The Year Of Living Precariously

January 24, 2024, by James Smith

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The Year Of Living Precariously

Ballistic Beer Co's decision to enter voluntary administration a year ago now looks a little like the starting gun setting off a year of living precariously for the local beer and hospitality industries.

We don't yet know if the coming 12 months will prove to be more of a bloodbath, leaving 2023 looking like a warm-up act, or if we'll look back on the year just gone as the low point as the industry reshaped itself into something more sustainable.

Either way, it feels momentous so, below, we've created a timeline documenting the significant moments – the administrations, closures and so on – that followed that midsummer bombshell.


On February 1, 2023, as excise tax was hiked again, we published Under Pressure: A Perfect Storm Brewing For Beer

 

A year ago today, Ballistic Beer Co entered voluntary administration. When we broke the news a day later, it sent shockwaves through the local beer world.

It wasn't that they were the first local beer business to do so – fellow Brisbane operation Easy Times had been through the process a few months earlier, for example – but the brewery's profile, which spread well beyond South East Queensland, and the success of their beers in both beer awards and public polls made their announcement feel like something of a shot across the bow for the industry.

And so began what has been, in many ways, a chastening 12 months for the previously-flying craft beer scene – and we use the term "craft beer scene" rather than just "beer" or "indie beer" very deliberately as it's not just the smaller end of town that's been impacted.

For reasons we've covered in depth elsewhere over the past year, dominoes kept falling: businesses either entering administration, deciding to quit while ahead – or at least not too far behind, putting up the "For Sale" sign, or collapsing completely.

Of course, the challenges facing the local beer and hospitality industries are far from unique. There are other industries in Australia witnessing similar or worse rates of collapse or closure, and there are beer and hospo scenes in other countries facing similar or worse situations too. Not, of course, that this is any consolation for anyone still trying to work out how they navigate a path through to the other side while dealing with the very real stresses such economic downturns bring.

What's more, while the industry's plight isn't unique, it does seem to have found itself susceptible to pretty much every headwind going: the impact on grain prices of the war in Ukraine; CO2 shortages; dissipating consumer confidence; the various container deposit schemes and their tendency to be proportionally more costly in terms of dollar and resources on smaller producers; and on and on.

 

As winter 2023 ended, we asked: Is Optimism Starting To Take Root?

 

It's also true that much of what has been happening is following a natural course, the sort of pathway to be expected in a maturing industry, not least one that has experienced such a wild expansion as craft beer has over the past decade. Sure, the idiosyncrasies of COVID and the financial support and relief that helped businesses through lockdowns, followed by raging inflation and the impact of cozzie livs, have merely acted to make any rationalisation more frantic that it needed to be.

Yet, as their cascading impacts have led to inevitable outcomes, so have those outcomes gone on to have their own impact.

Businesses might not have had faced such an uphill battle paying their delayed ATO or landlord bills if the wider economy hadn't gone to pot. But it did, and now each voluntary administration or closure means another financial hit to suppliers, who might impose new terms and prices on everyone – whether they've missed a payment or not, and to the ATO, whose response seems to be to squeeze those who are trying to pay off their debts more tightly. And such a situation – as evidenced by dozens of conversations, emails and text messages in recent months – only threatens to cause ruptures in an industry that, for the most part, has found strength in its collegiate nature.

 

By November, we were exploring The Exploding Cost Of Brewing Beer

 

At the same time, of course, more breweries and beer venues continue to open while others close or seek buyers (publicly or otherwise). And, for the beer drinker, things have never been better, whether you're seeking quality beer in myriad styles or are after something vaguely crafty on a tightened budget.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying things remain as uncertain and precipitous as they are fascinating from an observer's perspective. That more of the below lies ahead, as evidenced by Wayward and Wild Life's announcements earlier this month). And, hopefully, at least partially explains why we decided to add to our workload by creating Local Beer Day in the hope of bringing some good vibes to the community we've so enjoyed being part of for the past decade-and-a-half.

It's certainly a momentous chapter in a momentous era for beer, one we felt was worth documenting for future reference. So, here's an account of the damage done in the 12 months since Ballistic's bombshell.

 

Later in November 2023, Burnout And Beer: Paying The Passion Tax became one of our most-read and discussed articles of the year.

The Damage Done

January

24 – Ballistic Beer Co enter voluntary administration

The Brisbane-based operation later exited administration in March under new owners: a group led by Catchment Brewing, which had already acquired Fortitude Brewing and sibling brand Noisy Minor in 2022. Since the period in VA, one of their businesses, the venue in Brisbane's West End, has closed, reopened and, as of late last year, closed its doors for good.

