After a seven year journey as the creator, owner and operator of popular craft beer and music festival Beer InCider Experience, Marty Keetels has decided to put it up for sale along with Brisbane's annual community awards The Beeries.
George Levi sat down with him to find out more as he switches his focus to beer-drinking robots (or similar).
The first Beer InCider Experience in 2014 was a delightful time. It was a beautiful baby of a festival held in Albion, Brisbane, with a mere 2,500 patrons walking among the brewery stalls and lounging on the grass in front of the stage.
Fast forward to September 2018 and the organisers welcomed 19,000 patrons to Brisbane’s iconic RNA Showgrounds over two days, with a lineup akin to that of a major music festival – The Jungle Giants headlining Friday and The Smith Street Band, who'd brewed a beer with Fixation, the Saturday – and hundreds of craft beers and ciders on offer. In short, it grew quickly and amassed a reputation for being a bloody good time.
In light of its growth, the man who quit his job as a lawyer to start it all, Marty Keetels, asked himself a difficult question: to continue expanding, or move on? In the end, he decided on the latter.
How are you feeling about letting go of something that’s been so intrinsically linked to you for seven years?
I’m a little bit sad but also very excited. Beer InCider is my eldest child. I feel like it’s time for the child to move out. I’m looking forward to going to the festival and enjoying it as a punter. It will be nice to get kicked out with [The Crafty Pint’s founder] James Smith* rather than just preside over James being kicked out.
*James has never actually been kicked out although he did spend time onstage in a large bed with brewers and musicians...
Beer InCider has always supported independent brewers; how difficult is that to maintain?
That’s what it’s always been about. We’ve always been about authenticity and fun. Early days, we had a bit of pressure on us to open the door to non-independents and we decided you’re either all in or you’re all out.
I’m proud of that position, I’m proud we’ve helped independent breweries to attract more fans. I drink some beers now and know we helped launch the brewery behind them and I feel like we’re 0.001 percent responsible for their success, which makes me happy.
Speaking of supporting independent - tell us about The Beeries?
We’ve always strived to be a positive force within our industry. There’s so many points on the journey where you have to decide whether you’re going to be inclusive and try to bring more people together than push them apart, and that’s one of the reasons why we started The Beeries.
I decided that Beer InCider is a commercial business, we’ve done well out of it and we need to give back. That was the decision with The Beeries, as a not-for-profit event, to be a force for good within the industry and bring people together. It’s a bloody great event and it supports Brewsvegas, which is a magnificent festival.
If the new owner of Beer InCider looks at The Beeries and says “it’s great you developed this but it’s not our cup of tea”, I’m sure there’ll be people within the Brisbane beer community who want to push it forward. We’ve got it to a point now where it’s profitable and there’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t continue.
Running any major event or festival is no mean feat – any advice for those who are looking to jump into it in a management capacity?
Putting on a festival the size of Beer InCider, you probably make a thousand decisions, and I reckon any one person is going to get ten percent of those wrong. I think there’s a hundred decisions with every festival that you’re probably not making the optimal decision but ultimately a quick wrong decision is more often than not better than a drawn out right one. Of the 900 you get right, you don’t generally sit there and think about them – it’s the ten percent you get wrong you think about more.
Ultimately you can’t really be too beholden to those mistakes ‘cause everyone makes them and you’ve just got to move on. It’s part of it, it’s the way you run your business – you got to make a decision early and be happy to be judged on your decisions, morals and ethics. I’ve always been really firm on that.
A total cliche of a question, yuck, but regardless...would you do it all again?
I would do it again in a heartbeat. It’s been one of the most exciting times that anyone could experience. It’s been a great learning experience, I’ve done heaps of crazy shit, some of which I’d do again in a heartbeat and some of which I’d go…
At this point Marty pauses to make an uncertain, high-pitched thinking sound.
...was that such a great idea? But I don’t regret [leaving law] at all. The last seven years have been an absolute joy; I’ve had to pinch myself sometimes to think I can’t believe I’m making a living by running a beer and music event and I’m going to really miss that, and I’m conscious of that. It’s gonna be a tough 24 months where I slowly divorce myself from the concept that I own and run Beer InCider.
What made you reach the decision to sell?
The way my personality works is I get way more excited about creating things and growing them than I do about just running them and refining them. I’ve really enjoyed the last seven years, creating something out of nothing: Beer InCider and The Beeries; events that are sustainable and can stand on their own two feet now.
I think the enjoyment I got from putting on the first one was far greater than the enjoyment I got out of putting on the seventh or the eighth one, so at some point you’ve just got to say: “OK, what do I want to do now?”
What’s on the cards for you after this? Please say you’re not freelancing like this dingus *points at self*.
I’ve got my next 12 to 24 months planned out running an autonomous robots business and that’s seeing me spending more time in Sydney and Singapore. It was getting really difficult to find the time and be in Brisbane enough to give [Beer InCider] the attention it deserves. When those thoughts start, it starts to become pretty clear that something has to go.
How the heck did you get into the robotics industry and can robots feel emotion yet? Please say yes.
Essentially, one of my skills is being able to see a trend when it starts, and trying to build a business around that trend. One of the things that struck me, about five years ago, I started looking into the robots industry. A company contacted me and asked me to write a business plan about how they could sell more stuff. It was pretty open-ended.
I went away and did some work and found that robots could fit really nicely into the company’s DNA. They said: “Yup, great business plan” and they threw me the keys and I’ve been driving that car – I mean robot – for the last four or five years. We’re now in a position where we want to take that idea national and international after trialling it in Sydney and Melbourne.
And, sure, you can definitely code them to be emotive, and probably drink different types of beer and heaps of other stuff.
For someone potentially tossing up the idea of owning Beer InCider, is there an ethos that could guide the new owners in the right direction?
When we were starting Beer InCider, all the way through til now, we decided we would make decisions on two or three things: is it authentic, is it fun, and are we being true to ourselves? That’s our true north. If you can do everything on that basis you get a consistent decision and you can create a consistent event and reputation.
The next incarnation of Beer InCider could be taken in many different directions. It could be held in a venue where people could camp: a multi-day event which could be really exciting. Alternatively it could be pared back and done over multiple venues in a city like Brisbane over a week.
Whatever happens I think the idea of combining a beer event and a music event is still a really great one. There’s absolutely a future and a market for that style of event and that’s potentially what the person / company / organisation that acquires us will ultimately inherit: a whole bunch of assets that we’ve developed around putting on events like this.
There’s a fair portion of the interview that descended into an observation of the character of The Doctor from Hellraiser II, and drawing parallels between that and the fucked science and tech-mech that will keep the ultra-rich alive in years to come. We shall gloss over it here, because a) it isn’t particularly helpful information and b) I didn’t bother to transcribe it.
So, now we’ve answered the questions of why Marty has decided to sell his beloved Beer InCider, two remain: who’s going to buy it, and more importantly, will they continue to book Bris 182, the most excellent and very best Blink 182 cover band this side of the Pacific?
Best of luck to Marty and his robots who I’m sure are all very polite and not furious, sentient and dangerously strong.