May 31st, 2012 by Crafty Pint
On May 22, 2007, the independent state representative for Port Macquarie, Rob Oakeshott, officially opened a new brewery in the city. At the time, it just seemed like just another case of a local official opening a local business. Yet as they mark their fifth anniversary, Warwick and Kylie Little, the founders of Little Brewing, are grateful to the man who is now the Federal MP for Lyne and an independent member of Parliament, for more than a plaque on their brewery wall.
Earlier in May, Mr Oakeshott helped secure a tax break for craft brewers that saw the excise rebate increased from $10,000 to $30,000 per year and the existing eligibility threshold removed, meaning that all brewers are entitled to the rebate rather than just those brewing less than 30,000 litres a year. It was a small yet significant step in the battle for greater tax equality for small brewers, one that has been fought by the industry for years, with support coming recently from both the Lyne representative and Greens MP Christine Milne.
âThe lifting of the excise rebate to small brewers, from $10,000 to $30,000, is a downpayment on comprehensive alcohol tax reform,“ said Mr Oakeshott at the time. â[This] budget measure is cause for Aussie brewers to raise their glasses, but it is only a small start and reflects ongoing efforts to see the craft beer market in Australia develop to the next level.â
The change, which comes into effect on July 1, is a welcome boost for an industry that is growing fast yet is hampered by tax inequalities that make it a tough business for many brewers, including the Littles.
“I didn’t even know him from a bar of soap,” says Warwick Little of the day the MP opened his brewery. “The other shareholders had approached him and I was introduced to him that day. It almost feels like we slipped over and won.”
From that day, wife Kylie helped keep the issue in front of their representative, updating him with “tidbits about how tough it was in the industry” whenever their paths crossed until one day he came to them and asked what he could do. Ultimately, his voice was added to those of the Greens and those in the industry, such as Cam Hines of Mountain Goat, Paul Holgate of Holgate, Richard Watkins of Wig & Pen and Jane Huntington of Two Metre Tall, who had been clamouring for change.
“It’s a step in the right direction and isn’t the end of it,” says Warwick, who admits the tax break has given Little Brewing a much-needed fillip after five years of struggle.
“If I’d known what I know now, I would never have done it,” he says of the decision taken by him and Kylie in the middle of the last decade to sell their homes and invest in steel. “We’re living the dream but it’s been a bit more nightmarish than we thought it would be!”
Given Little’s Wicked Elf and Mad Abbot beers have been on the shelves of Dan Murphy’s for four of their five years, and that their beers are among the most consistent medallists in Australia (41 of the last 45 beers they have entered in the Sydney Royal Show and the Australian International Beer Awards have been awarded medals), it might seem strange to hear that their story has been one of struggle. Yet with little to no support from their local market in Port Macquarie, the Dan’s deal helped keep them afloat, even if Warwick suspects it has made some drinkers think they are bigger than they really are: husband, wife and, for the time being, a Frenchman working as a casual to get experience in the brewing industry.
That said, he believes they’re through the worst of it and, looking at how long it has taken Mountain Goat to get where they are – almost 15 years – says: “If you’re a brewery with no bar or if you’re not based in a pub, I’ve worked out that it can take five to ten years to turn a profit.”
He adds: “When we started out, we just couldn’t find anything we liked, so it was a pretty simple thing: we wanted to produce beers that we liked drinking. We’ve given it a go and I’m still positive that we will be around for a long time.”
Certainly, as they enter their sixth year, plans are afoot for a new addition to the Little stable that will feature “extreme” releases. It is still a few months away but, says Kylie: “If we have capacity then there is the distinct possibility there will be a third brand. It will feature the weird and the wonderful and will be the chance for us to let Warwick Little fly!”