Gage Roads has continued its run of success in the sporting world by securing pouring rights at Perth's nib Stadium, taking over from Lion at one of WA's major arenas. The move will see the brewery's Alby lagers, Hello Sunshine cider and Single Fin summer ale line bars at the home of Perth Glory and the Western Force for five years.
In the past year alone, the publicly listed brewing company has won the tender for the 60,000 capacity Perth Stadium and signed partnerships with Cricket Victoria, the Western Force rugby union club and the Sydney 7s rugby tournament. It also acquired the Matso's brand in June.
"With Perth Stadium, it was massive for them to go outside CUB and Lion," says Miles Hull, Gage Road's head of marketing. "It was a pretty significant step, breaking that duopoly, and to have it happen again [at the nib Stadium], where we've secured the pourage rights from Lion."
He adds: "You won't see us sponsoring the AFL Grand Final yet [but] we have the ability to really take it up to the big boys."
He says the brewery's decision to reduce the percentage of beer it brews for other businesses in favour of its own brands means it is one of few operators outside the multinationals with the capacity to take on such endeavours. And he believes Gage Roads' range of predominantly broad appeal beers makes them a good fit for the sort of audiences attending major sporting events and large music concerts.
"Sport has been a tricky proposition for craft beer generally," says Miles, who was involved in the launch of Little Creatures in 2000, later working on the opening of White Rabbit and the Little Creatures Dining Hall in Victoria too. More recently, after a few years outside the beer world, he returned with Gage Roads.
"[Craft beer] has tended to work in more underground and creative spaces. But Gage has a range of products to play in this space and we're finding some open space in which to play. The demographic with local cricket clubs in Victoria, for example, is quite a wide range, and it's a great way to introduce your products through community organisations."
In announcing the decision for nib Stadium, WA's Sport and Recreation Minister Mick Murray was eager to highlight that the State’s two major outdoor sporting and entertainment venues would now be exclusively supplying Western Australian made beer and cider.
“Gage Roads is a true Western Australian small business success story, with its operations proving strong support to local farmers, manufacturers, the hospitality industry – all while supporting local jobs," he said. “The State Government is committed to buying local wherever possible and isn’t it fantastic to think that, when Western Australians go to watch local sport and entertainment, they will be enjoying beer and cider produced only a matter of kilometres away.”
It's another "open space" Gage Road is eyeing up. Since the closure of the Swan Brewery, Miles says only seven percent of beer consumed in WA is brewed within the state.
"Legacy brands are no longer made here," he says, pointing to the development of the Alby beers – lagers designed "to appeal to a drinker that's aware of craft" but after something familiar – as a bid to occupy that part of the local market.
With almost two decades working in and around beer and the wider hospitality industry, Miles is well placed to comment on the lie of the land, both now and the future.
"In terms of small start-up breweries, there's a significant amount more than when we commenced Little Creatures back in 2000," he says.
"What's exciting is the awareness of consumers. When we started Little Creatures, craft wasn't even a term – it was boutique. There would be a few cases of beer at the back of a store regarded as 'weirdo beer'; now you can walk into Dan Murphy's and it's just incredible.
"Craft isn't so much a term anymore, it's just beer. The beer market is wide open in terms of product offerings and styles and local breweries.
"The big thing for me is, if you're 18 now and coming into drinking, you haven't known a world without craft beer."
He believes quality and price will continue to be major drivers of purchasing decisions, with the latter proving particularly challenging for many smaller breweries as competition intensifies. He also believes it will become harder for brewing companies to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market.
"There's still opportunity but it's very difficult to get into a unique space," he says. "I would love to see everyone succeed and the beer market really open to craft, but we need to understand there's still a lot of people out there consuming mainstream beer."
The five-year deal at nib Stadium kicks off on August 27.