Making hay while the winter sun shines
For the majority of Australian craft brewers, summer is peak business as they rely on consumers to seek out a nice cold beer on a 30-degree day.
But there are a minority of craft breweries that rely on Australia’s winter months for their strongest beer sales.
Breweries in Australia’s alpine regions rely on adequate snowfall for a busy ski season, while breweries in Australia’s tropical far north depend on the cooler, drier months between April and September.
Blizzard Brewing, which is located about 20 minutes from Mount Hotham, is one such brewery located in Victoria’s alpine region.
Founder Mark Hubbard said that owning a brewery in the middle of nowhere does work, you’ve just got to think local.
“It’s very much easier to establish relationships locally within a network, it’s much easier for people to find you in that regard, rather than compete with everybody else and also because your distribution costs, your freight and all that are much lower.”
The two-and-a-half year old brewery has just completed its third winter, and has increased its sales volumes year on year.
“During winter, from the time the ski lifts start operating during the Queen’s birthday weekend, we open the taproom seven days a week and we’re able to do that in January and the Easter holidays because that’s the only time of year we have enough custom to justify being open that long,” Hubbard explained.
On the packaged side of the business, Hubbard said that sales to local venues and outlets “pretty much double or more than double” during winter.
Between Mount Hotham and the town of Dinner Plains, where Blizzard Brewing resides, Hubbard estimated that there are about 8,000 beds.
“That’s our market and that’s where we make hay when the sun shines.”
“We probably see half our annual revenue in the four months during the ski season, from June to September and then we do about the same again for the other eight months of the year.”
To help mitigate the slower sales during the summer months, Blizzard beers are sent to more metropolitan areas to capitalise on their summer trade.
“It’s a different prospect because it’s hard to get shelf space and tap space in such a busy and crowded market,” Hubbard said.
“It’s much easier to do business with the licenced venues here than it is in Melbourne because in Melbourne they’ve got everybody.
“Some of the business we do up here is really about the local product and the local area.
“A lot of my customers here will always have a tap of us on and our beers in the fridge and it’s about networks, it’s about a community and it’s about local.
One project to have really boosted production, Hubbard explained, has been brewing co-brand beers with local businesses.
“Blizzard Brewing then works on a recipe and design in conjunction with the venue to produce a co-branded ‘house’ beer.”
Hubbard said that the initiative has been great for securing tap space in the region.
“Having a local product, at the right price, that’s always on tap has really helped us along,” he explained.
“Our co-branding strategy is only about a year old and that’s boosted our commercial sales, especially on the mountain, amazingly.”
On the other hand Far North Queensland brewery’s Tony Fyfe, said it has been very difficult to navigate sales fluctuations over the busy winter months and the quieter summer season.
Fyfe, who is the co-founder of Hemingway’s Breweries in both Port Douglas and Cairns, told Brews News that his busiest time is between Easter and the Melbourne Cup.
Apart from the two weeks over Christmas and New Year, Fyfe said that sales at both brewpubs dwindle and basically “fall of a cliff”.
“Opposite to those breweries down south, our busy period where we’re selling the most beer across the bar is in the winter – so when it’s 27 degrees, blue skies and no rain.”
The Cairns brewpub has only been open for about five months, while the brewpub in Port Douglas has been open for two-and-a-half years.
Fyfe saidthat the patronage at each venue has been very different, with Port Douglas being a much smaller town with a huge tourist influx and Cairns having a much stronger local presence.
“We’re not expecting or forecasting the drops in sales to be as severe in Cairns as they are in Port Douglas,” Fyfe explained.
He said that during the off season in Port Douglas Hemingway’s will make 30 per cent of what it would normally during the busy season.
To combat the ebb and flow of tourists up north, Hemingway’s has been structured to have three revenue streams, with a 12hL brewpub in Port Douglas and a 35hL brewpub and wholesale production facility in Cairns.
The Port Douglas site produces most of Hemingway’s slower-moving beers as well as facilitating much of the brand’s product development.
The Cairns brewery produces Hemingway’s core range and packaged product.With the opening of the Cairns facility, Hemingway’s can ramp up production without curbing volume and or compromising on innovation and product development .
“It gives has a large degree of flexibility, with new beers every week that’s not having any effect on the core range we’re producing at the other brewery.”
The good thing from a brewery stand point, Fyfe said, is that because the Cairns brewery now has the ability to package its beers it can maintain sales by distributing south.
“Unfortunately or fortunately, we pretty much sell everything we produce across our bar in Port Douglas.
“The brewery in Cairns sells about 300,000 litres over its bar, but the brewery has a capacity of 1.5 million litres per year, so we have about 1 million litres we distribute locally, statewide and nationally.”