Killing beer softly...

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of a good beer bar. The Platform Bar at Brisbane’s Grand Central Hotel is no more.

Well, the bar itself is still there but its days as Brisbane’s best beer bar are over, killed by the short-sightedness of Lion Nathan and Fosters.

Over the past five years the Platform Bar has been carving out a niche as the only inner city bar in Brisbane with a constantly changing and interesting range of tap and bottled beers. During this time it has been developing an increasing following amongst Brisbane’s beer community and regularly hosting some of Brisbane’s most interesting beer events, mine included.

Most importantly, at a time when beer sales have been declining nationally, the Platform Bar has been at the forefront of creating renewed interest for beer in Brisbane. Queensland is one of the nation’s slowest-growing craft beer markets and the Platform Bar has played a huge role in forming an active and enthusiastic beer community in the State’s capital.

The strength of the bar’s beery achievements was marked last year when, without any lobbying or active promotion, it was named Best Small Beer Bar in the nation in the Beer & Brewer Magazine poll.

This week the bar has signalled that its days as an independent source of good beer are over. Of the bar’s eight taps, it seems that seven will be denied to anyone other than Lion Nathan and Fosters, with the one and only independent tap going to Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale…a bright light to be sure, but a light dimmed by the darkness surrounding it.

While it’s a terrible loss to beer diversity in Brisbane, you can’t be unsympathetic to the hotel’s predicament. Virtually every hotel in the city is subject to one of these lucrative and choice-denying tap contracts. It is virtually impossible for an inner city venue to compete when all nearby hotels are getting lucrative cash rebates and ‘business development’ funds. And so, like almost every other bar in Australia, the hotel has tap contracts with Fosters and Kirin-owned Lion Nathan requiring the venue to assign their taps almost exclusively to these two brewers.

Adhering to these contracts for the majority of the venue’s 25 taps, the hotel has apparently been playing a little loose with their contracts in the Platform bar. In doing so the hotel managed to make these eight taps a beer oasis featuring a huge range of Australian craft and international tap beers. Despite this font promiscuity, these eight taps also regularly featured the best of the beers from the big-brewery-owned Matilda Bay and James Squire ranges. They weren’t used exclusively but they were strongly featured because they were deserving of a place in any good beer line up.

Beer consumption continues to fall. (Source: ABS)

But it seems the large multinational brewers don’t want Australians drinking their beers voluntarily, chosen on their own merits. They seem to only want us to drink them when we are compelled to. And so the local sales teams have been directed by senior management of both companies to drive ‘contract compliance’ across all hotels. Instead of letting one small bar within a relatively small hotel in Brisbane continue to work to attract new drinkers to beer, the large brewers are using their massive financial muscle to dictate what beers we can drink.

Instead of getting to sample a wide variety of the best of Australian craft beer, Brisbane’s beer drinkers will be presented with the same lineup they would find in a TAB or airport terminal.

It is astounding that, at a time when beer consumption has dropped to its lowest point since the Second World War, the two biggest brewers believe they can’t risk growing the market through genuine competition for fear that they won’t gain all of the benefit from that growth. Instead they each only look to taking a little more market share from the other while overall consumption falls.

Like two schoolboys, they are so busy fighting over an ice-cream in the playground they have failed to notice that what they fight over is melting.

Lion Nathan and Fosters have enormous competitive advantages in the market place. They have monumental economies of scale that enable them to brew every beer they make cheaply but to high quality standards. They have national sales teams and distribution networks that enable them to efficiently get their beer to every corner of the country. They have enormous marketing and advertising budgets that permit them to spend lavishly on promotional campaigns designed to penetrate a national marketplace and create lasting brand recognition for their products. Finally, when they turn their mind to it, they can also make very good beer.

But they do not choose to compete in the marketplace on any of these strengths and competitive advantages. Instead they each choose to keep a jealous eye on the other and churn out indistinguishable me-too beers and then use their size to bind the national tap market to their anodyne offerings with golden handcuffs. But while making hoteliers offers they can’t refuse, they treat beer drinkers with arrogance and contempt.

It is no wonder that people are bored with beer and are looking elsewhere.

Back to Historical