Gage Roads might have grown to become one of the country’s largest independent brewing companies, but it’s one with humble beginnings. The WA based operation was established in 2004 by two brothers, John and Bill Hoedemaker, with their original brewery cobbled together from salvaged secondhand equipment and squeezed into a former margarine factory.
While that original kit has since been replaced with state-of-the-art German equipment (Krones CombiCube B brewhouse), Gage Roads still calls that margarine factory in Perth’s south home. It's just that, after taking one of the more idiosyncratic paths in the years since – rapid expansion with Woolworths as a part-owner before reclaiming independence by buying back shares in its listed ASX entity and setting about striking a series of eye-watering partnerships in the sporting arena – today they produce millions rather than thousands of litres every year.
Increasingly, it's beer bearing the Gage Roads name too. Where once, the brewery was known as much for producing beer for its contract partners, the "Returning to Craft" strategy launched in 2016 has seen an ever greater focus on its own beers, both in terms of driving the quality of existing beers, exploring new styles and pushing them into more venues and retailers all over Australia. It's a drive that's been helped in no small part by their success in their eyes of the country's beer judges, with a stack of medals topped off with various champion beer and champion brewery trophies.
As for the beers, they're typically designed as approachable, balanced and tight takes on their chosen style and namecheck Gage Roads' locale and the lifestyle that comes with it. The brewery itself is named after the stretch of water that separates Fremantle and Rottnest Island, while beers such as Single Fin – their aromatic, all Aussie hops summer ale – and Little Dove, the New World Pale Ale that won AIBA Champion Australian Beer in 2016, have been winning over drinkers after something craftier just as the Alby brand of lagers unveiled in 2017 have looked to cater to WA drinkers seeking a simple, locally brewed lager.
When it comes to success on the sporting field, Gage Roads is among a small but growing number of small brewing companies showing it is possible to challenge Big Beer's dominance. Indeed, it's arguably the most successful, winning pouring rights for Perth’s Optus and nib stadiums, as well as inking deals with Cricket Victoria, Rugby Australian and the Western Force in quick succession.
In 2018, in a further indication of the company's ambitions, it acquired Matso’s, bringing the Broome-based operation's famous Ginger and Mango Beer into the fold, and then rebranded its national sales and marketing team as Good Drinks. The intention, over time, is to bring more brands under that umbrella too, confirming Gage Roads development into its very own western force.
New brands have come from inside the business too, with Atomic spun off into its own operation with a brewpub home in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern, and the Alby lagers taking on a life of their own.
And, as of January 2022, Gage Roads have a "spiritual home" of their own where beer lovers can visit. They took over the historic A Shed on the Walyalup Waterfront in Freo, creating a 1500-capacity venue complete with 25 hectolitre brewery enjoying views of the harbour 16 years on from launching their first beers.