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Byron Shire
January 24, 2022

Who owns the breweries?

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By Simon Haslam

Hopefully over Easter you discovered a rare craft beer, preferably brewed by an anarchist collective in a garage in Fitzroy or a previously unheard-of tribe of Taswegians, with some punny name like Scotchness Monster or Here we Joe Again.

But who really owns the craft beer industry? More than 170 beer and cider brewers are exhibiting at the GABS festival, for example, but large global brewers regularly buy out the small breweries, and also launch their own brands that, on the surface, look like small breweries.

One hilarious example is 4 Pines, whose ‘Our Story’ starts with: ‘4 Pines was born more than a decade ago from a casual conversation between a father and son, post surf, who simply wanted an exceptional beer…’. It is owned by the world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, but its website still has a crafty old-time font and plenty of heart-warming kooky messages about the community and workers (referred to as ‘our family’).

Some businesses, such as New Belgium Brewing Co in USA, have taken the direction of employee ownership, and are 100 per cent employee owned.

Local brewer Stone & Wood say they are inspired by the idea of being a village brewery, and part of their idea is that all their employees will become owners of the business in the future, alongside the founders. After a year with the brewery, you become eligible for the share offer, and they say 72 per cent of the team are now owners in the business.

‘Our share scheme not only gives the team a sense of pride and ownership when they come to work each day, but it has the potential to generate a nest egg for them and their family over time,’ said managing director Ben Summons. ‘We believe that to create a sustainable business for generations to come, we all need to have skin in the game.’

Visit the local brewery

If you’ve always wondered whether it would feel any good to throw in your job as a corporate bean-counter and go to work in a real brewery, you can go and check out the Stone & Wood Murwillumbah brewery on Saturday 14 April.

It’s family friendly, with a kids’ entertainment area, jumping castle, face painting, local live music, art and market stalls and local food trucks JR Smokehouse and Juju’s.

There will, of course, be beers, as well as a coffee cart and non-alcoholic options, but when you tire of drinking beer, eating, and listening to music in the sun you can take a brewery tour. Beers will be $6, with a gold coin entry donation with all profits raised from them going to local charities.

On offer will be the tribute to Murwillumbah Swamp Beer, which pays homage to a legendary local tale of a semitrailer carrying pallets of beer that ran off the Pacific Highway around Easter 2001. In the rush to clear the highway ahead of Easter traffic, the beer was simply cut from the trailer and let fall into the river, with the intention of salvaging it after the holiday.

However, the locals wasted no time diving into the river to salvage whatever they could, with the whole event making an hilarious video that was a finalist in Tropfest 2002 (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnUe_8WS7xo).

More info: Sat 14 April 11am–5pm, 35 Kite Cres, Murwillumbah. Bus timetable to be announced soon. See https://www.stoneandwood.com.au/murwillumbah-brewery-open-day-2018/.

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