Aussie beer drinkers' love for their locals grew significantly during 2020 as COVID-19 swept the country. Support for local breweries and Aussie craft beer generally rose sharply, according to the results of the 2020 Beer Cartel Craft Beer Survey, in what will be welcome news for a beer community hit hard by the pandemic.
The results of the survey will also be welcome news for the ever-growing team at the ever-growing Black Hops, the now three-venue Gold Coast-based brewery named by the almost 17,000 respondents as the best in the country, knocking near neighbours Balter from the spot they'd inhabited for the previous two years.
Arguably just as excited will be the crew at Deeds Brewing, with the Glen Iris brewery riding the hype train a staggering 114 places from their position last year to round out a top five alongside Balter, Stone & Wood and BentSpoke. And we're pretty happy here too, with The Crafty Pint named the country's most read craft beer news site or blog for the fifth straight year.
In a year like no other, and in which the Keeping Local Alive campaign aimed to help local beer businesses stay afloat during lockdown, 34 percent of survey participants said they were buying more beer from breweries in their city or state since the pandemic began, with 30 percent buying more Australian craft beer overall.
Black Hops co-founder Dan Norris said their locals had really backed them since they were forced to close the doors of their venues.
“People getting behind the brand has just been off the charts this year,” he told The Crafty Pint. “There’s been so much support – during the shutdown there was so much support for buying stuff online, the local deliveries and the homebrew stuff we did."
The brewery's growth during a uniquely challenging year was a welcome surprise for him and co-founders Eddie Oldfield and Michael “Govs” McGovern (pictured above celebrating the recent acquisition of Semi-Pro Brewingin Brisbane).
“Our brand has grown a lot in the last year so I kind of thought we’d do well, but I definitely didn’t think we’d do that well,” he said of their top spot.
The brewery landed in fifth last year and Dan says they've enjoyed some moments of fortunate timing in 2020: they managed to get their beers nationally distributed just as the COVID-19 lockdown started.
Black Hops were also named top brewery venue for Queensland; Wayward, Moon Dog World (pictured above), Hobart Brewing, Capital, Little Bang and Beerfarm were number one in their respective states and territory.
“We’ve always tried to focus on having a good taproom experience but it’s been so much more challenging this year,” Dan says. “You’ve got a lot of people coming up who can’t get in, unhappy people, and you’re closing down, moving to takeaway and local deliveries, and our team is just doing the best job.”
Continuing their rapid ascent from small contract brand to one of the country's best-loved indies (with the odd trophy in their cabinet too), they have new tanks arriving this week and open to Black Hops Brisbane tomorrow.
Beer Cartel co-founder Rich Kelsey is the driving force behind the survey and says the "support your local" message has obviously cut through with engaged beer drinkers.
“I think, at the end of the day, if we’re not supporting locals now then down the track we’ll feel the effects of that and I think a lot of people realise that,” Rich says.
A big focus of the 2020 survey was around how craft beer drinkers had changed their purchasing decisions in response to COVID. The range of responses highlighted how the pandemic has impacted different drinkers in different ways: more than a quarter (27 percent) of respondents spent less each week during the first peak of pandemic in April and May, while 40 percent indicated they were spending more, with 33 percent unchanged.
“You have people that are on JobKeeper and JobSeeker – and hospitality in particular is really hard hit – so there’s less money for some people to spend on things like craft beer,” Rich says.
“But then, conversely, you’ve got these other people who have been locked down and are still earning their normal wage and haven’t necessarily been able to go out or do the kind of things they’ve done in the past who spend more.”
One change in buying habits across the board is the shift to online, with 53 percent of respondents buying beer online since April this year, up from 38 percent pre-COVID. Online sales direct from breweries doubled from 14 percent in 2019 to 28 percent in 2020, and online craft beer specialty retailers have enjoyed strong growth too.
“It’s definitely been a year where we’ve seen a changing dynamic in how people go about buying things,” Rich says.
Beer Cartel launched their online store in 2009 when very few were selling beer online, and 2020 has seen such sales accelerate.
“It has been a really slow increase in people buying online over time,” he says. “[In] last year’s survey there was a decent tick up in people buying online and then, this year, to see 53 percent of people buying online has been pretty amazing.”
He says the need to focus more time on online retailing in part explains the lower number of voters in this year’s survey compared to last year, when entries were close to 23,000. The bottleshop has enjoyed some months where sales were up 100 percent compared year on year, which Rich says left them "completely pushed in terms of resources and our ability to focus on this.”
Elsewhere, the survey looked at when people were likely to return to beer festivals, takeaway beer sales from pubs, the popularity of different styles, the rise of alcohol-free beer, and independence, with 60 percent of respondents saying they were aware of the IBA's independence seal – up 19 percentage points from last year.
One section where there's very little change is in drinkers' favourite spots for craft beer. There was just one change in Australia’s Favourite Craft Beer Bar/Pub by State with NOLA Adelaide taking South Australia’s top spot from The Wheaty; Brewski, The Grain Store, Carwyn Cellars, Saint John Craft Beer Bar, the Old Canberra Inn and The Dutch Trading Co all held onto their number one spots from last year.
You can view the full survey results here.
And massive thanks to all the readers who helped us maintain our top spot.