At the Australian International Beer Awards, few draw applause from the audience quite like Steph Howard. When the longtime Cryer Malt employee steps onto the stage to present a trophy, she typically elicits cheers that have you wondering if you’ve somehow missed the announcement of the winner of the Champion Australian Beer title
For Steph, it’s a night that captures what she loves about an industry she’s spent years supporting and watching grow in both Australia and New Zealand.
“For me, beer makes the world go around,” she says. “Seeing everyone in the one room and everyone supporting each other, no matter what brewery they work for, that’s so important.”
Steph has even more reason to celebrate at the moment; last month she became Cryer Malt's national sales manager. It’s a role that sees her looking after the many craft customers that buy malts from Cryer or Barrett Burston, as well as hops from Yakima Chief Hops, yeast from White Labs, and a range of other brewing and distilling ingredients and supplies.
“I’m excited – I’m coming up on eight years at Cryer Malt now,” Steph says. “It’s been a bit of a journey and has taken a long time but I’m really excited to lead a team, and there is this great team behind me.”
That promotion follows a changing of the guard within Cryer Malt: company founder David Cryer retired in July after 30 years at the helm. Steph says while they are – literally – big shoes to fill, she’s excited to be entrusted to continue the legacy David and wife Clare spent decades building.
“I definitely don’t have David’s height,” Steph says, although few do. “But I saw him as a real mentor, and I’ve learnt a lot from him and do believe I have the same level of passion and love for craft beer and care for the customers as he’s always had.”
Although Steph’s passion for craft beer and the industry comes across clearly to anyone who has crossed her path, she never had any grand plans to work in brewing, nor did she know what the craft beer industry was before starting out with Cryer. As a university student in New Zealand, she started getting bored and decided to apply for whatever jobs she thought might suit her studies.
“I got this call back from Clare Cryer,” she says. “I went in for an interview.
“I didn’t even drink beer, I had no idea what went into beer, what this company was, or what this industry I was walking into was. But they took a chance on a 20-year-old Kiwi girl.
“It’s hard to think that I’m coming up to eight years – time has flown by. I still remember us in that New Zealand office, that small team in there, and my first day.”
But as marketing manager, Steph threw herself into learning everything she could about the local beer industry and Cryer's key role supplying malt to breweries.
“We were always such a small team,” she says, “so when I went to events by myself, I really needed to understand our products. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to be educated and really understand everything and how the company works.”
Spending nearly eight years at the same business feels like a lifetime in the modern world, particularly for someone in their 20s. As Steph says, it certainly makes her a rarity within her own group of friends.
“All of them have changed roles multiple times, been in different careers, or started their own businesses,” she says.
“This industry is small and it can be hard to explain to people outside of this industry what you do or what it is that’s so great. But I wake up every morning loving the job I’m in, loving the industry I’m in, and loving the company I work for.”
That said, Steph's role as well as the business she works for and the industry it’s part of have all been in a state of perpetual change and growth over the last decade. In 2020, she made the move from Auckland to Melbourne as Cryer Malt's major distribution centre opened in the city’s west and started working in sales alongside her role in marketing.
Those changes followed the sales of Cryer Malt to Barrett Burston in 2017; at the time the new parent company was owned by GrainCorp but has since demerged into the standalone United Malt in 2020, with Cryer Malt’s position within United Malt providing Steph with further chances to thrive professionally.
“You do get the same perception as when a brewery sells, but if David and Clare didn’t sell that business, I wouldn’t have been given the opportunities I’ve been given,” she says.
Beyond her own role within Cryer, the recognition Steph receives goes well beyond those bouts of rapturous applause at the country's largest beer awards. Indeed, her role at Cryer has seen her continue David's longstanding practice of supporting the industry whenever and however possible, including sponsoring beer festivals that not only does she somehow never miss, but also tends to be in the running for best-on-ground. She's also spent countless hours working for the not-for-profit Pink Boots Society in both Australia and New Zealand, and regularly supports many within the industry beyond a professional capacity.
It's the kind of behaviour that should be championed in an industry that prides itself on cooperation over competition, which is just what happened last year. Steph received a trophy, rather than handing one to someone else, when she was named Young Gun of the Year at The Indies. The peer-nominated recognition from the Independent Brewers Association recognises those under 35 who work to support the industry and show leadership qualities.
“I love volunteering my time and helping people out,” Steph says, “but I never expected to get any sort of recognition for it.”
As for what continues to excite Steph about the industry in which she's spent almost all her adult life working, she’s quick to point to one part of her role the beer industry won't get to know her in and where she's been learning a lot.
“Whisky,” she says. “In recent times, I’ve really grown to love whisky and the more I’ve become involved in the spirit side of Cryer, it’s been really cool to see what it’s like and better understand it.
“But for me, I can’t go past a pilsner.”
If you're an IBA member or associate member who'd like to nominate someone for one of the Peer Awards, you can do so here.