led to her decision to leave Brews News towards the end of 2022. For the past year-and-half, she’s been working on a PhD; while Clare managed to balance covering the beer industry and the workload of post-grad life, it became increasingly challenging. Beyond writing the actual thesis, there are a whole lot of papers, presentations and conferences that come with it.
“I still loved being a journalist at Brews News but it got to the point of the PhD turning into something bigger,” Clare says. “You need to spend a lot of time on things that are extraneous to actually writing the thesis.”
The topic of the thesis feels particularly fitting for someone with roots in both Australia and the UK: Clare is looking at news and fiction in 19th-century Australia, its place in the world and the development of an independent literary culture.
“There was an idea that it was very much driven by Britain and what Britain wanted Australia to read,” she says. "But that's not the case; Australia was very much developing a literary culture.”
Of course, while Clare is no longer covering the beer industry, she still keeps on top of what’s happening and has remained close to many she met in the industry.
“Some of my best mates are in the beer industry,” she says. “So I’m always speaking about what’s happening in the industry as well. You create friendships in the brewing industry and they stick, they aren’t just professional relationships.”
In May last year, Clare became the eighth winner of The Crafty Pint-sponsored Best Media trophy at the Australian International Beer Awards. She says it was an amazing experience to be recognised for her work, in what was only the second time she'd entered the competition. She had been encouraged by the support she'd received from judges after entering the previous year, and believes there are many people covering the local beer industry that should enter.
“We've got so many talented writers in this industry, whether they're bloggers or whether they work at Brews News or Crafty," she says. "The reason there is amazing talent is that it’s such a good industry to work in so you don’t have that churn that you have elsewhere.
“It’s wonderful, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. So enter – that can be our last line: Will and Clare say enter!”
Entries for the 2023 Australian International Beer Awards opened today (February 14) and close on March 17, 2023. You can enter your beers, or your work in beer media, here.