West City Brewing has become the latest small Australian brewing company to be put on the market. The three owners are looking for someone to take over the gypsy operation after one of the founders left to focus on other businesses.
West City Brewing was launched by homebrewers Bevan Dalziel and Fergus McGregor in August 2015, sparked in part by the West Side Beer Drinkers Facebook group started by the former, and were later joined by Nick Cooper. It is best known for the Footscray Ale, a beer that enjoyed a moment in the sun when the Western Bulldogs claimed the AFL Premiership last year.
According to Bevan, the decision came from his desire to focus on a separate business.
"There are three of us involved in West City Brewing," he told The Crafty Pint, "and two of us have young families, and the other guys also work full time. So, when I decided to step back, we realised we could not continue in a way to do the brand justice and made the decision to try and find someone to take it over.
"While the marketplace is challenging, we had a great support base of loyal drinkers and out west the product was consistently popular."
News of West City Brewing's potential sale comes within weeks of SA's Vale Brewing and Central Coast's Six String Brewery revealing they are seeking investors for their businesses, while Rutherglen Brewery and Restaurant in North East Victoria was also put on the market this month.
Earlier this year, we chatted to Steve Henderson about the demise of BrewCult and Mark Fethers about the decision to put Rocks Brewing's Alexandria brewery and venue on the market. The Little Brewing Company, based in Port Macquarie, spent time in voluntary administration before being taken over by new owners earlier this year and SA contract brewing company Malt Fiction ceased operations in recent months too.
While there are different factors at play in each case, taken together it's further evidence that these are challenging times for an industry that continues to grow but in which many individual businesses are facing a squeeze, even though Bevan (pictured below) says this wasn't a major factor in West City's founders' decision to move on.
"Loads more venues and stores have opened up out west, so we always had someone new wanting to stock our beer," he says. "There has been a noticeable increase in both local and interstate brands competing for the same space, though, and a lot of brewers coming out with the same style of seasonal product, which made it difficult at times."
He has words of advice for others looking to get into the commercial realm too.
"Anyone thinking of getting into the gypsy game – and I'm sure a physical brewery would share some similarities – needs to realise just how much time and money they will need to invest to make it work," he says. "Beer is an expensive thing to make, and if you have a popular product you will probably need to fund multiple overlapping batches at any one time.
"I've chatted to a lot of keen people who are thinking about starting their own brand and they generally seem to underestimate the amount of money and time they'll need to make it work."
In recent weeks, the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) released a report putting the economic impact generated by the country's small brewers at $740 million per annum and there have been positive noises coming from the country's politicians too. Yet, as the industry matures, IBA executive director Chris McNamara says it's vital that people entering it are fully prepared and have a viable business model that they understand.
"If you are looking to wholesale, where are you going to sell that beer? Where is the shelf space and where are the tap points?" he said. "If you are looking to run a brewpub type operation do you understand the realities of hospo life? The long hours and the issues retaining key staff in the kitchen and front of house?
"It is an exciting time in the craft brewing industry at the moment but new market entrants need to come in to it with their eyes open. While it may have always been your dream to start your own brewery you need to be aware that it is an increasingly competitive industry."
As for Bevan, he says he's looking forward to running more events and meet ups with the West Side Beer Drinkers and "being able to spend more time promoting good beer in the west of Melbourne", a part of the city that is experiencing a craft beer boom, as we reported last week.
Anyone interested in the West City Brewing business can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.