BentSpoke: Ten Lessons From Ten Years

June 5, 2024, by Will Ziebell

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BentSpoke: Ten Lessons From Ten Years

It's safe to say it's been a big ten years for BentSpoke. 

First up, as soon as Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain opened their Braddon brewpub, creating a new local on the doorstep of Canberra's CBD, it was instantly embraced by the community. And, in the years since, it's been part of Braddon's redevelopment from a suburb dotted with car yards to a dining destination. 

Roll forward a few years and they'd secured a second, much larger home to the north as a production site that would allow for their much-loved cans to become available widely throughout the country. 

And, pretty much from the off, they've won awards. Lots of them.

There's the public accolades, most notably topping the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers poll with Crankshaft. And there's those awards by experts in major competitions both here and in other parts of the world, not least at the esteemed World Beer Cup. Plus there's been no shortage of local hospitality awards for what they do too. 

But the story of BentSpoke stretches back far longer than ten years. Richard and Tracy first met at the Wig & Pen, the pioneering brewpub where Richard spent more than a decade and a half making beer, during which he also spent his time amassing awards.  

 

BentSpoke's opening night both behind the bar and on the street.

 

Throughout it all, Richard says the core of everything they do is an ongoing love for making beer and the creativity that goes into brewing. 

“There’s flavour combinations that I haven’t even put together yet,” he says. “I just think we’re so lucky with so many different ingredients. And every time you think you've nearly used all the ingredients, they release a heap more so then you have multiple more permutations of different combinations.

"So staying in love with it is easy when you're just making so many new products all the time.”

Their passion also stems from the joy beer brings to people. Indeed, pop into the Braddon brewpub on any given Friday and there's a good chance you'll bump into Richard, often chatting to the same regulars he's talked beer with since the Wig & Pen days. 

“It's easy to stay in it when you're working with good people,” he says. “I get to work with my partner in the business and that's just a really great thing to be able to do.

“But there’s also seeing all the smiles and the reactions on people's faces when they're drinking a beer and enjoying themselves; it makes you pretty proud of what you've been able to build as a business.”

 

Richard and Tracy in 2015, toasting the moment Crankshaft came in at number 88 in the Hottest 100.

 

BentSpoke are far from the only indie brewery in the country with a couple at the helm but, in Richard and Tracy's case, their position is a little more unusual. Both head up brewing: Tracy is in charge of the Braddon brewpub and Richard oversees production at the bigger brewery in Mitchell. It's a complementary approach he says has strengthened their work-life balance over the years. 

“I think we cross over when we need to and we leave each other apart when we need to. Tracy is very process-driven and I come at it from a creative angle with a focus on what are the next beers I can make.”

As for the immediate future, BentSpoke are taking a moment to celebrate their first decade with a street party in front of their brewpub featuring local food, music and of course, a lot of beer. Once again, they’ve brewed Dick Tracy, an American brown ale that was the very first beer made by Richard and Tracy at the brewpub. And, for the very first time, they've canned that beer so more drinkers can enjoy it.

Ahead of that celebration, we invited them to join us for our Ten Lessons From Ten Years series. Well, in this case, eleven...


Richard Watkins & Tracy Margrain

Richard, Tracy and their team celebrating as Crankshaft shot up the H100 chart.

 

1. Love what you do 

It goes without saying that if you're going to build a business then you need to love what you're doing. For us, it's easy to get up early every day and go to work knowing we are creating a product that puts smiles on people's faces, makes people happy, and brightens up people's days!


2.  Have a great team 

Building a business is all about the team you have around you. We are lucky enough to have some great people working for us now and in the past.


3. Quality is everything 

Customers expect a quality product or experience. Whether it’s a BentSpoke Beer Garden or a new beer release, quality is at the top of everything we do.

 

The BentSpoke family.

4. Build strong community relationships 

Engaging with your local community is pivotal to local success. Engage with the customers who use their hard-earned money to buy your beer.


5. Brewpub and customer touchpoint 

Having a brewpub allows you to see the reactions on people's faces as they try one of your new beers for the first time.

But it is more than that: it's a place where regulars come to enjoy each other's company, have a conversation and relax from work. They also provide excellent feedback on your products and services.


6. Innovation and never stop learning 

There are so many beers out there in the market that innovation is key to staying connected with your customers and retailers. The brewing industry has evolved with lots of new products and ingredients on the market. Brewers need to always try and use these products to create the differentiation in beers the consumer wants.

 

Richard and Tracy after taking possession of the keys to their Mitchell site.

7. Be proud of your achievements 

Whilst not wanting to be arrogant, you should always celebrate your achievements.

Winning awards for your hospitality experiences or your beers and brewery, whether they're consumer-voted or technically appraised, are times for celebration with your team.


8. Listen to the consumer 

The consumer is everything to your success in selling beer. So listen to them whether it's feedback on socials, from a retailer, or your mates having a schooner at the golf club.


9. Remember the past 

Remember all those lessons you learnt along your journey, whether good or bad. They give you a great foundation from which to build your future.

 


10. Looking into the future 

Time passes very quickly so keeping an eye on the future is important. Planned activities, whether it's brewery expansion, sales market opportunities, or hospo take lots of resources and time. 


11. But have fun! If you aren’t having fun it's time to...

(Richard wanted to leave an air of mystery here; as BentSpoke like to say: "Nothing worthwhile comes easy and the adventurous route is the way to go.")


If you'd like to join BentSpoke for their birthday celebrations then head to Braddon from 5pm on June 6. Further details here

You can read other entries in the Ten Lessons From Ten Years series here.

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