Fans of FogHorn rejoice – particularly if you're not a Novocastrian – as your chance to drink the brewery’s beers have improved markedly. Last night, the Newcastle brewery team held a party that included, among other things, a brand refresh and confirmation the brewery would be canning its beers for the first time ever while also making a concerted push to get its kegs further afield.
The moves were hinted at by the brewery's co-founder Shawn Sherlock following FogHorn's decision to bring in investment from Founders First at the start of the year (which you can read about here).
“Part of the attraction of partnering with the guys at Founders First was they were really keen to take the brand itself to the next level,” Shawn says, adding that previous forays into wholesale had "never been in any serious or coordinated way, it has always been put to the side compared to the venue."
He adds: “We’ve been a brewpub from day one; when we started, we were very much about building our venue and our brand within the venue.”
As such, while FogHorn beers have appeared at local venues such as The Grain Store and annually in Melbourne for Pint Of Origin at Good Beer Week, those eager to taste Shawn's highly regarded beers have typically had to travel to the source.
Now that's set to change, although it shouldn't mean too much change at the brewpub itself and FogHorn's hospitality side is staying paramount. With an 18-hectolitre brewery in place from day one, there's no intention to add any more stainless and they're using a mobile canning services for packaging for now. They have taken on a first ever FogHorn sales rep, however, with an initial focus on Newcastle and the surrounding region.
While Shawn says they’ll look to get their cans into Melbourne and Sydney too, his priority is building FogHorn as a regional brewery, and not looking to grow too fast.
“It will be a slow build,” he says. “We aren’t trying to get into every bottleshop in the country or trying to deal with the [major retailers] straight away.
“I’ve been around the industry for a while now and learnt some lessons along the way. We’re really looking to push into the local Newcastle and Hunter area to start with, initially with our draught offering, and expanding into as many taps as we can.”
As part of that push, the brewery’s name has also changed, albeit slightly. FogHorn Brewhouse is now FogHorn Brewery, with the logo updated to include the brewery's industrial home.
“It’s just us saying we’re looking to take our beer to the outside world a little more than we have in the past,” Shawn says, while adding that, as a brewpub, FogHorn’s beers haven’t tended to tell a brand story.
“We’ve really stepped back and looked at building some more stable and consistent branding so when we’re out in the market and outside our venue were people might not know much about us, they can start to get a feel for who we are.”
Having launched the brewpub in 2015 after working as head brewer at Murray’s for many years, it’s been some time since you've found any of Shawn's beer in a fridge or on a shelf. In those intervening years, competition for those spots, not to mention tap points, has increased significantly but Shawn sees plenty of inroads to be made.
“I’m a real optimist for the craft or independent sector – whatever you want to call it these days," he says. "I think we’ve got plenty of growth in front of us.”
And, while entry into the local market might be harder to the extent even great beers can struggle to move without the right sales team and marketing knowhow behind them, it doesn’t automatically make selling your beer any harder.
“It is very hard getting taps and it’s very hard competing with some the bigger guys but it was when I started too,” he says.
“I remember trying to get taps in the early days at Murray’s and Lion and CUB just owned everything. OK, you weren’t competing with fifty other craft brands for a tap, but nobody had even heard of the craft sector and we had to build it – along with the other guys at that time.
“It’s certainly more competitive now but I’m not sure it’s any harder than it was. Having to literally try and convince someone just to try your beer in the first instance was just as hard as it is now to try and convince someone to try your beer over someone else’s.”
The first cans of FogHorn Brewery’s Young Americans IPA are due out at the end of this month, with other beers to follow.