 

February

10 – Good Drinks Australia's proposed acquisition of Stomping Ground called off

The planned acquisition of Melbourne-based Stomping Ground by WA's largest brewing company, Good Drinks Australia (home of Gage Roads, Matso's, Ballistic and others), was announced in August 2022. However, as the world around them changed, they decided not to go ahead, stating: "Since the intention to purchase Stomping Ground was announced in August, conditions have changed and as a result, both parties have agreed it is best to move forward separately."

28 – Tribe Breweries enter voluntary administration

The Goulburn-based business, which produced a wide range of drinks for customers including the country's major retailers, as well as operating its own beer brands Stockade Brew Co, Mornington Peninsula Brewery and Wilde Gluten Free, entered administration owing an eye-watering amount of money to creditors. The business avoided liquidation, with new owners announced in early April: a group led by Kathmandu co-founder Jan Cameron's charity, the Elsie Cameron Foundation.

 

March

1 – Newstead Brewing move out of their original Doggett Street home

After a tumultuous few years in which the impact of COVID was compounded by devastating floods that prevented them brewing at their main production site in Milton, Newstead Brewing announced they were moving out of their OG home to focus solely on Milton. It was a move with a silver lining, however, as Working Title – co-owned by one of Newstead's founders, Mark Howes – later turned Doggett Street into a home for their operation.

1 – Nail Brewing announce acquisition of Billabong Brewing

One of WA's longest-established brewing companies bought another (technically, at the end of 2022 but announced in March), giving Nail a brewery on which to produce limited releases and work on NPD and Billabong owner Alan Proctor a chance to retire.

29 – Asahi close Green Beacon's Geebung production brewery

The site that had produced most of Green Beacon's beers as they went on a trophy-winning spree before being snapped up by Asahi was to be closed, with capacity increased at Green Beacon's Teneriffe brewpub and most production moved elsewhere within the Asahi / CUB ecosystem.

29 – Parched Brewery enters voluntary administration

One of Brisbane's youngest breweries became one of its shortest-lived too, with the West End operation entering administration less than two years after pouring their first beers. A new business opened in Parched's brewery venue later in the year, as Brew Barons under new ownership.

 

April

1 – Lion close Tiny Mountain in Townsville

In what would become something of a theme for Kirin-owned Lion in 2023, the company closed Tiny Mountain, the Townsville brewpub they'd launched in 2020.

3 – Exit announce their exit from the beer industry

"We kept looking at it thinking it would get better soon, but with the look of the economy going forward, I don't think it's going to get better this year, or probably into next." Grum Knight and Fraser Rettie decided to call it quits, citing the ongoing challenges of running a profitable beer business.

 

May

2 – Boozebud enters voluntary administration

Online retailer Boozebud, which had already been through a number of ownership changes over the years, entered voluntary administration. The business was later acquired by Hairydog.

5 – Kaddy Marketplace goes into administration

Another online platform – this time one connecting producers with venues and retailers – followed Boozebud into administration. The business returned to operation later in the month following investment from Singapore-based Lecca.

5 – Lion drop Bevy Brewing from their portfolio

When The Camfield – the vast pub close to Perth Stadium – opened in 2018, so did Bevy Brewing, a new crafty brand from Lion which brewed beer onsite. However, Bevy followed Tiny Mountain onto the chopping board, with the brewery and its taps switching to another of Lion's craft brands, Little Creatures.

23 – The Taphouse in Darlinghurst goes into liquidation

The Taphouse was one of Sydney's standout beer venues when it was first opened as The Local Taphouse by the team behind the St Kilda original in 2009. They sold the pub to new owners in 2017, who looked to maintain its focus on craft beer, but went into liquidation in May, with Applejack Hospitality acquiring the business and reopening it months later.

 

June

22 – Lion kill off Two Birds Brewing

The trailblazing brewing company launched by mates Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen, which had been acquired by Fermentum in January 2021 before becoming part of the sale that saw Lion buy Stone & Wood, met the same end as Tiny Mountain and Bevy. Both the brand and Two Birds' Spotswood home were shuttered.

30 – Sauce close their Cairns brewpub

It was last drinks at Sauce's FNQ outpost on June 30. The Marrickville-based operation had opened a second venue and bottleshop in Cairns in 2020, with Mighty Craft as part-owners, but later sold off the brewing equipment there before announcing they would cease operations entirely in early June 2023.

