Betting On The Beerfarm

July 3, 2024, by Will Ziebell

Betting On The Beerfarm

“We’ve set out with a goal to be an international beer brand and, for us to be able to deliver on that, we need to be a true national player.”

It’s an ambitious goal, and maybe not one you expect to hear in the Australian beer industry in 2024, but Ian Atkins certainly sees a lot of positivity in craft beer’s future.

Indeed, you probably need to envisage a bright future if you plan to take over Feral’s production site, which the Margaret River-based brewery did in May. The move more than triples their potential production capacity and brought delight to many beer fans given it was accompanied by Nail’s purchase of the Feral brand.

Ian says it was a necessary move due to capacity constraints that had already seen them move some of their brewing to the Bassendean facility, describing it as "part of the growth strategy to really become a national player.”

The acquisition will enable Beerfarm to spread their wings further afield, but it’s just one part of the brewery's future plans.  

There’s the long and winding journey to create an east coast outpost, which was first announced back in 2021 yet still remains some way off. Despite getting access to a $900,000 grant from the NSW government to help open the slow-moving beast, Ian says they still don’t have concrete certainty about the proposed Central Coast brewpub’s future as they continue to work through planning requirements and red tape.

“We’ve been fighting a battle to have something open in New South Wales for some time and we still don’t have an answer,” he says.

“[But] we’ll keep driving. The exciting part for me is that you have to be agile when you set out the vision and business plan.”

 

Beerfarm founder Ian Atkins.

 

While eager to grow, a sense of patience infuses the Beerfarm approach – something that seems fitting for a brewery that’s grounded in nature. Their Metricup home is based on sprawling farmland, with a 1950s diary converted into one of the country's most colourful and inviting venues.

“Some people said when I bought it, it was derelict," Ian says, adding with a laugh: "Some people say it still is.”

The site was initially developed as a Young Henrys Beer Farm, and was set to be the Newtown-based operation's home in the west before the founders parted ways and it became the Beerfarm it is today.

Since its inception in 2015, the business has been committed to sustainability and working closely with the land. Initiatives includes saving food waste, relying on a significant amount of renewable energy for power, showcasing native ingredients and Indigenous projects via a partnership with Fervor, and a paddock-to-plate approach that sees Black Angus Cattle roam freely and graze on spent grain before making their way onto the menu.

But it’s not just about the environment: Beerfarm’s success as a venue has long been driven by their penchant for activations and events, whether through gigs, festivals and, of course, the infamous slip and slide.

“That’s a key component of being able to showcase who we are,” Ian says. “It’s only one component, we still do work with distribution partners, pubs, bars and hotels.”

As for the brewpub on the Central Coast, he says: “The venue will be sympathetic to its surrounds. It’s on a beautiful bit of land with great vistas, so it’s about bringing some of that fresh produce from the Central Coast.

“It’s the same ethos we’re trying to do [in Metricup] in that locality.”

This carries across to a desire to become part of the local community wherever they set up. And, true to their name, they aren’t looking to build venues in metropolitan areas, but instead will continue looking to the countryside.

“Part of it is staying true to the vision and who we are,” Ian says. “That helps anchor us: the fact it’s on the name.

“I truly believe that having a facility, having the venue, investing in the local community, is a big part of what a beer brand should be doing.”

And, while acutely aware of the challenges facing the beer and hospitality industry, they remain bullish. 

“We’ve still got to prove ourselves in any state that we go to,” Ian says. “We don’t have a magic ingredient that nobody has. But it’s very much about a distributed model versus a bigger brewery.

“We’re integrated in the community, we’re worried about carbon miles, and we’re not just shipping kegs around."

 

Viren toasting his role at Beerfarm.

 

To help prove themselves, Beerfarm made some notable hires, including two former Stone & Wood employees: Dennis Lynn came in as head of finance; Viren Goudrie joined as head of sales. Viren, or V as many know him, was a longtime team member at Stone & Wood, joining in 2012 as the Byron Bay-based business ramped up national expansion.

“I'm super excited about it,” Ian says of the recent additions to the team. “Just because the passion and the credentials that [Viren] brings to the team is phenomenal.

“I think one of the key components is he understands what we're trying to do, and driving that is essential.”

That other drive for growth comes from a focus on export markets.

“We’ve already done a lot of work in the Singapore and Malaysia markets. It’s about five hours on a flight to the East Coast, but it’s also five hours to Singapore which has the same time zone,” Ian says, crediting international recognition for produce made in Margaret River and Australia more widely as a factor in establishing an audience overseas. 

“The produce, ingredients and the care factor of manufacturing in Australia is very high and that resonates with everybody and comes through in the products." 

 

Beerfarm's Metricup home.

 

Proximity to several markets in the Asia-Pacific region has allowed them to champion a fresh-is-best approach.

“One of the things we’ve made sure to do is give them fresh product,” Ian says, “rather than using Asia as a bit of a dumping ground, which is what happened out of the US.

“Let’s make sure it’s an education process and make sure they know what the beer tastes like and what a fresh hop character is.”

Given their grand ambitions to make Beerfarm an international player, a five-hour flight is nothing compared to the journey that lies ahead.

“Although we believe this is a great, good time story, we’re mindful we have a long way to go and a lot of hard work to go to deliver all this,” Ian says.

“We are tempering it with what we see in front of us right now around the marketplace, and the hardships that are happening, particularly in the hospitality piece.

“Is it a long path? Absolutely. Is it a long journey? Absolutely.

“Will we get there? Yes, we will.”

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