01/11/2017 - 13:31

Varis hopes customers stay Feral

01/11/2017 - 13:31

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Scale and authenticity were two factors attracting Coca-Cola Amatil to Feral Brewing, which now plans for a more rapid execution of its vision with the newfound support.

Varis hopes customers stay Feral
Brendan Varis says Feral Brewing has produced Australia’s biggest quantity of bourbon barrel-aged beer. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Feral Brewing Company founder and head brewer Brendan Varis says it’s decision time for customers, following the recent purchase of the Swan Valley-based producer by Coca-Cola Amatil.

Are they going to stick with the craft brewer, or jump ship?

Continuing Feral’s innovative approach to beer making, Mr Varis highlighted a new bourbon barrel-aged beer, a packaged release of limited-edition tap beer Biggie Juice, and better quality control as some of the positives that customers could see flowing in the near future.

“What we’ve got coming up over the next six weeks is going to make some of the people who question the quality and whether they’ll ever buy our beer again because of ownership, either stand by their convictions or fall on their sword,” Mr Varis told Business News.

“Because F-15 is a pretty unique beer that’s been aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for six months.”

“It’s not normally broadly available and we’ve made a quantity (9,000 litres) probably bigger than has ever been made of a bourbon-aged beer in Australia before.”

F-15 has just been launched in celebration of Feral Brewing’s 15th birthday.

Mr Varis will move to a consultancy role at the business in the next month and, while retaining no control over the company post-acquisition, said the management of Feral would not change.

“Ultimately if they chose they could dismantle everything, that’s a fact of when a company takes over 100 per cent of the shares,” Mr Varis said, adding that there was very little likelihood of that happening. 

“Taking them on their word, they are totally reliant on all the people who have gotten the business to where it was today to continue to drive it and be responsible for its growth.

“The real changes will come from distribution that Amatil bring.”

He said the deal would allow him to pursue his vision for Feral faster and take pressure off him financially.

“So now when we (management) make a good case internally, then you’d expect that they (CCA) would be able to execute it, but probably not being as cash flow poor as we were,” Mr Varis said.

He said he didn’t expect Feral’s products to lose any of their craft style or quality as a result of the change in ownership.

“Production methods that are available in big breweries, quality control in big breweries, have always been superior to craft breweries,” Mr Varis said.

“For me, craft has always been about the liquid and how it tastes, so I don’t think whoever owns a bit of paper to say you’re the shareholder has to do with how the liquid tastes, that’s more to do with the management decisions that people make.

“We created a unique challenge for them (CCA), though, in that our beer is stored and transported cold.”

He said it was a good sign that CCA was following through on its word post-acquisition, and that the new owner had been putting a lot of work into adding cold freight and storage into its logistics system.

Feral Brewing wasn’t the easiest brewery for CCA to acquire in that it wasn’t a brand that would easily assimilate into mainstream beer, Mr Varis said.

Rather, he said, CCA was seeking an authentic brand to grow its beer portfolio, which included NSW-based Yenda beer.

“We’re a brand that’s at the pointy end of craft beer, we do have some depth and authenticity to us and I don’t necessarily think that’s the same for a lot of craft brewers with scale,” Mr Varis said.

“They (CCA) needed scale, and if you look around there’s probably only a handful of craft brewers in the country with enough scale to leverage.”

After consistent growth, Feral moved production breweries late last year, four years after moving into its first production brewery.

The current brewery production of 3.5 million litres per year could be increased to 10 million litres with further capital expenditure, compared with a maximum of 1.8 million litres before the move.

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