By S Haslam
If you are amazed by the number and variety of new craft beers brewed each week, you won’t be surprised to discover that 83 new breweries started in Australia last year, 28 of which were in NSW. People love them, and tourists are now seeking out ‘craft beer’ and small distillery experiences in the same way as visitors to wine regions.
We are lucky in this region to have small distillers like Brookies (Gin), Husk Distillers (opening the Northern Rivers Food event in May – Ink Gin and rum), Tintenbar Distillery, Lord Byron distillery, Seven Mile Brewery and of course our own Stone & Wood Brewery.
Stone & Wood’s new brewery close to Byron, which offers both food and visitor tours, has already been a hit with visitors, providing yet another example of a trend that has now attracted bipartisan state government support for the fledgling industry.
We asked Stone & Wood founder and Byron local Jamie Cook, who is also national chair of the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) that led the advocacy for this support a few questions….
What action we could expect from the state government after the election?
Jamie Cook: It was very satisfying to see strong bipartisan support for the industry in the leadup to the election. The Independent Brewers Association (IBA) (which I currently chair) led the charge to develop the support we are now seeing, and we now look forward to working with the government in pulling together a strategy across the various departments, which will support the ongoing growth.
What is the scale of growth in the industry?
Independent breweries have been growing rapidly, since 2006 when there only 30 breweries in Australia to around 500 today. In the last 12 months we have seen 83 new breweries start in Australia and 28 of those were in NSW. The beer volumes sold by independent breweries now represents more than five per cent of the beer sold in Australia
Do you have any thoughts on how the state government might specifically encourage ‘craft beer’ tourists to the region, supporting the industry the way they do the wine industry?
Independent breweries appear to be popping up in pockets around the country. Some of those locations such as the inner west of Sydney or the Newstead-Tenerife area in Brisbane are helping revitalise semi-industrial areas, while other locations are in the food and wine areas, such as Margaret River, Yarra Valley, and the Hunter.
The Northern Rivers is another area where there is a basket of riches when it comes to food, and while wine could never really be a thing in this region we are seeing breweries and distillers arriving on the scene to support our local region. The NSW Government can work with the IBA and other local groups such as Northern Rivers Food here to build food and drinks tourism for the region.
There are some challenges around town planning and licensing; however, with state government support and the growing awareness of the value that independent breweries add through fostering a stronger sense of community and employment growth, we will see things evolve over time. Independent breweries also offer an experiential destination similar to a winery cellar door, and this needs to be recognised for creating a more sophisticated environment that allows for a savouring and tasting experience through education and supporting the notion of drinking less but drinking better.
The craft beer industry considers it is at the same stage the wine industry was 30 years ago, and growing rapidly. The Northern Rivers is considered one region that tourists might visit specifically for the experience of mixing it with the brewers and staff of their favourite beer, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago in The Echo.
Could you give me some view of the number of ‘visitors’ currently who are coming to the region, and/or how much you think that might grow?
We see the Stone & Wood Brewery in Byron Bay as adding something to the Byron Bay visitor experience. There’s not a lot else to do in Byron apart from the beach for tourists, especially if it’s raining (which it does a lot around here). We have a mix of locals and tourists and it’s really great to see the locals bringing their visitors into the brewery to show it off to their family or friends. It’s great to see the pride the locals have in their local brewery.
One area where we have had a lot of enquiries is from groups who are conferencing in the region and who are looking for interesting experiences as break from their whiteboard sessions at the conference. We see an opportunity to provide them with customised experiences such as private tours of the brewery and dinner matched with our beers etc.
I see there are already tourist-oriented distillery/brewery tours operating in the Byron general area.
Certainly tourist operators are going to start popping up as a way of tapping into those food and drinks explorers and that’s great. At Stone & Wood we prefer to take the tours of the brewery ourselves because we want the visitors to not just experience our tasting room but to also connect with our team, and these types of tourists want to have that connection, they want to be able meet the people behind their favourite beer.
Who is leading the way? Would you argue there is a benefit to having a range of different types of experience?
We are blessed with a number of incredible drinks businesses around the Northern Rivers, including Brookies, Husk Distillery, Seven Mile Brewery and others including ourselves. But when you add these to the amazing food growers, producers, and restaurants around the region we are really started to build an amazing destination for people looking for food and drinks experiences.