Future looks brighter for Willie the Boatman

The future of Sydney’s Willie the Boatman brewery looks more secure with the owners signing a new lease at its current premises.

In September founder Pat McInerney told Brews News that doubt about the future of the brewery’s location and economic uncertainty had left he and his partners unwilling to commit to signing another lease, with the current lease due to end at Christmas.

This week McInerney said since flagging the potential closure the business had received huge support from its community, and also from its current landlord who had offered the use of empty spaces in the complex.

“We’ve been around for now eleven years and I think it was a wakeup call when such a brewery such as Willie is saying, ‘hey guys, we’re on our knees’,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of thinking done, and a lot of the conversations that [Brews News] has had on Beer is a Conversation have helped me to re-think the business.

“I don’t think a brewery alone in the inner-west, or anywhere in Australia, is going to survive just by being a brewery.”

He said that he had approached his landlord to work to activate the area to draw more people in for more than just the brewery.

“We’ve got pop up stores, we had a we had a giant plant sale the other week, we had fanzines and a record fair on the weekend. We’ve got Santa Paws,” Pat said.

“So we’ve just got a series of events that we’ve gone, okay, we need to pull people in. Not just to enjoy our beer, but we know that they need a reason to come to enjoy our beer.

“And what we’re finding is that these, the few pop up events that we’ve done, we’re really broadening our audience and increasing our tap room sales.

“Everyone knows in this business, if your tap rooms are not secure and not making money, the business is pretty much doomed.”

McInerney said that while the approaching summer was peak time in the beer industry, with the tap room having one of its best months, it’s still a ‘hard grind’.

“Wholesale is looking good. Obviously, it’s an easy time of year to be selling beer, but it’s still a grind out there,” he said.

“I was just saying to my partner, ‘I’ve had a pretty good day in sales but geez, I’ve worked hard’.”

He said that while he described the signing of the lease as a ‘Christmas Miracle’, he’s aware that it’s still uphill for businesses like his and will involve constant reinvention.

“We can’t afford to move, and so we’ve got to make what we’ve got work,” he said.

“And I think moving forward, the plans that we’ve made in the last month, I honestly believe will make that that precinct work for us.

“But it won’t be just sitting back on our milk crates, waiting for tattooed men to come through the door.

“I think if that’s your business model – and we all know that’s a flawed business model – I think we’ve really got to [broadedn your] appeal.”

Willie the Boatman founder Pat McInerney recently spoke to the Beer is a Conversation podcast about the changed conditions for craft breweries.

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