BrewDog deal a win for craft beer lovers. Not so for Queensland brewers

BrewDog deal a win for craft beer lovers. Not so for Queensland brewers

BrewDog deal a win for craft beer lovers. Not so for Queensland brewers

Updated 9 February 2018, 9:45 AEDT

The Queensland Government has thrown Scottish beermaker BrewDog a major bone — $30 million to build a facility in Brisbane.

Many Australian craft beer drinkers rejoiced this week with the announcement that Scottish craft brewer BrewDog will be building a new brewery in Brisbane.

BrewDog, the self-proclaimed anti-business business, has made a name for itself over the years as much for its attention-grabbing hijinks as for its brews.

This is the brewery that created what was then the world's strongest beer — Tactical Nuclear Penguin — a 32 per cent ice-distilled stout. When the former record holder, a German brewery, brewed a 40 per cent beer BrewDog hit back with a 41 per cent ale they called Sink the Bismarck.

The silliness ended with a 55 per cent Belgian ale infused with Scottish Highland nettles and fresh juniper berries.

The 11 bottles produced were packaged in stuffed dead animals dressed in "eccentric outfits". To achieve this the brewers collected dead stoats and squirrels and had a local taxidermist prepare them.

When the UK alcohol industry watchdog took objection to a BrewDog beer named Speedball — named after the cocktail of drugs that killed actors John Belushi and River Phoenix — and then an 18.2 per cent beer called Tokyo, the company responded with a 0.5 per cent beer they called Nanny State.

Such high-end public relations theatre has guaranteed headlines and free publicity. The brewer's diverse range of beers have also won an army of adherents worldwide, with more than 50,000 investing in the business through its crowd-funding program Equity for Punks.

Beer punk experience a drawcard

The decision to open a Brisbane location is a big win for Brisbane. With its global audience and penchant for publicity, BrewDog will shine a spotlight on Brisbane's exciting beer scene.

With beer travel an emerging tourism category, the Brisbane brewery should become a drawcard for interstate beer lovers looking for the beer punk experience.

It may even lure international beer lovers intrigued at the choice of the city and keen to discover the reason for the selection.

That would be a real positive for the Brisbane beer scene, which has shone nationally over the past two years. In 2017 Queensland led the country for small brewery openings with 17 new breweries opening across the state; eight in Brisbane alone.

It's not just volume for the Sunshine State either.

Currumbin-based Balter Brewery, owned by international surf champions Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Josh Kerr, was in January named Australia's "hottest" beer in a national poll.

Teneriffe-based Green Beacon has been named Champion Brewery in its class at the two major beer awards in the country and has recently expanded its operations twice and has now invested upwards of $5 million on its brewery and expansions, with plans to spend even more in the near term, as well as add to its more than 40 staff.

Finally, the region's breweries have won swags of gold medals at meaningful Australian and International beer awards.

Local beermakers left in the doghouse

The state of the local brewing industry is bright. But what has the Queensland Government done to work to build the local industry?

Nothing.

Sorry, that might be better expressed as nothing relevant.

In 2016, the Queensland Government introduced the Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Act 2016. This piece of legislation included provision for small breweries to obtain permits allowing them to go to food fairs and markets to sell their products.

So restrictive are these permits that I understand not a single one has been used in almost two years.

Compare this to the Government's long-term support of the wine industry. In the Queensland Wine Industry Act 1994 (and doesn't that sound a little more supportive than Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation) a similar, but vastly different, permit exists to enable wine producers to attend and sell wine samples at similar events.

If you have ever wondered why there are so many wineries at food festivals and not small, regional breweries, this is why. Wine producers can and do use theirs, brewers can't and don't.

Think Hard Rock Cafe — with beards

So it is with some justification that the region's small brewers are more than a little disgruntled at the Queensland Government trumpeting their financial support for an international brewery to set up shop.

They are unconcerned about the competition, which they see as positive, but they are astounded at the complete lack of investment or interest in local businesses, literally owned by the mums and dads to whom government ministers love to pay lip service

This is especially so when the numbers the Queensland Government has used to justify the coup don't really seem to bear scrutiny.

The Government is heralding BrewDog's $30 million investment and job creation. Of this, only $10 million is apparently for the brewery, which will be built and owned by a local developer and leased to the Scottish brewer.

The destination of the balance of $20 million is a little less apparent, but seems to include an eventual nationwide expansion of the BrewDog brewpub chain, or which there are already 50 worldwide. (Think Hard Rock Cafe, but with beards.)

The bar arm is the major employer of the business worldwide.

If that is the case, the majority of the 235 jobs will be hospitality jobs created in other states.

Around the world local authorities are seeing the benefits of small locally run breweries to the community, employment, social interaction and even to changing our approach to alcohol consumption.

They are not just seeking to attract big names with private equity backing and global aspirations, they are working to grow their local operations as well.

The Queensland Government has staged a coup to attract BrewDog and this will be a boon for craft beer drinkers. But real value and real jobs for the state, and long-term benefits for beer drinkers and the community, will only be created by also working with the local industry to continue the contribution it is already making to the state.

Matt Kirkegaard is the Brisbane-based founder of beer industry news site Australian Brews News and a beer educator through BeerMatt.