One Year On… Bucketty's Brewing Co
After first announcing its plans for a brewery in 2019, Bucketty’s Brewing Co in Brookvale is reflecting on its first year in actual business.
Nick McDonald, who co-founded the brewery with his wife Lexi, told Brews News that despite the various challenges, the journey has been positive overall.
“It’s been wild with the reception from the local community and our people that are keen to come down and have a beer and listen to music,” he said.
“The brewery’s been awesome. It’s been really, really hard work but it’s been amazing at the same time.”
Plans for a brewery to be built in the regional New South Wales town of Bucketty were originally conceived in 2019 but quickly changed after the Cessnock Council rejected them due to zoning laws, leaving the team to settle on a Brookvale location.
Navigating the new normal
Opening during the pandemic left Bucketty’s in a unique situation of navigating the usual growing pains of a new brewery differently. One challenge that brought on various issues was staffing, as McDonald explained.
“Even though we’ve got a great team, we opened with about 15 staff. And of those 15 staff, we’ve only got two left from when we first opened. Now we’ve got 20 staff,” McDonald said.
“Our front of house team has completely turned over during the year which I’ve learned is kind of the nature of hospitality, so that’s been a challenge however our brew team has been solid with Tony and Dan who opened with us also joined by Gareth and Arron now.
“So we’re four strong on the tanks and the front of house has found some stability with a great full time core team in place of Bree, Alex and myself.”
Another challenge that Bucketty’s faced was that of supplying wholesale beer, something that has proven to be a difficult path for many breweries.
“It’s been really interesting. I thought that we would be able to get into a lot more local bottleshops, and there’d be more appetite for it,” McDonald explained.
“Because the anecdotal feedback from the bottleshops that we are in, is that we actually sell better than most independent breweries in the area but it’s only five cases here, or six cases there, it’s not a lot of beer. So the vast majority of it still goes through the taps in the taproom.”
Bucketty’s currently doesn’t sell any of its beer to “big box retailers” like Coles Liquor, as McDonald explained the pressure can take a toll when it comes to meeting obligations of supply.
“We supply independents and it gives them a little bit of competitive advantage and we’re about supporting the little guys. So we also think of ourselves as one of them too.”
The struggle of calculating margins, however, left McDonald in disbelief at the numbers.
“When we first priced up the cartons and worked out what the margins were, I thought, ‘this can’t be right’ and I actually got a mate who was general manager at 7th Day Brewing around the corner, to have a quick look at my calculations to see if I was right and he said, ‘yeah that’s basically it’.
“You sell a carton of beer, you might make $10 or $15 sometimes.”
While its success relies on the taproom, McDonald noted that the brewery would have benefitted from a bigger brewhouse.
“I got talked into a 10 hL brewhouse. Because that’s just what I thought we should buy and I didn’t know any better. But if we had a 15 hL brewhouse, we would have been able to be much more efficient and we wouldn’t have taken up much more space,” he said.
“Obviously, it would have cost more money, but we would have made that money back already in cost savings and efficiencies.”
Paired with COVID restrictions, the challenges were tough Bucketty’s however, the team took the initiative to create something positive from the situation.
“We actually created a drive-through brewery to aid with that and it was welcomed so nicely. It got traction on Channel 7 and BBC world news, so that was something really positive to come from it.”
Much like many other breweries during the pandemic, the drive-through allowed Bucketty’s to sell takeaway beer while also offering live music on weekends.
Reflecting on all of these challenges, McDonald offered some sage advice to aspiring brewers.
“Focus on the hospitality side of things. I know that’s going to sound weird but it’s a good thing to focus on.
“Yes the beer has to be good, but if you concentrate on hospitality and providing for that experience, it will help you a lot.”
Despite the tough journey throughout its first year, Bucketty’s is appreciative of the local reception from the Brookvale community, as McDonald explained.
“It’s been so welcoming. Seeing people walking around in Bucketty’s hats or anything like that, has been really positive,” he said.
In terms of the future, while the brewery is happy to have its home in Brookvale, it hasn’t given up on its dream to open a taproom in its namesake.
“We’d love to open and licence a new taproom and to ship the beer from here [Brookvale] to avoid the zoning issue we originally had.”
The team now, however, look forward to improving upon its portfolio of beers, with the aim to eventually expand into a canning line.
“We hope to invest in our own canning machine. We currently use East Coast Canning who has been great but it’s definitely a goal of ours to look towards that.”