BrewDog Down Under: the Australian Heeler

"We may be bland and boring in comparison but Brisbane breweries have grown a market that is its own, without trying too hard to be something it’s not."

Much furore has encapsulated the exciting news of BrewDog hitting the banks of Brissie in the imminent future. The response seems overwhelmingly positive, as it should be, with most of the educated public and smaller breweries anticipating some level of access to the knowledge, creativity and notoriety that has followed the BrewDog odyssey. As a collective brewing community, Brisbane has always promoted itself as an inclusive and accepting society of like-minded and passionate good beer purveyors. Ostensibly, this is one of the reasons BrewDog gives for the selection of the River City, along with a growing market, an under-indexed number of manufacturers compared to other metropolitan areas and a geographically (and geopolitically) advantageous vantage point.

Australia and Brisbane, as good beer markets though, are rapidly saturating with manufacturers. This, combined with exorbitant excise and labour costs (sitting somewhere at 35-50% of fixed costs), makes little economic sense compared to other South-East Asian destinations.

Conceptual new skyline at Murarrie

So what’s really at play here? It is easy to be sceptical of a $30 million Vitamin D holiday, although I’d probably take that hit if I worked outside Aberdeen every day. I do find the paradox of Equity for Punks cheekily laughable. This anti-business business has certainly capitalised exceptionally well on capitalism, our current form consumerism, not a capital endeavour for the punk counter-culture of Britain, or is that the point – who understands Scots at the best of times. It is really easy to seek a nefarious cause for something as simple as desire for growth and lifestyle. These pursuits are important to many businesses and should not be needlessly dismissed. It is incredibly easy to be protective of an industry you love being a part of, is completely organic and have seen grow in leaps and bounds over the last few years.

Victoria and New South Wales have lovingly tolerated Brisbane as a quaint distant cousin for decades and what we have learnt up here in the sub-tropics is to go about things our own way. We already have Australia’s champion medium and small brewery in Green Beacon, breweries nailing the hottest 100 in Balter, Black Hops and White Lies, we even have young guys like Moffat Beach Brewing Co. scooping AIBA gold medals for double IPAs. The insinuation that Brisbane or QLD breweries need help or improvement is offensive and probably unintentional. The point being we are our own thing and bloody proud of it.

Regardless of the actual reason, BrewDog coming to Brisbane is inherently a great thing, for many reasons. Great competition demands great decisions. I think Newstead has been perfunctorily coasting over the last 12 months, but this, combined with the opening of many excellent breweries already, means that we have to strive much harder to be better. I saw something that Govs from Black Hops wrote the other day, to paraphrase, “To be the best you have to play with the best”. The attitude of Black Hops in this case is bang on, outstanding and reflective of the extremely consistent and excellent beers they continue to pump out. We already have to be on our game in Brisbane and will have to be even more so if we want to remain competitive.

Undoubtedly, BrewDog fashion exceptional beers. I remember when Trashy Blonde, 5am Saint and Punk were about the only independent beers you could purchase from The Grape (now Vintage Cellars) back in the naughties and they were, by far, the best on offer. I remember being absolutely blown away by Paradox Isle of Arran and TNP, some of my all-time favourite beers. I even freeze distilled 50L of a home-brewed Doppelbock, which was pure rubbish, in inspiration. Imagine having access to fresh Punk, what an absolute coup for Brisbane. But more than exceptional beers, BrewDog produce exceptional technologies. They take a concept and doggedly chase it to create something novel, what a fantastic aspiration for any brewery. They do not follow trends, they make them.

Primarily, the thing that excites me the most about the BrewDog AU operation is its desire to collaborate. BrewDog have earnt the right to sit aloof and, with swagger, dominate any under-indexed market. But that is not what they are doing. To share advice, insight and resources with local breweries is commendable and shows much consideration for the Brisbane industry. I would hope that they may even learn something from us one day, who knows? It’s a paradox.

We may be bland and boring in comparison but Brisbane breweries have grown a market that is its own, without trying too hard to be something it’s not.

Mark Howes, CEO