There are plenty of people who've done much to build the craft beer industry we now have in Australia. But there are few – if any – who've done as much in as many different areas of the craft beer industry as these two. In fact, you could make an argument for Steve Jeffares and Guy Greenstone having built their own mini-craft beer industry over the past decade and a half.
There's the venues. The Local Taphouse in St Kilda – inspired by the beer bars Steve would hang out in on the West Coast of the US – was a trailblazing addition to the country's venues. In its earliest days after he took it over in 2001, there was one rotating tap, but once he could see there was growing interest from customers in the beers pouring through that tap, things were ramped up considerably.
At the time, there were precious few places you could find a varied selection of decent beers – The Wheaty in Adelaide; Clancy's Fish Pub in Freo; fellow Melbourne venues like The Lambs Go Barrr, the Royston and Mrs Parma's; the New Sydney in Hobart, for example, but not many more. To offer 20 mostly rotating taps – and in St Kilda of all places – was little short of radical and spawned a second venue in Darlinghurst, now as crafty as ever under new owners and the abridged title, The Taphouse.
There's the festival. OK, so they sold GABS to new owners the other week, but from relatively humble beginnings – which you can check out in this video full of familiar faces – they built a genuine behemoth and a festival like no other.
There's the brewing company. Stomping Ground is not only one of the fastest-rising breweries of recent years, but the Collingwood venue helped raise the bar for what a brewery venue in a warehouse could be. They've carved out collaborations and partnerships in diverse areas of Melbourne life and created a pop-up at Melbourne Airport that's to become a full airport brewpub, with another one soon to open in Moorabbin.
There's the national poll. OK, so they've sold the Hottest 100 too, but what started as a bit of fun for their staff and regulars has become an annual event that creates heated discussion and has become a major marketing opportunity for local brewers.
And then there's other stuff too. They launched a bottleshop next door to The Local Taphouse in St Kilda with lofty goals and plenty to offer. It didn't last too long before they brought in new owners, but did trial pedal-powered "growler bike" deliveries in its short existence.
Among the myriad other ideas bounced around, there was at one stage a plan for a 1,000-capacity beer hall upstairs in Melbourne's GPO building, and talk of installing handpumps at both Local Taphouses and investing in a fleet of casks that local brewers would fill so they could offer genuine English style real ales. I can't remember if it was Guy, their Stomping Ground business partner Justin Joiner, or Craig Williams, who they brought in to help run GABS, that said it, but I do recall one of them talking about Steve firing out multiple ideas pretty much everyday; not all of them were necessarily workable, but inevitably some would stick.
Indeed, as much as any of the above businesses they've brought to life, it's been the ideas and the drive that have had as much impact as anything. In the early days of Good Beer Week – even taking GABS out of the equation – there were a number of brewers and venue operators in the wider Melbourne scene who came up with ideas for events as grand as anything the GBW team was cooking up, and Steve and Guy were key players in that small group. The roll on effect of people displaying such imagination and innovation – and having the vision to carry them off – is, in my opinion, one of the central reasons why Melbourne has become a beer city with a global reputation. It's one thing having ideas, turning them into reality is another.
In a recent interview with them and new GABS owner Mike Bray, Steve admitted he'd wanted to take over the world with GABS, but ultimately realised the demands of Stomping Ground and the amount of time he was already spending away from his young family meant it wasn't feasible. Having witnessed him in action over the past eleven years, however, I can't imagine it will be too long before he's off on another venture; he won't be able to resist setting himself new challenges, even with Guy – who somehow manages to squeeze in a second career as an actor – attempting to act as something of a handbrake!
It's been a remarkable journey for two mates who met either side of the bar at The Local in the early part of the century – Guy, whose first job after uni was in brewing as a chemical engineer, was Steve's most regular of regulars. It's one that has helped shape the Australian beer landscape – and there are very few people about whom you can legitimately make such a claim.
STEVE JEFFARES & GUY GREENSTONE
What's been your highlight of the past decade?
For me (Guy), my professional life highlight of the last decade has been taking a small idea that we had over a couple of beers and turning it into GABS, an event that celebrates the creativity and innovation of brewers in a festive environment. Seeing thousands of people having such fun with beer as the conduit, discovering what they love about it, as well as meeting like minded people and just having a heap of fun has been incredibly rewarding.
It's given me the opportunity to meet and get to know so many brewers and beer lovers. The relationships I've been lucky enough to develop have been an absolute highlight and I am incredibly grateful to be a part of what we think is the best industry in the world.
What's surprised you most about the Aussie beer scene?
The phenomenal growth in numbers of independent brewers. When we started The Local Taphouse in 2008, there were around 30 independent brewers flung far and wide. We practically had to beg some brewers to sell us beer. We'd try to make it easy for them by arranging the logistics ourselves and promising to return empty kegs.
Fast forward to today and there are now approximately 700 independent brewers. Venues have a plethora of choice and so do consumers. If you had told me back then that this would be the case, I wouldn't have believed you!
What are your thoughts on the health of the beer industry as we approach the end of a remarkable decade?
With the growth in brewer numbers has come an inevitable growth in competitive intensity. The industry as a whole has never been healthier from a consumer perspective; however, the challenges faced by individual brewers has never been greater. Standing out in a sea of choice is really tough and it's no longer good enough to just make great beer.
Conversely, marketing beer really well without the quality product and process to back it up is also not sustainable. Getting the two aspects of creating amazing beer and building a great brand right simultaneously and sustainably is the ultimate goal that only few will realise. The ones that don't will likely find themselves struggling in a tough market.
What's your number one goal for the coming decade?
The same as it has always been! To unite and delight through beer. To share our love of great beer with as many in our community as possible through consistently exceptional experiences.
That's what has been driving us from the beginning. It's what our amazing team connect with and it's what our guests, customers and consumers connect with too.
And, if you had one Christmas wish for beer in Australia, what would it be?
Sorry, but it's a long wish!
For the industry as a whole to stay true to its roots. To stay good-natured, supportive and fun. To continue helping each other out and growing the category as a whole. To continue focusing on quality and freshness and making damn good, world-class beer!