Mountain Goat: This day was always coming

Today we saw the announcement of the sale of the first of the modernbreed of small breweries thatpioneered the current ‘craft’ beer movement. Asahi has purchased Mountain Goat.

First, congratulations to founders Cam Hines and Dave Bonighton. For 18 years they have battled, slogged and grafted to see their dream of Mountain Goat survive, let alone prosper. They fact that they are a national beer brand, available as a slab at national retailers and have for some time been a prime target for acquisition is a huge tribute to two terrific blokes and their team of passionate beer lovers. No further details of the sale or price have been released, but one would hope that their years of hard toil as pioneers of the present craft beer wave and champions of good beer will be well rewarded.

That said, it really was simply a question of time.

It has been clear for some time that, consciously or not, the decks have been getting cleared and the ship readied for sale. Like the activist unistudent who graduated and started work, the feisty young Goat’s Doc Martins and leather jacket (I may be showing my age here) made way for more conservative suits and shoes in the form of the high volume sales that Steam Ale achieved in 2009. This showed the business that flavour pragmatism is an easier means of sustainable, or even rapid growth, than trying to convert a mainstream market to high IBUs.

This year’s highly popular AIBA success with a Barley Wine demonstrated the brewing chops were undiminished, however the real drivers for the business have been Steam Ale and Summer Ale, both brewed by Asahi at Laverton, where the majority of the business’ beer has been produced for several years.

The brewery’s famous foundation story is of a young Cam Hines who, inspired by the microbreweries of Canada during a backpacking trip, fired a postcard back to his home-brewing mate Dave Bonighton, saying “we need tostart a brewery”. As popular and enjoyable as “this pale yellow passionfruit affair” is, one can only wonder whether Summer Ale, a beer that even Cam has described as ‘smashable’, would have inspired this story.

While there will likely be an outcry today over the takeover, with comments such as “Well there goes any good beer from Mountain Goat…” already appearing on the Australian Brews News’ Facebook page already, others are more sanguine. Another says “Now it’s a part of big beer. It’s definitely a good thing if you can find more Mountain Goat in regular pubs and the beers maintain their high quality.”

Arguably, Mountain Goat has been ‘big beer’ for some time. Independence of ownership aside, the growing volumes have come exclusively through their contracting arrangements with Asahi for several years, including Steam and Summer Ale and packaged Hightail, Fancy Pants and Surefoot Stout. It must be noted – Mountain Goat has been very reluctant to draw attention to these arrangements only providing vague references to “a larger plant in Laverton, Melbourne” on its website. The contracting arrangements were only recentlyincluded on packagingafter the ACCC took interest in the matter earlier this year.

As for the future, the brewery’s rapid growth into profitability over the last few years came from from light, approachable and sessionable beers such as Steam and Summer, so it seems unlikely that these will be affected. Hightail, Surefoot and Fancy Pants are already made by Asahi and the house IPA has already been phased out in favour of a more moderate American-style Pale Ale. Only time will tell whether the likes of barrel-aged rare breeds form part of Asahi’s future strategy, but – at least in volume terms – they have only been a vanity line for some time, a source of excitement for beer enthusiasts and maintained credibility for the brewery. Their survival will no doubt be determined through an eventual calculation of their cost to produce versus their benefit to what is now another Asahi brand.

While things won’t change quickly on the beer front, at least one thing has changed rapidly. Where once askinga question ofMountain Goat was a simple matter of phoning Cam and Dave for a chat, inquiries today have been referred to Mountain Goat’s new General Manager, Matt Grix, who until recently was Asahi Premium Beverages General Manager, Victoria and Tasmania.

New to the business, Mr Grix’s LinkedIn profile describes him as:
A Sales Management professional with significant experience in the Beverage/FMCG industry incorporating roles in Brands & Trade Marketing, Logistics, Key Account Management of National Customers (Retail and On-Premise) and National & Regional Sales Management.

“Specialties: Developing new business, setting-up, leading and motivating specialist teams to consistently exceed targets.
We have approached him for comment about the sale and are awaiting a response.

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