Pia Poynton says Nowhereman will soon be releasing a limited edition honey beer produced in collaboration with Fremantle’s Bib and Tucker restaurant. Photos: Attila Csaszar

Provenance and innovation key as local brewers get crafty

Tuesday, 5 June, 2018 - 13:16

Western Australian breweries are developing a reputation for their creative approach to their craft, and new entrant Bright Tank Brewing is no exception.

Co-owned by head brewer Matthew Moore and craft beverage aficionado Gemma Sampson, and managed by former Petition Beer Corner venue manager Josh Edmeades, Bright Tank Brewing is expected to open as a microbrewery and hospitality venue in East Perth within the coming months.

Mr Moore said the new brewery, which was expected to produce between 50,000 and 100,000 litres annually, would leverage the emerging Perth foodie culture and its appreciation of innovative food experiences.

“Our beer is very much built around food and sharing food with other people,” Mr Moore told Business News.

“For the share menu, staff will point you to beers that pair well, but we will also have a bi-monthly degustation, where I’ll probably bring out something new that I’ve brewed.

“We’ll also show people beers that inspired us and what’s out there.”

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As was the case in Canada and Europe, for example, Mr Edmeades said beer would not be an afterthought but rather a crucial element of a meal at Bright Tank.

“We’ll be using elements of beer in the food as well, so using hops to make a simple snack like popcorn; instead of having a steak and chips we’ll have an oxtail gnocchi,” he said.

With Bright Tank beers dominating tap points, Mr Moore said one other available brand would be the barrel-aged sour beer collaboration that he and Rocky Ridge Brewing head brewer Hamish Coates had been working on, to be supplied in corked champagne bottles.

And with whisky producer Whipper Snapper within close proximity, an ongoing collaboration with the distillery could also be in the works, he said.

Joshua Daley says beers from Rocky Ridge, Beer Farm, Eagle Bay and Colonial Brewing Co are driving sales at Mane Liquor.

Product innovation

Sour beers, food-based beverages and creative collaborations are some of the innovations coming out of breweries such as Rocky Ridge Brewing and The Beer Farm as they seek to make a name for themselves.

Located in Busselton and Metricup respectively, Rocky Ridge and Beer Farm are relatively fresh on the beer scene with a focus on self-sustainability and local ingredients.

According to the co-owner of specialist beer outlet Mane Liquor, Joshua Daley, it was Rocky Ridge’s Peach Invasion New England IPA that helped the brewery gain early recognition and drive sales for its core range.

Meanwhile, Beer Farm’s recently released shiraz-based sour beer, produced in collaboration with the winery LS Merchants, was driving social media engagement and expected to sell out within a week, he said.

Mr Daley said Feral Brewing was the first local brewery to produce packaged beers that pushed the boundaries, but newer players such as Rocky Ridge, Beer Farm and Eagle Bay Brewing had picked up the trend and were selling well.

“We usually like to say our beer market mimics America, but just about 10 years behind,” Mr Daley told Business News.

“There’s a style of beer called sour beer, and if you go back five years it wouldn’t even be a thought to cross a WA brewer’s mind.

“All the guys that are releasing stuff like that; they’re the ones who are ahead of the game. It helps put them on the map and right in front of people’s faces when they’re releasing those boundary pushing brews.”

Beer Farm’s native Australian beer series is produced in collaboration with native pop-up dining experience Fervor, which includes a bush lime twist on the popular New England IPA style; it is another example of the innovative offerings coming to market.

While the beer label behind Northbridge and Whitfords Brewing Companies, Beerland, focuses on producing drinkable beers to keep its venues running smoothly, it also maintains relevance with quirkier limited releases.

Awarded champion Australian beer for its draught wheat beer at the Australian International Beer Awards last month, Beerland will be releasing a limited edition Habanero IPA to coincide with its chilli week, which launched yesterday (June 4).

Virgin bloody mary ‘chilli pong’ will be one of several games and competitions customers can get involved in throughout the week at the Northbridge and Whitfords venues, while the Carolina Reaper chilli will show up across a number of menu items, including chilli mud crab.

Market saturation

With 64 breweries established in WA, according to the BNiQ Search Engine breweries list, and about 492 across the country according to craft beer publication the Craft Beer Reviewer, establishing a point of difference through product innovation or provenance is increasingly important.

Rocky Ridge is based on a family-run beef and dairy farm, with about 90 per cent of its ingredients home grown, including its hops.

Founder and head brewer Hamish Coates said the investment in growing its own ingredients was costly in the short term but would prove to be beneficial over time.

“I kind of feel the brewing industry as a whole is going to reach saturation at some point soon, and by minimising our overheads and becoming self-sufficient it’ll future proof us to an extent,” Coates told Business News.

“It’s also about having that point of difference to stand out in what is becoming an increasingly saturated and full market.”

With the change in liquor licensing regulations that now allow breweries to operate satellite cellar doors, Rocky Ridge plans to open its own small bar and cellar door in Busselton within coming months.

“Again, it’s about that future-proofing so that if in five years’ time it is that hard to get tap points, we at least have our own venue to sell our own beer through,” Mr Coates said.

Nowhereman Brewing Co business development manager and Girl + Beer blogger, Pia Poynton, who has been working in the beer industry for about a decade, said there had been a noticeable increase in competition in the past year.

She said there were about 12 new sales representatives on the road in the past two years, without counting major players Carlton United Breweries (CUB) and Lion Nathan.

“As the movement has matured people are looking for more innovative beers; they’re getting interested in not only the beer itself but who’s making it and where it’s coming from,” Ms Poynton said.

“It reminds me of what’s happened with food and the paddock-to-plate movement.

“Challenges are obviously competition from the sheer number of suppliers.”

She said while rotational tap points in venues had increased, as opposed to tap points contracted to major breweries, the opportunities weren’t yet matching the number of new breweries available.

“You’re seeing more venues now that will keep all of their taps and decide who are put on, whereas back in the day they’d split it 50:50 between the big boys (CUB and Lion Nathan),” Ms Poynton said.

“But there’s still lots of venues opening up that might only have one or two rotating taps available that are not locked into anyone, so you’ll have 30-odd breweries competing for that rotating tap.”

Beer Farm general manager George Scott said venues on the east coast provided greater opportunities to smaller breweries by culling the majority of exclusive contracts with the major players.

“There are a lot of rotational tap points over there but over here we still have a lot of venues that are contracted out, either between 80 per cent or sometimes even 100 per cent to Lion Nathan or CUB,” he said.

“I think until these contracts get addressed, it’s minimising the opportunity for independents to grow.”

Red tape

Mr Scott said another major restriction for emerging breweries was high excise tax.

“The Australian market definitely does fall in line to what America is doing,” he said.

“But the thing to realise is America had the same growth as what Australia is now experiencing, but what their government did is they supported the industry, they made tax cuts for independents and small producers.

“(Australia’s) just done it with an excise decrease for small kegs, and that’s the first real positive thing I’ve seen from the government for supporting a small market segment and I think they need to get behind it more.”

In an effort to boost support among smaller independent breweries, the Independent Brewers Association, which changed its name from the Craft Beer Industry Association last year and updated membership requirements, has introduced a new product seal that confirms independence.

The seal was influenced by similar actions in the UK and the US and follows the sales of Mountain Goat to Asahi, 4 Pines to AB InBev, Feral Brewing to Coca-Cola Amatil, and Pirate Life to CUB.

While it’s too early to say what effects the new packaging seal will have on the industry, IBA is aiming for 90 per cent of its member breweries to adopt the seal by late 2019.

Special Report

Breweries & Distilleries

05 June 2018

New products and venues as sector matures