23/05/2014 - 13:09

Phoenix rising on quest for quality

23/05/2014 - 13:09

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A Morley-based importer has enjoyed rapid growth on the back of consumers’ shift towards craft-brewed beer, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

Phoenix rising on quest for quality
WIDE RANGE: Phoenix Beers director Leif Ryan at the company’s wholesale outlet in Morley. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A Morley-based importer has enjoyed rapid growth on the back of consumers’ shift towards craft-brewed beer, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.  

Western Australia’s largest boutique beer importer says Perth restaurants and pubs have a lot of catching up to do to keep pace with the rapidly growing craft beer market.

Phoenix Beers director Leif Ryan started importing boutique beers around 15 years ago, having returned from a trip to Europe during which he was converted from a bourbon drinker into a ‘beer geek’.

Mr Ryan began with six varieties from Germany’s famous Weihenstephaner, which lays claim to being the world’s oldest brewery.

In that first year, Mr Ryan recalls, Phoenix imported two sea containers of the Weihenstephaner brews.

Today, with a sales network spanning across WA, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, Phoenix Beers distributes around 15 containers a month of bottles, cans and kegs from its catalogue of more than 500 beers, which includes celebrated American brands Sierra Nevada and Rogue Ales, as well as Belgium’s Brasseries du Bocq.

Beer drinkers can be very brand loyal, however, and Mr Ryan said cultivating palates to appreciate new brews was never going to be easy. 

“People weren’t all that keen on giving up on their Emu Bitter or whatever it was they were drinking,” Mr Ryan told Business News.

“It took a lot of tastings to convince people that there was a reason to spend the extra money.”

Mr Ryan said Australians’ craft beer drinking habits tended to vary from state to state, with WA very much a take-home state, while in Melbourne people drink more boutique brews in pubs, small bars and restaurants.  

The issue in WA, Mr Ryan said, was large-scale pubs and restaurants were limited on the range of beers and ciders they offered because of contractual obligations with large multinational brewing groups, in most cases Lion and Carlton & United Breweries.

“We would certainly like to see a lot more pubs and restaurants reacting to the demand that is out there, and actually putting good beers on tap,” Mr Ryan told Business News.

“Many of them are really dragging their feet when it comes to putting something interesting on, and they’ve got no idea about the change that will happen inside their venue if they take that leap and put some decent beers on tap.

“They’ll get a higher turnover of people spending more money, because it’s a different demographic, and they need to encourage people with disposable income to come into their venue.

“They’re not going to do it by serving the same stuff over and over again.”

In Melbourne, Mr Ryan said, venues hounded importers such as Phoenix in order to gain a point of difference over competitors.

“In Perth, the venues lag behind considerably when it comes to a willingness to put on some decent beers,” he said.

“I don’t understand it; Perth restaurants have some of the world’s best food, and they’ve got some of the world’s best wine, and then down at the bottom of the menu will be four mass-produced beers.

“It doesn’t make any sense, there is something missing from the menu.”

While Mr Ryan acknowledged the trend towards small bars in Perth had helped raise awareness that better quality products were available, he said the limited size of those venues meant great beers were not being presented to the general public.

Despite the larger venues not catching on, Mr Ryan said he expected consumers’ shift towards craft beer, particularly over the past five years, to continue.

“People are interested in the most interesting and unique beers and they are prepared to pay a bit extra for them,” he said.

“We tend to follow trends from overseas, and the US hasn’t stopped.

“Their craft market is ever increasing and getting stronger, and I think you will see more craft breweries popping up and more craft imports coming into the country.”

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