With WA Beer Week cancelled and an increasingly challenging situation unfolding in Melbourne, the team at Nowhereman decided to throw a party celebrating Victorian beer. It might seem like an unfair moment to throw one – rubbing it in when Victorians have so few justifications for leaving their homes, let alone going to the pub – but the party was created to offer a helping hand to brewers suffering at the hands of COVID-19.
“With the Brewers Party that we normally have for WA Beer Week, and doing a collab, obviously we aren’t able to do that this year," Nowhereman business development manager Pia Poynton told The Crafty Pint.
"Our Brewers Party collab has always been with interstate breweries – last year was Boston and Boatrocker, the year before was Helios and Ballistic, and before that was with Blackman's."
So, instead of cancelling the event when WA Beer Week was called off, managing director Reece Wheadon suggested going ahead and turning it an opportunity to help brewers from Victoria sell kegs that no longer had homes.
“Even though WA Beer Week isn’t happening," Pia says, "we’ll get a whole bunch of our Victorian friends to send kegs for the event, and do it that way.”
Once the idea was in motion, ingredients supplier Bintani offered to cover the cost of shipping across the country with Bridge Road, Stomping Ground, Blackman's, Boatrocker, Bodriggy and Molly Rose all invited to send beer. Pia say there were a "few super geeky beers suggestions to choose from" and, while they've taken some of them, they were also keen to include a rather more straightforward selection, in part as a nod to another festival cancelled due to the pandemic.
"When we saw the [Beechworth] pale ale I said to Reece that when I get to Melbourne for Good Beer Week, and go to Beer DeLuxe for the launch, I get a Bridge Road Pale," she says. "It’s that – ‘I’m in Melbourne, and this is a great moment’ – and Reece was very much of the same opinion.”
As part of their commitment, Nowhereman are paying for the kegs upfront at a flat rate above a standard 50 litre keg price as a donation to participating brewers; the West Leederville team will also be encouraging people purchase merch from Victorian breweries on the night.
Nic Sandery from Molly Rose was one of the brewers that leapt at the chance to send beer west, saying the offer to handle the logistics involved in getting kegs across the country was a welcome touch too.
“I’ve still got a few mates in Perth and studied brewing over there so I love getting beer over when I can,” he says.
“We had a few extra kegs of a really big IPA that is tasting delicious and unfortunately we can’t pour it so we’ve shipped that across.”
Nic says he didn't have as many kegs left over at the start of this lockdown compared to the first one in March – the result of him brewing cautiously and putting more beer into cans and bottles in case bars had to close again. Indeed, the past few months have seen him push Molly Rose into the wholesale market at a far greater level than he had planned pre-COVID.
“We wanted to do a certain percentage of our volume wholesale as was and get our beer a little more distributed and use that as marketing," he says.
“It was always going to be something that we’d do in the future but we’ve put a whole lot more beer into cans and bottleshops seem to be doing well at the moment, which is great."
As well as developing relationships with bottleshops – both independent and a selection of Victorian Dan Murphy's stores – he says they've received enquiries from further afield.
“We’ve had some interest in New South Wales and Brisbane and we’re looking to send some more beer back into South Australia, which we’ve done a bit of them in the past.”
Brewers in South Australia have been doing their bit to help their Victorian peers too. When we spoke to the Prancing Pony team for a #keepinglocalalive photo story, they said they'd been buying beer from across state lines, while Big Shed held a Victorian showcase at their brewery last weekend called Why Would You Want To Go There!?.
"I was just sitting there [when the news about Melbourne's second lockdown came out] and was thinking, 'Apart from sitting in the corner and crying, what could we do to prove we give a shit?'," Big Shed co-founder Jason Harris says.
"I spoke to Jules, our function manager, and said, 'Let's just contact a bunch of mates doing it tough and who'll be stressed out and buy a bunch of kegs.' It was about giving them a shot in the arm.
"Then we could switch the focus to our Shed Heads and said to them, 'You can have a pint which is better than many in the country' so they could think about those who are less fortunate."
It ended up being their biggest Friday and Saturday since January, with punters flocking to try beers that included an Incubator-only special from Fixation, an imperial stout from Hawkers and Bridge Road's B2 Bomber Mach 10.
While they spent last weekend thinking of their Victorian mates, Jason says they've ridden the roller-coaster like everyone else in the industry this year. When the nationwide shutdown landed in March, they lost 70 percent of business pretty much overnight and were forced to lay off staff, although some later returned thanks to JobKeeper.
"It was a case of rescue the business or try to rescue everybody," he says. "And we needed the business to be there at the end."
During lockdown, they enjoyed great support from their local community, while he and fellow founder Craig Basford hit the road delivering beer and pizzas "to keep the till moving".
The past few months have seen them focus on new product development, with a few beers currently in barrels and other non-beer products in line for release soon. And they've been grateful they moved to their current home last year, with the 2,000 square metre site allowing them a current capacity of 300 even as the SA government has been tightening restrictions as the disaster across the border has unfolded.
In the current climate, being able to welcome so many guests is something of a luxury, a fact that's not lost on the Nowhereman team.
“It’s heartbreaking," Reece says. "Everyone who isn’t in that situation is lucky, more than anything else. We talk to people in Melbourne all the time and it’s terrible. This feels like we are literally doing nothing to help, but it’s something.
“They were gearing up to reopen, and I know for us when we were gearing up to reopen we were winding back packaging and moving beer back into keg, and to make that flip and within weeks swap back, it’s hard."
Nowhereman's Brewers Party is set to take place later this month. Keep an eye on the Events Diary for more.
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.
You'll find a detailed rundown of how Victorian breweries and venues are adapting to Lockdown II here and can drop us a line if you'd to be added.