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July 19, 2016

Nomadic brewing takes hold in SA

Hats off to the little guys of the beer industry.

  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Main picture: Ewan Brewerton by Jessica Clark

There are renegades in every industry.

In beer, the punk brewers have always been labelled craft, but not all craft brews are made equally.

Among the breweries challenging barflies’ taste buds, there is a subset of truly independent and untethered beermakers: the nomads.

Nomadic brewing (or gypsy brewing, itinerant brewing, or the closely related contract brewing) is the practice of a brewer without a bricks and mortar premise using up unused tanks in larger breweries to make small batches of their product.

It’s a low-risk entry into the industry, but the benefits flow further than simply diversifying a market that has long been dominated by two multinational corporations.

Nic Sandery recently returned to Adelaide after a three-month international research trip and is in the process of setting up Molly Rose Brewing. He plans to use contract brewing as a way to introduce his product to market well ahead of when his own facility will be ready.


Nic Sandery by Amanda Santa Maria

“The advantage [is] you can, without that capital input, make a bunch of beer, get it out on the trade, start selling it to show whether or not what you’re doing is right,” Nic says.

“To start off I will be contract brewing, while I build my brewery… It just gives me that extra 18 months of actually having some beer on the market.

“It takes that long to build a brewery, so after my trip I really want to keep things rolling and launch some beer.”

Another Adelaide favourite, Mismatch Brewing, started in a similar fashion.

When Ewan Brewerton first started the brand, finding a facility to brew from was all about the numbers.

“We originally started our business model with going directly to BrewPack,” Ewan says.

“They were, at the time, launching 10,000 litres at a time, which, you know, might be 180 kegs or whatever, so it’s a very, very difficult model to get your brand off the ground, without the channels to make sure that you’re moving that product.

“It was 1,300 cases from this first run, and I had to hand-sell every single one of those out of a warehouse. I delivered every single one of those over the next three, four months, while trying to get Mismatch off the ground.”


Ewan Brewerton by Jessica Clark

It was around this time that Big Shed Brewing Concern started their operation in Royal Park, and with a tank spare that was a slightly more manageable volume, Ewan approached the crew and started brewing out of their facility.

It was a partnership that both Mismatch and Big Shed needed at that time.

Craig Basford and Jason Harris did consider starting Big Shed through contract brews, but with the option of either 10,000 litre brews or nothing, they decided to double-down and build a facility that would allow them to be more adventurous without sitting on too much stock.

“We didn’t come into this with brewing experience or hospitality experience, and the smallest amount of beer we could make was 10,000 litres, which meant without any experience, we were going to have to make a beer that was a bit mainstream and a bit boring,” Craig says.

“That was never what we were about.”

Breweries don’t come cheaply though, and if what you’re attempting isn’t quite mainstream (hello, Golden Stout Time), then you’re going to want some insurance on your build.


The Big Shed Brewery

For the Big Shed lads, that came through letting in the nomads.

“We had to recover the fact that we took ourselves to the brink of killing ourselves financially to do it, so this does make sense to do this,” Jason says.

“Not everyone offers up excess space,” Craig continues.

“That became part of our model, one, because it helps cash flow – again, we were starting out with no experience in the game, we wanted to start slow and build up, so that offered us a bit of insurance on regular money coming in.

“But it was also about, we knew how hard it was. We knew how much we struggled to find the money to make it happen, we want to actually help the local industry by giving people that opportunity to do it, if they had the same passion we did.”

As big as their shed may be, the Royal Park facility has run out of room, and the Big Shed boys are ending the contracts they have in order to brew more of their own supply and keep up with growing demand.

Mismatch will run a few more batches out of Big Shed, but Ewan has moved the operation to Hawkers Beer in Reservoir, Victoria, due to a lack of larger facilities here in Adelaide.

It’s a market he thinks could well be served here.

“I think it is probably an opportunity for someone to set up over here. I think that would be a fantastic idea,” Ewan says.

“I think it would grow our segment significantly. It would allow people to have an idea with a small investment and give it a good, hard crack. I definitely see there’s an opportunity there.”

As the independent beer market continues to grow in Adelaide, it’s not unlikely that those facilities will surface.

Big Shed are even considering building a new brewery and keeping Royal Park as a research and development space that may be open to nomadic brewers once again.

However it comes about, the result is a more local and diverse beer market, and less of the pie going to those unadventurous multinationals.

A concept CityMag fully endorses.

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