Friday, October 9, 2009
Isn’t it every boy’s dream to grow up to own a brewery? Or is that just something we wish for once we acquire the taste for beer?
For many that dream has turned to reality and, in almost every case, it is the result of hard work, determination, more hard work, a bit of luck and some more hard work. And a fair bit of cash. Oh, and a little hard work.
On recent visits to Mountain Goat in Richmond and Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth the thing that struck me even more than the quality of the beer was the fact that, while we were all happily drinking, the brewer was happily brewing not more than a few feet away. And they were brewing in equipment that they had bought in a space that they had paid to occupy using power, water and gas that they foot the bills for. In short, there is as much capital investment in a craft brewing operation as there is investment of emotion and passion and care for the end product.
But the OTHER reality is this; for many of those dreamers, owning and operating a brewery on even the smallest scale, is more a fantasy than a dream. Lack of funds or the ability to convince someone to stump up the funds, nervousness about the economic forecast, inability to make the emotional and time commitment – whatever the reason, some can’t live the dream. For many of these people, there is contract brewing.
Having your recipes brewed, bottled, labelled and shipped for you is a means of getting your beer out there to the waiting masses, to establish your brand and build your market. Contract brewing is done by large, purpose built breweries or by smaller independent breweries looking to maximise the operating output of their plant or to simply help out would-be brewers who may be in a situation similar to the one they found themselves in years earlier. Other breweries are contracting out some of their regular brews to contractors where capacity has been reached and they want to concentrate on special or limited release beers. Either way, contract brewing has a place in the craft beer landscape.
I hope I haven’t made it sound as though I think that true craft brewing is King and contract brewing is Evil, I just want to establish the facts before asking for your comments. Many brewers who are making their beers by contract are upfront and honest about their operation. They may call themselves a ‘Brewing Company’ rather than a brewery, or they may (if you look at the label closely) list the company who makes the beer for them. Others list the office address on the beer. But, some ‘real breweries’ also use the tag ‘Brewing Company’ so this can be confusing as well.
Where do we go from here? It’s hard enough to get more people drinking better beer without also having to teach them the difference between contract brewers and brewers who have made the concrete, risk-all, financial and emotional commitment to brew good beer. Should we even tell them? Is there really a difference to the drinker? What about the brewer? Does it matter to them? Should we support a move towards a trademark of integrity like the Heart Foundation Tick or Buy Australian campaign to help identify craft beer that is brewed on site by the brewer him/herself?
Let me know what you think.