The blockchain. Crypto. NFT. To the moon. Web3. DeFi.
Depending on your level of interest, such terms might be part of your everyday vernacular or make your eyes roll into the back of your skull. But just as breaking down hop compounds might make for the most fascinating conversations in one corner of a bar yet cause those sitting at other tables to get up and walk away, interest can be very much in the eye of the beholder.
As Jason, who we’ll introduce below, says: “If you don’t like the beer, get the coin; if you don’t like the coin, get the beer. No matter what, you’re going to win.”
While Bitcoin has widespread acceptance in many quarters, thousands of alt currencies exist and are a lot of rabbit holes you can go down. Some are concerned by the carbon emissions created by popular blockchain services and others believing the metaverse will drive social interaction in the future – or at least help us buy beer.
A handful of Australian breweries have been looking towards those parts of the web built around Web3 or blockchain technology (in other words those built on largely decentralised and digital currency-based economies) to find new audiences.
Midway through last year, Brisbane’s Catchment Brewing partnered with the cryptocurrency MoonPirate to launch a tropical IPA, while next month sees Edge Brewing Project launch a beer built with an international Viking-themed community founded in Denmark.
If that last part has you scratching your head, perhaps it's time to properly introduce Jason Donnelly, the chief operating officer at Space Vikings. Jason initially invested in the Denmark-founded cryptocurrency in 2021 before being asked by the CEO to come on board after continually suggesting ideas. He found out about Edge through one of their other token holders and knew immediately they’d be the perfect partners for their desire to brew beer to connect to their Space Vikings Token.
“I looked at their website and before I even spoke to anybody I went, ‘These are the guys’,” he told The Crafty Pint.
It was Adam Betts and Michelle Vanspall’s experience as beer distributors – the pair also run Northdown, Craft Beer Movement – and regular collaborators with no brewery of their own that particularly excited Jason. While getting someone to make a Space Viking beer wasn’t going to be a problem, having people to collaborate with closely and sell it was a bigger challenge.
“The issue was the distribution and the best part about Edge is they're distributors,” he says. “The other part about it is we’re Vikings; we’re Space Vikings who want to slowly raid across countries around the world, and they’ve got connections across the world.”
The Viking theme goes beyond just the idea of drinking and crossing oceans too, with the community engaging in “raids”’ on other currencies – which is a lot friendlier than it might sound.
As for the beer, profits from sales are directed back into the tokens, while those who buy the beer can scan a QR code and then follow the instructions to acquire further tokens too.
“[Edge] make the beer, we sell the beer with them, we split the profits, and then we take those profits to buy the coin back which spikes the price,” Jason explains.
“So we reward holders both when they buy the beer – because they scan it and go to the website and see ways they can get tokens – and they get rewarded when we do our buyback.”
Adam and Michelle say it felt like the right kind of partnership for them; Adam had dabbled in crypto and had been thinking about how to connect it to beer, but felt he lacked the time or expertise to pull off such a venture.
“I think this whole space is only going to explode in a pretty short time,” he says.
As a small brewing company, Edge has typically focused on the pointier end of craft beer and believed there could be something of a kindred connection between beer geeks and those interested in the world of crypto.
“I think there is some crossover there,” Adam says. "and now when we’re launching this beer, rather than getting the geeky homebrewing questions we’re getting the crypto questions.”
Nonetheless, Adam says they are taking steps to help take beer fans on this journey with them and understand it could be the first time many have had any experience with crypto. They’re reworking their website to help make it clear what’s involved and have planned some AMAs – internet shorthand for mostly live “ask me anything” panels.
“This will be a lot of people’s first experience and it is quite daunting because it’s not just as simple as directly buying something,” Adam says. “But it’s really important to us to make it all as clear as possible and guide people through.”
Michelle adds: “Craft beer, in general, is always looking to find for something new and innovative to play in and this is a whole new field to jump into.”
The first beer is set to be available in Australia from February 1, and will then be brewed in Denmark and the US. The beer itself is Earthbound Land Lager and has been built around the Viking theme; Michelle says, in true Edge fashion, they wanted to brew a sessionable lager that was based on unique ingredients.
“The basic inspiration was that it’s derived from Viking ingredients," she says, "so we have honey, rye, malt hops, water.”
Beyond Viking culture’s perceived affinity to beer, Jason says there’s plenty of reasons why a partnership between beer and crypto makes sense. Sure, such disparate spaces might not sound like natural bedfellows, but Jason believes Edge and Space Vikings can help each other grow.
“The more money that goes into the coin,” Jason says, “the higher the wallet goes for marketing. And the more marketing we have, the more we can put into Edge. And the more marketing Edge gets, the bigger they get.”
The beer is being brewed with a considerable marketing push behind it too: two billboards are going up in Melbourne next week with a third located in Perth, something Adam says hasn’t been within their budget before.
