10 years of Big Shed Brewing
In a sign of the maturing brewing industry, South Australia’s Big Shed Brewing Concern is the latest craft brewery to celebrate 10 years in business.
Co-founder and Director of Consumer Business and Marketing Craig Basford said the milestone was a great opportunity to reflect on the challenges as well as successes of the past 10 years.
“It gives us an opportunity to sit back and have a look,” he said.
“You come in every day for work, everybody does, and all you see is the next thing you’ve got to achieve or the next problem you’ve got to fix.
“If I said to myself 10 years ago, this would be happening, I would have said, “no way mate, you’re insane” so it’s a great thing.
“It’s good fun, to be able to sit back and celebrate those moments.”
The idea for Big Shed Brewing was first sparked when founders Craig Basford and Jason Harris met at South Australia’s Wolf Blass Wines while working on the IT side of the business.
“[We] quickly figured out we both enjoyed a decent beer and wanted to try and make some of our own, so we pooled resources together to start that process,” Basford explained.
“We decided then, as you do after having a few beers of your own thinking you’re pretty good, to have a crack at “can we turn this into a business?” So we got a business name sorted.”
It wasn’t until Basford and Harris received a renewal letter for the business name a few years later that the process to build a business formally began.
“Neither of us wanted to get to 70 years old, wondering what would have happened. So we gave it a shake. In October 2012, we started getting into that process more seriously.”
The business first opened a small taproom in Brandwood Street, Royal Park. Within a few years, Big Shed reached a 250,000 litre annual production volume, which formulated plans for expanding.
“I still remember being in the original location and we played it out with cutting concrete and I was standing in this empty warehouse. I said to Jason, ‘We’ll never fill this. We’ll never ever fill it,’ Basford explained.
“And within five or six years, we were struggling to keep up both from a wholesale point of view and a retail point of view so that’s when this process started trying to find a new space.”
In 2018, the business announced it would build a new brewery a few streets away on Old Port Road. The project received a $50,000 grant from the Future Jobs grant scheme, and a $1 million dollar state government loan to assist with the build.
The 250-seated venue eventually opened in late 2019 and increased the annual production volume to 1 million litres.
Expansions aside, Big Shed Brewing has also had significant success with awards such as winning GABS People’s Choice in 2018 with Boozy Fruit and Best Specialty Beer for its Viscosiraptor at this year’s AIBA.
The brewery also won the 2022 Promoting Sustainability Award for South Australia as part of Telstra’s Best of Business Awards for its sustainability efforts, earlier this year.
But with success comes many growing pains and lessons learned, as Basford explained, including navigating lack of funding.
“We’ve always been underfunded,” he said.
“A lot of places are doing crowdfunding and stuff like that. We never did that. We did it ourselves and with two guys with no brewing experience, no business ownership experience and no sales experience, no one in their right mind is going to give us any cash.
“So we had to come up with ways of doing it and that’s always been a challenge.
“We’ve never done this before. We’ve never worked in industry. So we’ve been working stuff out.
“Sometimes we’ve done it right and sometimes we’ve had to learn from a painful experience. That ongoing learning has been challenging.”
While rapid growth for a small craft brewery is an ideal goal, it also comes with new, uncharted challenges, such as an expansion in production volume and staff.
“From where we went from Brandwood Street, we maybe had eight, maybe 10 employees,” Basford explained.
“The minute we opened up here on Old Port Road, we had 40-50, and now we have over 60. That’s a very different business.”
The addition of new CEO Jake Parkinson earlier this year, is a step in the right direction to help manage this growth, according to Basford.
“We’ve got a new CEO on board now, Jake Parkinson, and it’s early days, but he’s already been a revelation for us and that has been great.
“It allows Jason and I to sort of free ourselves up and be what we’re good at, which is that storytelling and the face of the brand, more so than the day-to-day operations.”
As the business has reached the 10-year milestone, founder Craig Basford also reflected on the evolution of the industry since 2012. When asked what it was like at the time, he described the craft beer market as “patchy”.
“New South Wales seemed to have a burgeoning sort of market. WA was right up there,” he said.
“We had a couple [of breweries] here like Brewboys and Lobe [Lobethal Bierhaus], but there wasn’t a lot beyond that from memory, so we wanted to give it a go and here we are ten years later.”
Basford said the major difference between then and now is the “general acceptance of craft beer” and the rise of the brewpub business model.
“I think it’s changed because as more people have started to vote with their feet and with their wallets, the craft beer game and independent beer has exploded,” he said.
“And you’ll see now a lot of breweries opening up purely to be brewpubs and things like that with the tax and excise benefits that are now available. You get a lot more of that.”
Keeping up with an ever-changing market is a challenge for brewers, Basford explained, but it’s also an opportunity to better understand consumers.
“People chase the new thing all the time, not everyone, but you also then got to balance out that guy who wants his carton of his favourite American Pale and he wants it the same, week on week. That’s probably changed a lot.
“But I do think low-alc and no-alc options are going to continue to grow and I just think people want choice.
“What I talk to our guys all the time [about] is that we’re not that special in terms of individuals. If we all agree that we think we should do this, then chances are we’ll make it work beyond our walls and the no-alc options are definitely going to be a growing space.”
Basford also predicted acquisitions to continue as an industry trend.
“It’s interesting to watch buyouts and stuff like that. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen but with Asahi buying CUB and Lion buying Stone & Wood, that wouldn’t have come cheap.
“At the moment I’ve no idea but I think a lot of those what I call second-tier players, without wanting to sound disparaging, are maybe going to step up to the plate and maybe consolidate some brands. I think that’ll still happen.”
In terms of the future for Big Shed, Basford explained it’s relatively simple.
“Our future plans are as they were 10 years ago, which is to get a little bit better every single day,” he said.
“I think having Jake on board is certainly gonna smarten up our act and get us to where we want to go.
“We want to increase our volumes and just build a nice, good, sustainable business for the long term. To deliver good experiences and good beer to good people. That’s really it.”
Big Shed will also celebrate its 10th birthday this weekend from Friday, 21st to Sunday, 23rd October at its Old Port Road brewery.
“We’ve gone through a lot of pain and heartache but a lot of fun too so it’ll be great to be able to tear the roof off this joint and have some fun with our partners and our suppliers and friends and stuff like that,” Basford said.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we do. We create spaces and we create products for people to experience and the experience side, that’s the magic so that’s the bit I love the most.”