Since we first reported this issue, the situation has moved forward. Discussions are ongoing with between the industry and the state government and it has been garnering mainstream media coverage too. For the latest, scroll down.
It's been a rough year for pretty much everyone in the beer and hospitality industries, with those in Victoria doing it tougher than most.
The adaptations and innovations of March and April helped many brewers reach drinkers in new ways as many switched to or increased their packaged output, launched online stores, and repurposed staff as delivery drivers. Yet, for those with hospitality as part of their offering, the double lockdown – which remains in place across the extended Metro Melbourne region – has put a significant hole in their businesses.
So when the Victorian state government announced grants of up to $30,000 were on offer as part of the $251 million Licensed Hospitality Venue Grants program, it was welcome news. At least until the program opened last week and brewery owners jumped online to apply: the majority of breweries in Victoria operate their venues and tap rooms under a producer's license – a type of license currently excluded from the program.
Among those to have found themselves locked out from the government grants is Boatrocker co-owner Matt Houghton.
"We've got a venue that holds a hundred people," he told The Crafty Pint. "We're a hospitality venue serving food and have been shut for all but four weeks since March 23."
He's been in contact with various state government departments in recent days and says: "The frustrating thing is trying to get a clear answer from someone; they're not at all forthcoming. If we're not eligible then why not? That's my big question.
"It's either been deliberately omitted or it's an oversight, but either is unacceptable."
He points out the government's willingness to bend the rules earlier in the nationwide venue shutdown to allow pubs and bars to offer takeaway services without the right licenses, while the ATO recently said it wouldn't enforce compliance against businesses offering growlers and other repackaged takeaway alcohol in areas impacted by COVID-19 restrictions until at least early next year.
"If they can do that for them, then why can't they let us apply for this grant?" Matt adds. "Twenty thousand dollars [the level of grant on offer to eligible venues the size of Boatrocker's Barrel Room] is a lot of money, especially when they are introducing a lot of new regulations, such as social distancing, more people outdoors, and we need to invest in more hand sanitiser stations, signage, umbrellas, furniture, contactless apps..."
He's not alone in seeking answers. Mirek Aldridge of The Mill Brewery in Collingwood has taken his frustrations at a lack of answers to the state government's social media pages, while the Independent Brewers Association's GM Kylie Lethbridge says she spoke to people in seven different government departments last Friday.
"No one is willing to make a call to say they left it off the list," she says. "It shows a complete lack of understanding of how these industries work.
"It's the only fund the vast majority of our members are actually eligible for unless they're running a different business model. Breweries [with their own venues] aren't any different to bars or cafés, they just have different licenses."
Kylie says she's hopeful they'll find a solution for members with Business Victoria, while Matt is one of many brewery owners waiting on good news.
"We're still paying rent, utilities and insurance, and have staff we need to look after," he says. "The $5k grant to help setup for outdoor dining won't go very far.
"If we're able to apply for the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund, it would be massive. It will allow us to purchase more venue equipment, pay rent and be COVIDSafe when we're allowed to reopen."
We received a response, with a state government spokesperson saying: “We know that breweries have experienced a reduction in revenue due to coronavirus restrictions but unlike pubs, many have been able to continue to wholesale and retail their products.
“Some breweries hold multiple liquor licences, which means those operators may be eligible for a grant through the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund.
“We encourage all businesses in every sector to examine grant criteria to see what support they may be eligible for.”
Since then, the IBA has put out a call to Victorian brewers to find out how many do operate only under the producer's licence. Brewers are encouraged to contact Kylie direct via email.
She says they are now aligned with the wine industry, regional tourism boards and the Victorian Tourism Industry Council on the issue and is encouraging brewers to raise the issue with their local MPs.
At his daily COVID-19 briefing, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was asked about the issue by a Channel 10 reporter and promised his office would look into it.
"I will do that for them and for everybody who enjoys craft beer, of which there are many, many people," he said, pointing out he was receiving a thumbs up from a cameraman at the back of the room.
"It's a thing; it's a big thing. They are the best of their kind in the world, I'm told."
A government spokesperson told The Crafty Pint: “We know that breweries have suffered significant impacts and we continue to talk to the industry.
“Breweries that hold a separate liquor licence in addition to a producers licence may be eligible for a grant through the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund. In addition, breweries that hold a food Certificate of Registration may be eligible for a $5,000 grant through the Outdoor Eating and Entertainment Package."