24/04/2007 - 22:00

Little Creatures shifts into top gear

24/04/2007 - 22:00

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About seven years ago, Little Creatures co-founder Howard Cearns was finding it tough to sell the beer he had brewed with his mates, Phil Sexton, Adrian Fini and Nic Trimboli.

Little Creatures shifts into top gear

About seven years ago, Little Creatures co-founder Howard Cearns was finding it tough to sell the beer he had brewed with his mates, Phil Sexton, Adrian Fini and Nic Trimboli.

He remembers struggling to drive an old Volkswagen Kombi van from the brewery site in Fremantle to the Oxford Hotel in Leederville to sell a case of beer.

The drive was made all the more difficult because the third gear of the VW didn’t quite work.

Nic Trimboli told Gusto the founders of the now-popular craft brewery would get together at their pub restaurant and enjoy what was then a pretty expensive pizza – they’d invested a lot in the facility and were yet to make decent money out of the venture.

“We thought maybe we could sell 100,000 cases of beer,” Mr Trimboli says. “We are selling more than that now for sure but back then we thought, if anything, we would have a nice bar out of it.”

Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Cearns and Mr Trimboli are in the midst of overseeing a $30 million expansion of the business with chief executive Jason Marinko, following the company’s stock market float two years ago.

Little Creatures has a market capitalisation of nearly $100 million and posted a $1.9 million operating profit for the six months to December 31.

Earlier this year, the craft brewer bought its neighbour, the former Harbour Rise nightclub, for $7.7 million and recently started major renovations to transform the club into a separate hospitality area connected to Little Creatures’ existing bar and restaurant with three enclosed walkways from the second floor.

The premises will be a mirror image of the existing Little Creatures site and will house a section of the group’s expanded brewing facilities.

The expansion of the brew house will enable Little Creatures to continue lifting its rate of production over the next decade.

There will also be some changes to the existing facility. The outdoor courtyard will be converted into a beer garden, while the upstairs walkway and eating area will be extended across the front of the venue and around to the brew house so guests can take a closer look at the production process.

While he would not reveal production or capacity figures, Mr Marinko says the brewer has enjoyed sales growth of about 30 per cent during the past year.

He does not expect the stellar growth to continue, but pointed out that the US’s more mature boutique beer market had an average growth rate of about 15 per cent per year.

Also part of the new Little Creatures development, which is expected to be completed by the middle of next year, is a new and separate lounge-cum-wine bar within the Harbour Rise building.

The yet-to-be-named bar will have an entrance off the jetty rather than the current front car park entrance.

The Harbour Rise building will be divided in two to create the two distinct spaces between the bar and the new expanded Little Creatures facilities.

The bar will operate later than Little Creatures and will be more of a drinking hole for a generation beyond binging on ready-to-drink mixes like bourbon and coke.

In other beer-related news for Fremantle, Oz Brewing’s Mad Monk brewery site is due to open by June, while the operators of the Colonial Brewing Co are finalising a lease at a site in the port city, where they intend to open its second pub brewery.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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