On a recent trip to Melbourne, Julie-anne Sprague discovered that one of WA’s finest exports plays a big part in that city’s great nightlife – all hail Little Creatures Pale Ale.
BUYING a Little Creatures beer almost seemed easier in Melbourne than in Perth, but getting the beer into more than 50 inner-city bars and restaurants in the Victorian capital wasn’t easy for the Fremantle brewer.
Unlike in Sydney, where the beer was adopted almost immediately, it has taken the Little Creatures team more than a year to penetrate the Melbourne market.
Getting its pale ale into more than 50 bars and restaurants and 100-plus off-premise outlets has taken a fair amount of persistence and included recruiting a full-time Melburnian to help get the distribution ball rolling, according to Little Creatures director Howard Cearns.
“Melbourne was really slow for us to start. Sydney picked up right away,” he says.
“We put a guy in about 12 months ago and he lives in the cool bars and he worked at really getting the beer into these places and it has started to take off. We’ve got a really good on-premise in those cool bars in Melbourne.”
Most of the 10 or so places I visited in Melbourne had Little Creatures on the beer menu.
From chic bars like Little Collins Street’s Gin Palace and Transport – one of the newest bars to open in Melbourne – to pubs like Portland and Prahran Hotel, and even the fine-dining icon Circa Restaurant, Little Creatures is being poured down Melburnian throats right across the city.
The Prince Wine Store has devoted a window to Little Creatures’ promotional material, which is visible from Ackland Street in St Kilda.
“We’ve had to battle with the on-premise market. Carlton and United Breweries is very powerful in Melbourne and it protects its market ruthlessly,” Mr Cearns says.
“We’ve had to find the cracks through the underground and cool bars.”
According to Mr Cearns about 15 per cent of the company’s beer sales now come from Melbourne, with the beer available in almost as many on-premise locations in Melbourne as there are in Perth.
“About 15 per cent of sales are from Melbourne and 15 per cent comes from Sydney,” he says.
“About six months ago we started to get a real presence and we’d be in about 50 to 100 bars in the inner-city area. They’d be about 100 to 200 off-premise outlets.
“We’d be getting close to having the same number of outlets [in Melbourne] as we have in Perth.”
Little Creatures recently doubled its brewing capacity to 2.5 million litres, allowing it to build on its growth that now includes exports to the UK.
The brewer recently signed a distribution deal with one of the UK’s biggest food and wine retailers, Waitrose.
“Waitrose has 130 premium supermarkets and is going to launch this beer through its stores,” Mr Cearns says.
This week 1,000 cases of Little Creatures Pale Ale was sent to London, following 1,000 cases that were sent a month ago.
“We had another order before the first one arrived,” Mr Cearns says.
The beer’s popularity has reached almost celebrity status, he says.
“Roger Moore’s son owns a bar called Hush and he rang up the distributor and said: ‘I’ve been to Fremantle and I’ve got the t-shirt and I want to be the first bar in London to have this beer’. He’ll get it next week,” Mr Cearns says.
Other developments for the brewing company this year include releasing a new beer, which will be a pilsener, and follows on from the success of its Pale Ale and Roger’s beer.
The team is also planning to upgrade the restaurant facilities later this year.
“In about six to 12 months the outside area will be upgraded that will make it a bit more comfortable.”