With quality watering holes popping up left, right and centre, it can be a little challenging for businesses to establish a genuine point of difference. One way to take the competition to task is to team up with local breweries and create something new, writes Aoife Boothroyd.
“We came up with the idea because we just wanted to put our mark on something, and we wanted to be able to have fun with it.”
Alyce Schlothauer of NSW-based bar group, the Pocket Group, says that the decision to create their own bespoke ‘Pocket Tinny’ beer has certainly paid off. Teaming up with Central Coast brewery, Six String, the Pocket Group adapted the brewery’s golden ale recipe by increasing the ABV and adding German Hallertau dry hops at the end of the brewing process.
“We decided to go with Six String because we have a bar down in Terrigal and wanted to keep it pretty local, plus they have great beer so we knew we’d get a quality product,” says Schlothauer. “The idea was to create a throw-down sort of beer that mocks the tackiness of the tinny. It comes in a plain silver tin and we just slap a label on it. We were thinking about doing a bottle, but everyone is doing long necks in NSW at the moment, so we thought a tinny would be fun.”
The bespoke brew has experienced huge success since its launch in November 2015, with the first batch selling out weeks before the group thought it would.
The Pocket Group's Tinny
“It’s a way to stand out a bit, but it also gives us something fun to talk about with customers. Our customers love talking about the beer, but many of them also just want something that isn’t too complicated. We were thinking about going down the whole boutique beer route and doing something really constructed and complex, but then we thought, sometimes you just want to throw back a tinny. It’s a good beer, it tastes great and you can have plenty of them. It’s just really unpretentious and fun.”
Keeping it local
Similar to The Pocket Group, The Hill Eatery in Bondi decided that they too wanted to team up with a local brewer to create something unique for their venue. With a strong commitment to local Australian producers, co-owner Michael Benson said that the idea to team up with local brewery, The Rocks Brewing Co., was a logical one.
“We’ve done something similar with a couple of our wines so it was a natural evolution,” says Benson.
“Tim Fishwick (head of sales for Rocks Brewing Co.) and I go a long way back so it was a natural conversation with him. Rocks are a great partner for us as they are a reasonably young brewery, and are always trying to push boundaries and create great beers.”
With a vision to create something a bit different that would also match well with the venue’s food offering, The Hill Lighthouse Kolsch was born.
The Hill Eatery
“We knew that the Kolsch would be a good seller for us because it’s a great summer easy drinking session beer. We have had the 4 Pines Kolsch on previously which was probably one of our highest selling beers, so we knew from experience and from our new menu as well that it would be great fit. Being a Florida Keys, Caribbean influenced menu, we serve a few spicy dishes, and those natural yeasty and fruity flavours in the beer complement the spice.”
A tailored approach
Melbourne-based brewery Cavalier Beer has been brewing bespoke beers for venues across the country for the last few years with great success. Health Shirtcliffe, co-owner of the brewery says Cavalier’s bespoke brew business represents around 15 to 20 percent of its revenue.
“We are working with a lot of big hotel groups but we’ve done smaller restaurant-specific beers where they’ve bought in a beer from another country that they’ve wanted us to replicate to an extent. Of the most successful, we did a beer with Ombra Salumi Bar in Melbourne which was a collaboration beer that we did to match and pair with their smoked salumi. We did a smoked rye ale and it was a huge success, we had great feedback from it.”
In terms of cost, Shirtcliffe says that having a bespoke beer on tap can end up being more cost effective than securing other local craft beers.
“Obviously there are batch sizes that you’ll need to commit to, but if we actually sit down with the venue and work on an entire batch of beer for them, scales of economy work out cheaper so it’s better for the venue.”
When it comes to the design process, Shritcliffe says that it can range from three weeks to four months, depending on the venue’s vision.
“Sometimes the owners or head chefs have an idea in their head, and sometimes they have no idea and they want guidance from us. We’re always happy to explain the different styles of beer and get involved with the chefs and have a look at what sort of food they do to make sure that we make a beer that suits their style. If they’ve got some sort of crazy idea, then we’re happy to roll with anything. We’ll obviously suggest if we don’t think it’s going to work, but it is definitely a group decision.”
The ultimate once-off
Located in Sydney’s inner west, Grifter Brewing Co. never planned on creating exclusive bespoke brews for restaurants – until one of the world’s best restaurants, Noma, came knocking.
The four year old brewery was recommended to Noma’s sommelier, Mads Kleppe by renowned wine writer and journalist, Mike Bennie. According to Grifter co-owner, Matt King, Bennie was travelling around NSW with Kleppe, looking at different producers for the restaurant’s 10 week Sydney residency when the brewery’s name popped up.
“Mads was looking at getting a couple of different beers made for Noma and we were on the list,” King says. “We met up with him to discuss what they might want, and then from there we came up with the idea of brewing an Australian old ale that uses all Australian ingredients including roasted macadamia nuts. We called it Landlord.”
Although the brewery has done a number of special collaborations with festivals and restaurants in the past, nothing has been on quite the same level as their partnership with Noma. Kleppe specified that he wanted the beer to be served from bottles, which is not something the brewery was equipped for.
Rene Redzepi at Noma Australia
“We had to come up with a way to get the beer into bottles which was pretty interesting,” says King. “We’ve actually just been bottling it by hand one-by-one… We’ve had a few late nights.”
As far as future collaborations are concerned, King says that it depends on the terms of the deal.
“We did a watermelon pilsner last November for Frankie’s for Sydney Craft Beer Week, and that was really popular so we’ve actually brewed it three times since then. We’ve also worked with LP’s Quality Meats where (chef) Luke Powell smoked some of our malts which we made a smoked porter with, and again that’s been really popular so we’ll do that again. It’s more collaborative ideas that we work on with a venue and if we can keep producing it, we are happy to share the name and sell it around town. Being exclusive for one venue is really hard for us. But I think we could sort of get away with it for Noma though, because it’s Noma.”