Diversification and expansion for Rocky Ridge

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It is set to be a major year of growth for Western Australia’s Rocky Ridge Brewery with the launch of a new brand to help bring international beers to Australia, as well as an expansion which will see it double capacity at the brewery.

Following a government development grant last year the Busselton brewery is expanding capacity. It is currently turning out 1.5 million litres of beer annually, but after the next phase of growth, it is looking to double this.

Rocky Ridge has added two 60hL bright beer tanks and another four additional 60hL fermenters this week. It has another six 60hL fermenters and two 100hL BBTs on order, and it’s installing a 55-can per minute CODI canning line, with plans for a second line towards the end of the year.

“With the grant we’re doing a major expansion, bringing brewing to 3 million litres. At that point we’ll have hit the ceiling on our current site,” explained Hamish Coates, managing director of Rocky Ridge.

“We’ve stuck with 60hL fermentation tanks for a number of reasons like flexibility – we love creating new and fun beers – but also vertical height challenges in our fermentation space because we’ve put solar all over our roof and lifting it off to install tanks isn’t an option, so they need to be stood upright inside the shed which is a challenge.”

But that’s not the only infrastructure project on the cards for Rocky Ridge. A major focus on sustainability in the coming year will see a number of initiatives undertaken at the brewery.

“Sustainability is key, we’ve invested in a massive off-grid solar system, now it’s up to 180kwh on the roof and we’re upping to 400kwh of storage.

“The idea is that we can run a 3 million-litre-a-year brewery off the grid in terms of electrical consumption.

“We also want to drop our water usage from 4.5 litres of water per litre of beer to down below 3 litres with a new water reuse system which will be a huge thing.

“Water is such an important part of what we do and we want to actively solve these problems.”

Coates explained they had spent a lot of time researching and experimenting with different treatment options, and the system they chose removes solid particulates down to 0.5mm, followed by pH equalisation and multiple aerobic and anaerobic stages.

“This allows for a huge amount of contact and settling time at each phase of the treatment system, allowing us to continually remove sludge and solids which are then composted,” Coates explained.

“After the final anaerobic phase, the treated water passes through a series of Media filters, down to 20 microns, along with OZONE injection.

“From the holding tank, the clean and treated water can go down two pathways – Ultra Filtration, with a final UV stage, allowing us to reuse in the brewery as CIP [clean-in-place] and washdown water, or, to irrigation of food crops and trees and lawns as required.

“The third facet is looking at a hydrogen generator, to take some of that water and remove the need for LPG [Liquid Propane Gas] heat.”

But while implementing these projects is a big job in itself, Rocky Ridge has also considered the ongoing costs and work associated with it.

“We’ve worked with trades and local consultants to know what will be robust to operate without having to hire someone to keep everything rolling.”

Rocky Ridge expansion into international brands

Another project which has come to fruition this year is the launch of a second venture, Ace Brands, which will brew and distribute international craft beer brands.

The project started with a tie-up with Gweilo Beer last year, in which Rocky Ridge contract brewed some of the Hong Kong brewery’s beer.

“During COVID when everything shut down we developed a relationship with Gweilo,” explained Coates.

“They were looking to expand into Australia and needed extra capacity for limited editions to send to Hong Kong too.

“We started releasing small batch and fun stuff here, and then brewing core range stuff as well.”

But the new partnership caused a bit of confusion which eventually led to the development of Ace.

“It was confusing to customers here, being invoiced from Rocky Ridge for Gweilo product, they were questioning whether it was a collaboration or whether Gweilo was a sub-brand so there was lots of confusion and misinformation.

“To explain to our business partners and also help professionalise our sales and marketing approach, the idea of Ace Brands was born.”

“It will allow us to concentrate on sustainable marketing and ensure B2B and B2C portals and experiences are amazing.”

Currently, Rocky Ridge is looking at allocating 20 per cent of its brewing capacity for Gweilo alone.

“It is a conduit for us and Gweilo and other international brands to bring fresher and better beer in a less expensive way.”

Ace is already in talks with other breweries, including one in the UK, to bring their beer to Australia in a more sustainable way.

Taproom licences

Rocky Ridge is working on developing the taproom of its homebase but has been held back by state government licensing laws.

The current tasting room is restricted to serving 100ml servings of beer, and the Rocky Ridge team are in the process of applying to the licensing authorities to expand this to a tavern licence, which would allow not only larger servings but also takeaways.

Takeaways are permitted under its current licence, but less expensive alternatives such as a small bar licence do not have this option, highlighting the disparity in the treatment of wineries and breweries when it comes to regulatory constraints.

Wineries in the region are permitted to sell by the glass and have fewer restrictions on their licences, similar to those in Queensland, where breweries have criticised the legislative disparity.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” admitted Coates. “We already have 22 taps and we’re upping that to 25, but it’s not the same being only able to serve tasters. If we were a wine producer we could do wine by the glass and takeaways.

“In order to [sell bigger measures] the only licence available is the Tavern Licence, but we don’t really want to be a tavern. We only want to sell our beers and beverages from one other winery, LS Merchants, which is small and local.”

A tavern licence, however, would allow the sale and supply of alcohol for consumption both on and off-premise as well as larger measures, the other option, a small bar licence, will not allow for takeaways.So the brewery is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“We are working in the restraints we have, but we are being treated the same as a venue with a 600-person capacity serving shots and open to 1 am.

“I understand why they do it. Drinking is a problem and we’ve got to be careful, we’re not wanting to encourage excess consumption or irresponsible behaviour, and we’re not trying to impinge on other hospitality businesses in Busselton, we just want to have a bit of fun and add vibrancy to the area.”

The host of projects Rocky Ridge has in the works has been a silver lining in a challenging year, Coates said.

“It’s been a hell of a year. It turned out entire business upside down but we really focussed on the core of our business and who we were, it allowed us to concentrate on brewing great beer, in the most sustainable way. Now we’re really enjoying it, planning for the future.”

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