Another local brewery has decided to cease operations in this most challenging of years for Australian brewers. But, in the case of Melbourne-based Fury & Son, they tell The Crafty Pint they've made the decision while still ahead, and haven't ruled out a return to brewing if better conditions return in the future.
For now, however, the business launched by Reno and Andrew Georgiou (the Fury & Son in question) eight years ago has brewed its last beer and put its equipment – although not brand or IP – up for auction.
"We got into this not because we thought it was going to be a crazy money-making experience," Andrew says. "We got into it because we love beer."
The pair used to brew together at home while Reno ran a manufacturing business and Andrew worked as a pharmacist before deciding to turn what the latter calls "a passion project between Dad and I in our garage" into Fury & Son.
"We thought there was really big potential to take the flavours we were experimenting with to the masses," Andrew says, while admitting, "the challenges we faced through COVID and now inflation have really taken the wind out of our sales.
"Rather than wait 'til the bitter end and go out in a bad way, we thought, 'We're doing well. Let's quit things because we want to and because there's other things for us to go onto.'"
The decision to move on started to take shape at the start of the year. As with every brewery owner around the country, they'd been looking forward to a bumper summer period, one that looked set to be the first in years in Victoria free of unique obstacles: the bushfires of 2019/20; COVID lockdowns; the Omicron wave of 2021/22. Instead, they experienced their slowest ever summer trade as a perfect storm for brewers started to form.
Andrew cites the cost of malt and hops rising by 20 to 30 percent, the growing overheads associated with running their own brewery, a drop in consumer demand, and the crowded nature of the marketplace compared to when they launched as contributing factors.
"It's become a difficult marketplace and one that's going to take a very specific skillset to navigate and to navigate successfully," he says, "and I'm not sure the reward, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is going to be there."
Their decision comes at the midpoint of an incredibly tough year for an industry already severely impacted by the COVID pandemic. In recent weeks, Lion announced they were calling time on Two Birds Brewing, which they acquired when they bought the Fermentum family of businesses that also includes Stone & Wood and Fixation, while Wicked Elf in Port Macquarie, which grew from The Little Brewing Co, announced they were ceasing operations too.
Prior to that, a number of beer businesses have gone into voluntary administration, while others have either sold or been put on the market amid a drastic reshaping of the local beer landscape. At the same time, new entrants continue to open their doors to the public, typically following a more brewpub-based model, as other more established businesses look at how they can evolve the way they operate to ensure they survive this economic downturn.
In the case of the Georgious, Andrew says they tried everything they could, adding: "Dad and I aren't ruthless businessmen" so they did so "in the right way": looking after staff, trying to do the right thing by retailers in terms of pricing, reducing costs and renegotiating terms with suppliers where they could.
"There's only so many levers you can pull and still sleep at night," he says, admitting they're grateful they put off "lofty plans" for expansion.
"I wouldn't want to be in a position where we've got mountains of debt or obligations to our staff, which is another reason I'm not upset or sad to be moving on. We've got great staff who are completely understanding of the situation."
In conversations with fellow brewery owners, he says there's a widespread feeling of being in limbo, of holding fast through this winter in the belief that everyone who survives will be stronger for it.
"But I'm not sure," he says. "If demand continues to decline it will be the same crowded marketplace. [Business owners] need to look hard at their business, make sure they're doing right by themselves and their staff; don't wait 'til the last minute to pull the ripcord."
With Fury & Son's ripcord pulled, and a return to the life of a pharmacist beckoning for Andrew, he says they're signing off in a good place.
"It's been my longest job!" he says. "Eight years and I've loved it. I've really enjoyed the people I've met and have forged some incredibly strong friendships – the people and our staff have been amazing.
"The freedom of being your own boss has been great. Running a brewery is very different to running a pharmacy: you have the flexibility to raise a family, like I did. I had the ability to go home and spend time with my son and wife, so I'm very grateful."
They're also retaining the brand and IP in a case of what Andrew terms: "Never say never" so who knows? Maybe one day they'll return as Fury & Son & Son.
You can bid for Fury & Son's brewhouse and other equipment here.