The local beer industry continues to diversify – and not just in terms of the places you'll find breweries and beer venues or in the beer styles being conceived. Increasingly, the makeup of businesses themselves is evolving, with Sydney's Hopsters Cooperative Brewery a case in point.
Operating under the slogan "Don’t just drink it, live it", the plan of founder Marco Vargas and director Maya Engelbrecht is to create a brewing enterprise in which an ever-growing members own a piece of the business.
“The idea came from a brewery in the US called Flying Bike," says Marco, "and I thought it was an excellent way of doing things. I came back and I said I want to do this here.
"So then I went on Facebook, messaged some people and got like 15 replies. It brought people together.”
Seattle brewery Flying Bike was founded in 2011 and now has over 1,800 members, as well as an operational brewery open to the public seven days a week. Marco is hoping to replicate the US brewery’s success, with the project taking another step forward this month as their Let's Give Hopsters A Home campaign saw them line up an Inner West Sydney location for their proposed brewery and taproom. Now fundraising switches to renovating and equipping the space.
“I work in property, this is my passion project," Marco says. "It started in April 2016 and we were incorporated in October 2016. From there, we entered beers into competitions, leading up to our first commercial batch.”
While they plan to brew out of the Enmore Road venue in time, for now they're brewing at Frenchies. The first release is a pale ale and is set to be followed by an IPA, a saison and an oatmeal stout.
“Absolutely, if we can hit $3 billion dollars that's exactly where we want to be!" says Maya when asked about similarities between Hopsters' approach and BrewDog's Equity For Punks.
"The plan is to go commercial. I mean, this is not going to be a homebrew project on the level that it is currently. We want to go commercial on a smaller scale doing individual batches and make that a massive success. At the moment we are in NSW but the plan is to be bigger than that.”
She adds: "We're going to have more than the original four founding beers, and if you look at what Young Henrys has, Grifter has, Sauce has, they all have around eight to 12 taps, so we want to expand to give people the opportunity to come in, use the facilities, make better beer; because that's what a co-op is all about – getting members together. Beer is a uniting force and we need to give Hopsters a home.”
Down the line, the plan, according to Marco, is to "replicate this model in other parts of Sydney. If this is successful we can open on the North Shore, and we have members in different locations.
"We want to be more like Black Font, a taproom and production facility similar to this – that’s what I want.”
While the cooperative is the first of its kind in Australia, many other brewing companies have used crowdfunding platforms. So why didn’t Hopsters choose this option?
Maya says: “We'd like to give members the opportunity first. I mean, that's why they joined. They didn't join to get a hat and a t-shirt they joined because they wanted a brewery.
“The appeal of the taproom is, once you walk in, you can taste the product and, if you want to, you can immediately be a shareholder. You can sign up and become a member right then and there. Every member is a shareholder automatically.”
To date, Hopsters has attracted members from a range of backgrounds, including local brewers and passionate craft beer fans.
“We have five operational brewers," Marco says. "They are all members and professional brewers – one brews at Endeavour, one has been working at Young Henrys for three years, and another was working at Batch – so we have a great team.”
Maya adds: “We have a lot of people with a lot of industry knowledge, we know that the model of consumer to product has completely shifted. You can't rely on customers walking through the door – you need to be taking the product to the customer. Our next thing is starting up a canning line, and shipping canned product to bottle stores and online sales.”
She adds: “These people are all here because they want to see their dream realised and this is the first step in that direction. It's not theory anymore, this is the venue. It's real. It's absolutely coming together.”
You can find out more about Hopsters here.
About the author: Hannah Louise Grugel is a craft beer-loving, Little Hop-blogging writer living in Sydney.