It’s a hard reality for some, but it’s a reality nonetheless: as the good beer sector grows, so does competition within the industry. Whether you call it craft beer, independent beer, beer with taste, or just good beer, this section of the industry has always set itself apart from the multinational giants by fostering a spirit of collaboration and community.
While it’s getting more difficult for breweries and venues to hold onto that in a crowded market, there are plenty who believe it’s worth fighting for. And now eleven Sydney venues are fighting side-by-side to run a joint event the city for eleven days.
The event itself isn't new – State of Brews was originally part of Sydney Beer Week. But, following the collapse of the festival earlier in the year, the venues involved decided to press ahead under their own steam.
“It’s about us pushing State of Brews as an independent venture,” says Ryan Gardam, of the Woolpack Hotel in Redfern. “It’s usually been pretty good – profitable, good for the venues, get a lot of new clientele in as well.
“It’s about getting good people into good venues, and trying to grow the industry as a whole.”
The premise is simple enough – inspired by the Pint Of Origin series run by The Crafty Pint at various beer weeks since 2011, each of the venues focuses on a beer region, whether it be a state or territory in Australia (only Northern Territory misses out… sorry, NT), or New Zealand, the US, or Scandinavia. For the duration of the eleven days, they showcase beers from their chosen area, including a myriad of beers that rarely – if ever – make it to Sydney, as well as themed events and tap takeovers galore.
Without the backing of a larger festival, the venues have taken on the heavy lifting. They've moved the event earlier in the year, bringing it from October to August, to grab the tail end of dark beer season, and to give people something to tuck into after Dry July.
“Trying to get licensees from all the pubs together on one night doesn’t always work!” Ryan says. “But we’d meet once every month or so, see who’s got access to good graphic designers, who can get some printing done, and everyone takes on little tasks. Then each venue has to push social media, and put posters up in their venues, explain what it’s about to their patrons.”
Mick Bain, who runs the Royal Albert Hotel, sees it as an opportunity for the venues to support each other.
“We’re all together. We’re not really going head to head with each other," he says. "We’ve picked different days for events, and different styles. Even though we’re competitors, we’re all in the same boat, and we’re trying to still get people to drink good beer.
“Hopefully we can all go to each other’s events, too, which was unheard of in Sydney Beer Week!”
While they don’t want to get ahead of themselves, the venues are hoping to do more together in the future, and to get more venues on board. State of Brews could involve events a few times a year under different formats: Battle of the Hazies, or all American beers, or a weekend-long festival… the possibilities are wide and varied.
Ryan says: “If we can get it kicking off, and kicking off right, hopefully people can look at State of Brews events and go, ‘Hey, whenever these venues get together, good things happen.’.”
Of course, this all depends on how their debut outside the umbrella of a beer week goes in 2019. But, while the venues are taking it one step at a time, there’s a glimmer of excitement for what the future could hold.
“When this one’s over, we’ll debrief… then start on the next one!”