Crafting a region, one beer at a time

Anyone visiting the emerging creative district at the Burleigh end of Christine Avenue will have noticed Precinct Brewing, prominently positioned in line of sight to the Gold Coast Highway. Perhaps described as a simple beer hall, with whitewashed walls surrounded by metallic tanks, Precinct is one of a growing number of breweries popping up on the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers, stimulating both the regions food and beverage manufacturing sector and the dining sector.

Craft Beer Reviewer reports that from 2015 to 2020, the number of craft breweries in Australia grew from 346 to 740. And in Queensland the number has grown from 36 to 111. And that doesn’t include home brewers commercialising recipes via “gypsy brewing”, which is where an existing brewer’s facilities are rented by “freelance brewers” to produce small experimental production runs.

So what is going on? Why is the Gold Coast positioned so perfectly to take advantage of this significant growth in creative beverage manufacturing across Australia? We talked to a few locals you’ve heard of, and a few you may not have, to explore just that.

Jamie Cook started Stone & Wood with two mates more than a decade ago in the Northern Rivers region and this coming year they expect to produce 16 million litres of beer and cider. Cook reflects on starting out, describing the creation of Pacific Ale.

The music industry is pretty similar [to brewing]. A songwriter will play around writing lots of songs and all of a sudden jag one that’s highly successful and then they have to play it for the rest of their life. With every gig they ever play, they have to play it.

“So very similar to brewing, you might brew a whole portfolio of beers and then one becomes very successful and you’ve got to be very comfortable with making a lot of that. Day in, day out.”

You might think that apparent monotony of success sucks all the creativity and innovation out of the brewing business but most breweries, including Stone & Wood, actually make it their business to innovate in response to the changing tastes of customers, hoped to motivate paying the few extra dollars per crafted schooner or can.

Black Hops Brewing have evolved this into an art and Michael McGovern, brewmaster and co-founder, expanded on this commitment to their customers.

“Last year, we said, we want to do 52 unique beers. And we did…. And then in January, this year, what did we say? We’d said, let’s do a hundred this year… it’s always like, how do we keep pushing ourselves to grow? And how do we keep delivering more and staying ahead of the game and not getting complacent?”

Two Belgian immigrants based in Helensvale opened up their home garage to queues in 2019, motivated to advocate for the unique traditions of brewing in Belgium (in 2016, Belgian beer culture was inscribed by UNESCO on their list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity). Anneleis and Jimmy, in spite of their Madocke Brewing operation producing just under 5000 litres, now plan to open a brewery and taphouse in Molendinar in 2021. They intend to not only deliver some 50,000 litres of Belgian beers to Gold Coasters each year but also promote the rich cultural history of Belgium as part of their brewery decor and fit-out. You’ll hear more from Reynard the Fox very soon, I’m told.

It is examples of this sort of creativity and culture that has made brewing an artistic act itself in the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers over past years. Whether it’s the can art on a new brew, the uniqueness of a recipe incorporating local ingredients, or the storytelling leveraged to attain competitive advantage in the marketplace, craft brewing on the Gold Coast is evolving as a major player in the cultural sector.

What is common to each of these breweries is a focus on people, both the customer but also the employee, positively shaping the region one beer at a time. Peta Fielding, whose popular Burleigh Brewing has a reputation as an exceptional employer as well as a community contributor, sums it up aptly.

“Our people; customers and staff; are critical to us because we love where we live. We learnt early on that we can’t expect the community to support us if we’re not willing to support the community. That’s why we do what we do.”

Note: G.O.A.T. was voted 5th most popular craft beer in Australia recently in the GABS Hottest 100. Black Hops had a total of seven beers voted into the top 100, and other coast breweries (including Balter and Burleigh Brewing) also had beers voted into the list. Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale (referenced in the article) was voted #2 in Australia.

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