For Space Vikings, the physical creation of the beer – with other projects in the works – helps set them apart from many of their crypto peers, which Jason claims shows people that they’re achieving what they’re working on.
“It’s because of the product: that’s the proof of what it’s actually going to do,” he says. “As soon as that beer is in hands, it’s not just a memecoin with people looking at it going, 'I hope this goes up in price.’."
Also bringing beer into the realm of Web3 are (perhaps unsurprisingly given their very open-source history) Queensland’s Black Hops. The brewery recently announced two projects around non-fungible tokens, better known as NFTs, and have their own Black Hops Beta team connecting fans of beer, crypto and similar spaces.
NFTs are effectively digital certificates stored on a blockchain that show ownership of a particular digital asset. Anyone can store a photo on their phone or computer (maybe even print it out if you’re particularly old-fashioned) but the non-fungible element refers to the fact it can't be copied or substituted in the way money is; for a real world equivalent, think of it as similar to rare Superman action figure or art. The blockchain stores proof of who owns a certain NFT.
Some have sold for truly eye-watering prices too; the artist Beeple sold an NFT of his work for USD $69.4 million which makes him one of the most valuable living artists, while an NFT of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first Tweet sold for USD $2.9 million.
Black Hops co-founder Dan Norris says he’s regularly been talking to friends about it, and they’ve been working on building the Black Hops Beta Team through Discord centred on such projects. One of those mates is Dave Heavyside, a designer from the agency MAAKE, who they’ve used for Black Hops beers, who is steering their Hopman NFT project. Dan says one of the things that really interests him with NFTs is the power it can give to designers.
“It enables the designer to lead the project in a way, and get equity in the project, as opposed to getting paid a pretty low fixed fee for designing a tin,” he says, adding that often designers are driven by passion and love for what they do, and make a limited income from their work which is then owned by the company for whom they produce the work.
NFT creators are recorded on the blockchain and designers can build commissions into their contract, which means if the NFT goes up in value the designer can get a cut each time. Indeed, some artists have pointed to NFT as being a game-changer for them as it means they retain some connection, rather than seeing on-sellers claiming all the profit if the value of a work of art soars.
As for Black Hops’ own experience in NFT, project one saw them brew Monkey Business, a choc banana stout, with the can designed around an NFT Dan purchased (OnChain Monkey #5073), which was used to raise money for the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital. The brewery also created an NFT of the can mockup which they gave out for free.
The second project features the creation of 1,000 unique Hopman NFTs built around a character who has appeared on a number of the brewery’s beers. Each NFT will have its own unique characteristics, including some holding certain Black Hops beers, with the intention being that each owner can then do what they want with that NFT.
“Similar to what I did with the monkey, you could take your Hopman and do something else with it on another project," Dan says. "Do whatever you want with it and it’s uniquely yours.”
While these NFTs will be put on sale, they haven’t worked out exactly how or what they'll cost; for now, they're still gathering feedback on the shape the project will take.
“I don’t think it will blow up," he says, "but I think it will be pretty cheap to get one and hopefully enough people get one so that it will be a meaningful group.
“I’m under no illusion that it’s any kind of guaranteed thing. But I think it’s a unique technology and people are excited about this.”
Dan's expectations for the project aren't that sky-high; he just hopes the community continues to grow and that they'll see people embrace their Hopman NFTs, whether as display pictures on social media or to create their own projects.
“This may completely fail – it’s experimental and it might be nothing,” he says, adding that you can never tell what's going to do well when it comes to early technology and novel ideas.
“I bought bitcoin when it was $400 and had a couple of them. I don’t remember anyone telling me that was a good idea and I ended up selling them at some point when they were around $10,000. *[At time of writing, Bitcoin's price sits just shy of AUD $60,000, down from a peak last year of more than AUD $90,000.]*
“But I’ve spent so much money on other stupid shit that ends up going to zero.”
Dan says their plan is to tie the project into certain privileges within the business, and while those are still being worked out, an example might be providing exclusive beers or merch for NFT owners.
It begs the question: why build this community, when Black Hops already have a passionate Ambassadors group and equity funders? Dan says it’s due to one of the other appeals of this Beta network; it might not quite be a new audience but it is a different community, one centred around chatting and working together on Discord, which has more than 300 members at the time of writing.
“They’re not knocking the door down to be a Black Hops superfan,” he says, “they’re just excited about beer as one thing and also excited about crypto.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a completely new audience, but if you look at the members on the Discord, it’s certainly a different group of people together compared to what we have anywhere else.”
In a similar manner to Edge's Viking beer, they're able to create something physical from an online space, which Dan says "gives it a different level of meaning to people.”
As for what he’ll do with his own Hopman NFTs, he says: “I’m going to print some of mine, put them on a wall. Why not?”
The Edge Brewing and Space Vikings beer will be available from next month, with further details of the project available here.
If you'd like to join the Black Hops Beta Team, head here.