This week two big names of the US beer scene announced forays into the Australian beer market.
One, in the form of Goose Island (ABInBev), was of no surprise to anyone. The brand was trademarked locally in 2016 and has been used by the global conglomerate to plant the ABInBev flag in growing craft-markets. When ABInBev assumed ownership of CUB (through the SABMiller deal) it was inevitable that Goose Island would follow.
The most notable part of the announcement was they would brew the IPA fresh for Australia at the Cascade brewery, home to Cascade, Matilda Bay and the Yak family of beers.
It’s something I’m surprised doesn’t happen more often. With most US beers arriving in the country, at best, one month old – before transport, distribution and public sale is taken into account – this gives them a jump on competitors. It’s also how big beer has operated for decades, with beer brewed locally rather than being shipped.
The next thing to stand out was the turnaround in CUB’s outlook. Richard Oppy, CUB marketing director, said this to Australian Brews News about the announcement:
“That will be our hero brand in Australia. We don’t have an IPA in our portfolio. We’ve seen them perform extremely well in the US.
“More and more consumers in Australia are becoming educated in this craft space… we think the IPA segment will be a slower burn but it will get bigger over time,” he said.
However, just two years ago CUB’s Head of Brands, Tim Ovadia said (also Brews News… I’m just leaching quotes from them these days. Love your work guys).
“Do I think that a plethora of extreme craft beers with high BUs and super-high hoppiness levels have limited appeal? Yes – that’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. It’ll never cross over to a broader group,”
While GI IPA isn’t exactly, by modern standards, a super extreme IPA; it’s still a big step up from the 15IBU Lazy Yak, the beer he was launching when he made that statement..
Oppy also implored in the article that the GI launch was all CUB’s idea, seemingly out of step with their strategy right up until this point. And completely instep with ABInBev’s. CUB have also been recruiting for The Beer Collective, which was founded in 2013 as a sales team, to service “non-traditional” beer venues. Since then I don’t think we’ve heard much from The Beer Collective (TBC) but it may get a bit noisier in the next 12 months.
The product most beer fans will be looking forward to is their Bourbon County beers. No doubt we’ll see some sort of rollout or events built around them in Australia before year’s end.
Also this week, media in both Australia and NZ were being introduced to Lagunitas’ “Beer sample program” via email. Announcing the Californian brewery’s intent to engage media while they roll out their beers downunder.
For those unfamiliar, their founder Tony Magee is infamous for being hypercritical of breweries who sold their brand to bigger breweries, before his own decision to sell a 50% stake to Heineken. In fact, he’s taken shots at Goose Island in the past.
Selling ones brewery is selling all of ones best friend's careers, their hearts, the portion of their lives they spent working for you.
— LagunitasT (@lagunitasT) January 31, 2013
I said I'd not poach from local breweries to staff Chicago, but I think we could make an exception for Goose folks… Call it 'sanctuary'…
— LagunitasT (@lagunitasT) January 31, 2013
After subsequent inquiries, Lagunitas said they do not have a timeframe for rollout yet as they are still looking for a distribution partner (note: this was reported by Brews News… but I got the information from Lagunitas themselves. I do some legwork. Honest).
These two brands are very high profile in the US, but it is going to be interesting to see how their profile translates to Australia. From what I have seen and heard, other US imports are struggling to move off shelves. Even a brewery like Stone, with their brash marketing and anticipated rollout, are rumoured to not be moving as much product as anticipated.
It seems, to me at least, that success in Australia is coming on the back of grassroots advertising. Presence at festivals, local fans who pride themselves on buying local beer, and a slew of events. Brands like Stone and Wood, Balter, Pirate Life, Feral and Two Birds all have strong followings and are all found at festivals and tastings and events around the country. The struggle is an ongoing one in this market, rather than a set and forget.
What this all means for beer in this country over the next couple of years is really hard to say. The Australian beer market is slowly building its own identity. As beer quality increases, will the novelty of US beer in Australia going to end up being just that? A novelty?
There was a time when it felt like big name US players were a necessity in the market. Helping build the profile of craft beer while rolling out quality, ground-breaking, beer to a thirsty Australian public. However it feels like that time has passed and local breweries are doing just fine on their own. Some international breweries may continue to find a niche, but otherwise I think the time of the Australian market being ripe for entrance is over.