Badlands Brewery still passionate at 10

In a sign of the advancing years of craft beer, craft breweries are increasingly passing significant milestones, with the latest being Badlands Brewery hitting a decade.

Founded in 2010 by head brewer Jon Shiner, Badlands is located in the town of Orange in regional NSW.

Shiner calls the launch of Badlands “quite a familiar story”. After well over a decade of homebrewing and a corporate IT job, he took the plunge and decided to open his own brewery.

“By 2005 at the age of 35 I finally realised what I wanted to do with my life in terms of work, and it wasn’t working in a bank head office,” said Shiner, who is originally from the UK.

“I set myself a goal of having a brewery by the age of 40…I didn’t quite make it, but I had quit my job before then.”

He did a brewing qualification at Ballarat and started looking for sites.

“I got three months on full pay after I quit my job and spent the entire time doing a business plan,” he explained.

“Anyone thinking of doing this, that would be one of my biggest pieces of advice: do a proper business plan. You will understand all the questions you didn’t think you had to ask.”

Shiner had his eye on a site in Orange, 250 kilometres away from where he and his family were based in Sydney in an old packing shed, warehouse and cold room.

However the physical brewery was to take another three years of development due to zoning issues with the NSW government, so Badlands began contract brewing.

“By August 2010 I had 15 kegs and 600 cases of beer. I thought, ‘what am I going to do with all this beer?’ – it was totally crazy looking back that I thought it was even feasible.

“But craft beer was so different then. There were 120 breweries maybe in the whole country including the big boys, and maybe 20 in NSW – there weren’t many of us.

“We had a couple of months left in Sydney after we launched when I drove around in my van with cases in the back asking around.

“I remember one time I had a 10L keg in this Eski. I trolleyed it up from where we lived in Alexandria, took it on a train into the city and spent about four hours trekking around pubs.

“It was tough, but I slept pretty well! Even today there’s different stresses and strains, and we’re still only a small little regional brewery.

“But I never remember thinking, shit I better get my old job back. I never once regretted it.”

Badlands then and now

Badlands has remained a small local brewery, with mainly state-based distribution, and, before COVID-19 hit, 75 per cent of sales were on-premise.

“We’re brewing today much like we were in 2013. I never wanted to take over the world and have this big thing.

“We’re an anachronism today, and I’m still doing most of the sales myself. But we’ve still grown year-on-year, just not in a huge way.”

He said that remaining small means greater control over the business, and he had been inspired by industry veterans and their business models.

“Paul Holgate from Holgate Brewhouse and Ben Kraus from Bridge Road, and Matt Donelan and Gerard Meares from Sydney.

“People like that were kind of my role models. You don’t have to be massive, just as long as you make a living and make the beers you want to make and then you have something authentic to sell.”

“You get full creative control, it’s the antithesis of the big breweries. If you’re small you can be nimble.

“At the minute we’ve got 16 beers in packaged, including the mixed package, which is quite a lot. But they’re all my recipes and all beers I love and the beers I want to make and I’m not swayed too much by market forces.”

The market is so different now though, he said.

“I worry that it will be harder for people like me to start, with very little money and a passion but I hope there’s still room for us.”

Industry post-COVID

Badlands celebrates its 10-year anniversary in a strange and challenging year for the industry.

“It was fairly abrupt what happened to our revenues. For April we were in a pretty bad spot, but after that really bad April, May and June is looking ok,” Shiner explained.

“But we had a few things go our way. We supply a few BWS stores locally and Dan Murphy’s, they helped us because we’ve never been in Dan’s except in the mixed 6 pack.

“They were trying to support small local guys and then they changed payment terms to 14 days which helped.

“They’ve got really enthusiastic staff and when they’re dealing with small local guys they’re really excited about it, so it’s been good for them too.”

There have been some other silver linings to the situation as well.

“It has forced me to be more professional about packaged beer,” Shiner explained.

“We’ve had a really good reception, picking up more stores and volumes. We’ve got an online store on our website and it saw a big increase albeit from a low base.

“Now we’re selling more online, more in bigger stores and normal customers and new stores.

“I think we will come out the other side of the virus and be in a better place. It’s forced me to pay more attention to distribution, packaging and on-premise sales,” Shiner said.

Badlands has plans in place to do a full retail space, and Shiner is optimistic despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 that the industry will be bullish.

“There are wider economic challenges ahead that might impact on us. We’re floating on this false cloud with stimulus and JobKeeper and sooner or later that will end, not for beer necessarily but in general.

“Whether and how that will play out for the smaller guys who don’t have the economies of scale, is that going to mean challenging times for them? Alcohol is fairly recession-proof, but who knows.

“I actually would have been more pessimistic before COVID. Price is a big thing and I wonder, it’s a big discretionary spend, specially for stronger and rarer beers, there’s a market for people willing to spend on that, and the beers we’re selling more of are the more expensive ones to make.”

Another change he’s seen is a move to consumers placing greater importance on independence.

“People are becoming more receptive to hearing that just very recently,” Shiner explained.

“How important independent beer is in the market, it’s becoming an important message, and long may it continue.”

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, Badlands has launched a pack of four nitro-pour strong stouts. Find a list of stockists here.

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