The Australian Craft Beer Revolution

08 Jan 2015

Author: Imogen Brennan



Australia’s booming craft beer industry is capturing the hearts and taste buds of beer lovers around the world. The brewers share a passion for making liquid gold with character, that is best enjoyed in sunshine and the relaxed company of good mates.
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Laughter spills through open windows and tumbles onto the streets outside. Barbecues sizzle, sending the unmistakable scent of summer lunch through the breeze. Pools splash. Insects hum. Frangipanis perfume the air. Lunch drifts into dinner, the sun sets. This is an Australian summer at its best. Perfect beer drinking conditions. The only challenge is deciding which beer to drink.

There are now more than 200 craft beer producers in Australia, after a surge of small breweries cropped up across the country recently. And just as the beer itself varies from producer to producer, so too does the definition of exactly what craft beer is. Though after speaking with many brewers – all of whom are madly enthusiastic about what they do - a few common themes emerge. 

Australian craft breweries are mostly small businesses, owned and operated by families or mates who are passionate about making beer they’re proud to put their names to. The breweries are usually run on a small scale, using traditional ingredients and a hands-on approach.

Despite the fall in consumption of mainstream beer in recent years, the craft beer industry is booming. Some producers are calling it a ‘revolution’.

At just four years old, the Australian Brewery in Sydney is spreading its wings quickly. This year the family-owned brewer started exporting their pale ale and pilsner to Japan. They’re soon expecting more orders from South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

“As the global thirst for craft beer increases, we’ve been able to combine our award winning beer with our distinctive Australian branding, building on the good will that the rest of the world has for Australia,” says Australian Brewery owner Marcello Colossimo.

The team also prides itself on being the first craft brewery in Australia that cans its beer, rather than using bottles. 

“With zero light and much less oxygen pickup, cans are the perfect vessel for craft beer,” says Colosimo. “Almost all our beer is being exported as packaged product. So it’s available mainly in supermarkets. Chains like Natural Lawson and Eon in Japan are doing extremely well.” 

A short drive east of the Australian Brewery in Sydney is 4 Pines Brewing, in the beachside suburb of Manly. It was born six years ago out of frustration that there was no “good, independent craft beer” to drink after having a surf.

4 Pines Brewing has developed a loyal following around Australia and often receives enquiries from international distributors. The team is still celebrating after winning ‘Best Pale Ale’ at Australia’s Craft Beer Industry Association Awards.

Richard Sweet is known as ‘Chief Beer Lover’ at 4 Pines Brewing. He says beer drinkers are leading a revolt against the commercialised ‘big brands’ and are instead turning towards produce with soul.

“It’s more than just a beer movement. It’s part of a global movement away from what I call the homogenisation of food and beverage,” Sweet says. 

Dominant in the demand for Australian craft beer, is the Asian market. As the middle class continues to develop throughout the region, so too does its thirst for well-made products. It’s a market that Melbourne’s Mountain Goat Brewery has been exporting to for about five years. 

“Our best market is Hong Kong, followed by Singapore, New Zealand, Japan and Malaysia. We’re tiny still, but we are growing,” says Mountain Goat Brewery’s co-founder Cam Hines.

After tasting “amazing beer” while travelling overseas in his twenties, Hines and his mate Dave Bonighton started brewing craft beer in the lively Melbourne suburb of Richmond about 20 years ago. 

Sustainability is important for them. The team produced Australia’s first organic certified beer a decade ago and now their biggest seller, the ‘Steam Ale’, is also proudly certified organic.

Hines says good places to ‘have a Goat’ overseas are The Globe in Hong Kong Central and Bergs Burger restaurants throughout Singapore. The team also travels to the Beerfest Asia in Singapore every June. 

Not far from the Mountain Goat brewery in Melbourne is Australia’s first female-owned and operated craft brewery. They call themselves Two Birds Brewing. 

Both aged 35 and with an abundance of industry experience behind them, ‘Brewer Bird’ Jayne Lewis and ‘The Other Bird’ Danielle Allen quit their jobs three years ago and took a leap of faith to start making craft beer together.

Since then, their business has tripled in size. Domestic demand is huge for the small team and they have international distributors knocking on their door too. “We’ve had a number of enquiries from Sweden and Asia,” says Allen. 

It’s easy to see why. Two Birds Brewing was recently named the Champion Large Brewery (a prize shared with 4 Pines Brewing) at the Craft Beer Industry Association Awards.

Now, let’s pause for a moment and imagine this: 
Coriander, corn and lime.In beer.

It’s called ‘Taco Beer’ and the Two Birds originally brewed it as a specialty beer for a festival. 

Now it has a ‘cult following’. But brewing it is a labour of love. 

The Two Birds must painstakingly hand-zest each lime, sourced from Melbourne’s Footscray Market. “It’s a love hate thing,” says Allen. “We call it ‘Bloody Taco’... It is painful, but it is an outstanding beer.”

Australians have long been known for their beer loving culture. Arguably one of the Grandfathers of the Australian craft beer industry, the family-run Coopers brewery started with humble beginnings in South Australia 150 years ago. Their beers are now widely recognised and slurped in pubs, bars and backyards around the world.

As Australian craft beer continues to whet appetites internationally, so too does Australian craft cider.  Rohan Peters from Coldstream Brewery in Victoria’s Yarra Valley is yet another Australian who quit his job (in IT sales) to start making cider with his best mate, Mike Basset (a former veterinary surgeon). 

“The only ciders that were on the markets were concentrates,” Peters says. “But there’s nothing in our cider other than locally sourced apples.”

Coldstream Brewery now supplies its Apple Cider to one of Australia’s largest supermarkets, Woolworths and it’s the official cider of the Australian Grand Prix and Moto GP. Internationally, you’ll find Coldstream cider in a number of bars in Taiwan and Singapore, including Wheeler’s Yard, Plonk on Maju and Hatched. And watch this space. They are keen to export further into Asia. 

“There’s a huge appetite for craft beer and it’s growing, while the mainstream beer consumption is dropping,” says Peta Fielding, from the peak body that represents brewers in Australia, the Craft Beer Industry Association.

Fielding also owns the Burleigh Brewing Company with husband Brennan, close to the picture perfect beaches on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

“What you see in Australian craft beer is a huge amount of personality and character,” says Fielding.  “We’re not trying to appeal to a mass market. We get to be ourselves and in many ways that shows through in the product… and that’s why people are embracing it.”

As Richard Sweet from Sydney’s 4 Pines Brewing says, consumers are keen to discover the story behind the beer they drink and the people who make it.

Those great stories and characters are just a couple of elements helping to drive the increasing demand for Australian craft beer internationally. It is the quality, taste and flavours that are so highly sought-after too. The infectious enthusiasm and passion that each Australian craft brewer has for what they are making is simply an added bonus. But perhaps more than anything, it is the pride and dedication Australian brewers share for making quenching liquid gold from the best locally sourced ingredients.

More information:
4 Pines Brewing, Sydney 
Mountain Goat Brewing, Melbourne 
Two Birds Brewing, Melbourne 
Coldstream Brewery, Yarra Valley 
Burleigh Brewing, Gold Coast 
Australian Brewery, Sydney