These days, contract brewing is far less contentious an issue than it was back in 2009 when the Hawthorn Brewing Company launched its first beer into the hands of Victorians. While financial realities mean more and more start-up businesses opt to have their beers brewed under license today, back then there was a feeling in some circles that only those who weren't serious about beer, those who wanted to spin a dubious yarn and try to make a quick buck, were at it.
It was into that environment that Hawthorn stepped, choosing to have their resident brewer Hamish Reed's recipes brewed initially at Mildura, then Southern Bay, then BrewPack. And, while the "Imported from Hawthorn" tag may have ruffled a few feathers early on, they were quick to be open about the way they operated and, rather more crucially, Hamish's beers proved well worth drinking – no matter where they were brewed.
The journey of the self-styled "Flavour Merchants" is one that resonates like many in the craft beer world too. Hamish and his business partners Darren Milo and Peter Willis all grew up in the same suburb, Mooroolbark in Melbourne's east, and knew each other via family friends. Later in life, Hamish would rock up to BBQs with his home brew, which, according to Peter, went from "pretty bad in his teens" to "better and better" until his mates suggested they should be released commercially. Between that point and the forming of Hawthorn Brewing Company in 2008, the trio worked and travelled overseas, exploring beer cultures wherever they went and, particularly in Hamish's case, soaking up inspiration for the beers, which he designed to be approachable and with broad appeal – nothing too wild, nothing too crazy.
It was an approach that worked. Having racked up a stack of medals of varying hues at major beer awards in Australia, they sent their beers overseas to be judged, with their Australian IPA collecting a trophy at the International Beer Challenge – the world's largest packaged beer-only competition – in 2013; a year later, their Golden Ale snapped up another trophy while their range performed so well overall they took out the Supreme Champion Brewery title.
The Hawthorn Brewing Company journey – at least for the founders – ended when the brewing company was acquired by Dixon Hospitality in 2017, with that company now part of the Australian Venue Company. It gave the HBC beers access to the operation's dozens of venues, beers that in the second half of 2018 were reinvented into a new core four, almost entirely created from Australian ingredients.