30 – Wicked Elf ceases trading

The brewery formerly known as The Little Brewing Co, which had rebranded under new owners, ceased operations after 16 years at the end of the financial year, citing the challenges of increased costs and reduced demand.

 

July

4 – Fury & Son call it a day

The Melbourne-based brewing company launched by father and son team, Reno and Andrew Georgiou, decided to quit while they were ahead. Andrew told The Crafty Pint they were still profitable but not to the level required to tackle the ongoing challenges facing the industry.

 

August

22 – Running With Thieves enter voluntary administration

The indie beer industry was gathered on the Gold Coast for BrewCon when news broke that Running With Thieves, the brewery and distillery that calls South Freo home, had entered voluntary administration. A new ownership group, Run With Us, featuring people who had previously been silent shareholders, announced their plans for the brand in November.

29 – Fox Friday acquire Carwyn Cellars

We'd hardly classify this entry as "damage" but certainly it's momentous enough to be included in such a timeline. Clearly, opening three breweries and venues in different states as well as running Moonah Hotel and Cellars in Hobart wasn't enough for the Fox Friday team. They added one of the country's leading bar and bottleshop operations to their portfolio, with the Carwyn Cellars team, including founder Ben Carwyn, staying on as part of the new setup. Don't be surprised to see more moves from the Fox Friday team. 

29 – Pioneer Brewery and Burleigh Barrels cease operations

August 29 proved to be a busy day in the local beer scene, with regional NSW-based Pioneer taking to socials to announce they were calling it quits. On the same day, trading at one of the Gold Coast's most recent new brewery openings came to an abrupt end.

30 – Otherside and Nowhereman become one

Even then, August wasn't done with us as two of WA's best-loved and award-winning breweries became one. Key Nowhereman figures joined the Otherside team with the former's West Leederville home transitioning to become an Otherside venue.

 

September

9 – Sound Brewing enter voluntary administration

The news that the Rockingham operation, which only opened in 2022, had entered VA slipped under the radar for a while, but became big news when details of the new owners emerged. The brewpub has been snapped up by Cheeky Monkey, who will renovate and rebrand it in 2024, giving the Margaret River region-based brewery a firm foothold in the Greater Perth region.

 

October

11 – Bad Shepherd enter voluntary administration

The Cheltenham brewpub launched by Dereck and Diti Hales became the latest independent brewery to enter VA in October, citing the challenges of trying to clear a debt burden they were carrying from the early years of the COVID pandemic. The founders emerged still in control of the business a few weeks later.

 

November

14 – Jetty Road bought from Mighty Craft

Jetty Road Brewery was the first local drinks business to take investment from Mighty Craft, at the time known as Founders First. The brewery's founders were long gone by the time a new consortium of local pub owners led by ex-CUB CEO Peter Filipovic bought the brewery and brand in November. The sale leaves Mighty Craft's interests in beer businesses at time of writing reduced to Better Beer, Mismatch Brewing, FogHorn and Slipstream.

20 – Dainton Beer enter voluntary administration

Just weeks after fellow Victorian brewery Bad Shepherd entered and exited administration with the founders still in control after restructuring their debts, Dainton followed suit.

 

December

22 – Mongrel close their doors

There was plenty of movement in terms of changing ownership at crafty pubs and beer bars – two of 2023's Pint of Origin venues are now in new hands, for example – but 2023 ended on a sad note as one of Brisbane's best-loved and most delightfully out there venues closed. The owners of Mongrel in Milton – who we'd interviewed earlier in the year – decided to call it a day with trade never recovering sufficiently post-pandemic.

 

January

2 – Wayward Brewing and Local Drinks Collective enter voluntary administration

The new year wasted no time picking up where 2023 had left off. Wayward Brewing and the distro business formed with Batch Brewing Co in 2022 entered voluntary administration on January 2, with founder Peter Philip telling The Crafty Pint: "It's not ideal but it is what it is. We've got to get the business back on the right sort of footing moving forward." 

UPDATE: Less than an hour after publishing this article, we learned Wayward and LDC have exited administration with the existing ownership structure still in place. More on that here.

10 – Wild Life Brewing announce they're closing

Shepparton-based Wild Life took the decision to cease operations, citing the challenges of operating in the current climate. They're remaining open for a few weeks with last drinks set to be poured on February 10.


If there's anything significant we've missed, feel free to notify us via email so we can update the record.

And if you're keen to help inject a bit of positivity into the local beer world, get involved in Local Beer Day. Breweries, bars, bottleshops and other beer businesses can register to take part here; the lineup of events across Australia will be unveiled before the end of January.

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