Life Eat & Drink Australia’s thirst for craft beer outstrips supply
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Australia’s thirst for craft beer outstrips supply

Australia's craft beer scene is booming.
The craft beer industry in Australia has grown by almost 200 per cent since 2011. Photo: Getty
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A new craft beer brewery opens every six days in Australia, creating the modern Gold Rush.

The industry has grown by almost 200 per cent in the past seven years.

Beer-loving Aussies chasing the ultimate lifestyle are quitting their jobs to open craft breweries.

Everyday blokes and sheilas who dream of brewing in the morning, surfing in the arvo and drinking with mates at night, have helped spark an explosion in Australian craft beer labels.

Fifty-two new breweries, brew pubs and contract brewers opened in 2018, bringing the number of craft ale producers to 585 – a 197 per cent increase since 2011, or one brewery for every 41,500 people (aged over 18).

The period from June to October 2018 saw the most new brewers per quarter since the Australian Craft Beer Brewery List was started in 2014, with one opening every three days.

Room to grow

Industry experts predict the trend is nowhere near capacity, with demand from thirsty consumers for the lovingly crafted tipples far outstripping supply.

Chief craft beer reviewer and number cruncher John Elliott said the burgeoning craft brewery sector was only 5 per cent of the Australian beer market but had the potential to expand to 20 per cent – meaning more breweries for your neighbourhood.

“We still have a long way to go, as long as people know how to run their business,” Mr Elliott said.

“I visited about 80 per cent of breweries in the last couple of years and they all struggle to meet demand.

“They underestimated how much demand there would be and they have had to expand quickly.”Mr Elliott said many brewers were attracted to an idyllic dream of running a beer business, but the reality was different.

“They want to be rich young dudes who run a brewery, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he said.

“There’s a lot of compliance and it’s quite heavily taxed and regulated.

“There’s this romantic ideal of a lifestyle where you brew beer in the morning, surf in the afternoon and come back in the evening and drink beer with your mates, but that’s nowhere near the reality at all.

“In truth you are at the brewery at 4am, then if you have your own bar you are working there until 11pm and it’s seven days a week until you get to the scale where you can employ people.

“It’s a tough physical job. You have to make the beer, package it, distribute it, sell it, collect the money and it’s all got to make you more money than it costs.”

Living the dream

Sunshine Coast mates Christen McGarry and Matt Hepburn quit their jobs as a teacher and project manager to pursue the dream of a beer-filled lifestyle.

For four years they have earned under minimum wage while working 80-hour weeks for their craft label Your Mates Brewing Co, creating their pale ale Larry and dark ale Donnie.

“We both had a love of beer and we saw an incredible opportunity to marry our desire to create something with our passion for beer and everything that comes with beer – liquid mateship,” Mr McGarry said.

“We loved having a good time and we wanted to make something that would keep that fun we were having.

“We were just two guys who thought ‘why not’ and put everything on hold and dived in head first and are having a great time doing it.”

Christen McGarry and Matt Hepburn started Your Mates Brewing Co. on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
Your Mates Brewing Co founders Christen McGarry and Matt Hepburn started their Sunshine Coast brewery four years ago.

Mr McGarry said the business had snowballed, with the pair having to continually invest more to keep up with demand, and they soon opened a new brew facility.

Since they started, the Sunshine Coast has experienced a boom in craft beer labels, with 12 players and more on the way.

Following the hops

There have been four distinct waves of Australian craft beer:

The Pioneers, 1984 to 2000

The modern era of craft beer breweries started with the opening of the Sail & Anchor Pub Brewery in Fremantle in 1984. Over this period a total of 86 breweries opened and 37 closed – a failure rate of 43 per cent. Most of the early start-ups have since closed.

The Developers, 2001 to 2004

In 2001, the rate of annual brewery openings doubled, with an average of nine breweries each year. Almost half are still open today, including Feral Brewing Company, 3 Ravens, Colonial Brewing Co, and Redoak Boutique Beer Café.  

The New Wave, 2005 to 2013

In 2005, the rate increased dramatically when 22 new breweries opened. This rate was maintained until 2013, and most are still open. 

The Gold Rush, 2014 onwards

In 2014, the rate of openings more than doubled and now averages 68 per year. This equates to a new craft beer brewery opening every six days.

Thirst continues

Australian Real Craft Brewers Association spokesman David Hollyoak said the microbrewery industry was “nowhere near saturation” and keeping up with demand was a common problem for brewers.

“It’s been a long time coming for Australia but there is some serious momentum building,” Mr Hollyoak said.

“People are seeking out craft beers for different reasons – they can taste the difference, they want to engage with the people behind the beer and brewery, they want to support smaller local businesses and they want to have an authentic drink.”

Independent Brewers Association board member Will Tatchell said consumer demand would continue to drive the rapid rate of new breweries.

“Most consumers are just scratching the surface of the styles of craft beers on offer,” Mr Tatchell said.

“If people are willing to buy new beer there will certainly be a market there.”

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