Outbound travel key to Australia's beer diversity

In light of Australia’s slow but steady rise in beer tourism, it begs the question, why now?

It hasn’t been long since Australia was starved for beer diversity. Dr Brett Stubbs’ comprehensive summary of Australia’s “first wave” of breweries for Brews News in 2012, highlights that prior to the 1990s, Australians beer tastes weren’t particularly adventurous.

Of the small breweries that opened in Australia during the 1980s and early 90s, Stubbs reported that fewer than 20 per cent remain in production today.

According to Stubbs, Australia’s “second wave” of breweries came after 1995, and with it, a greater small brewery survival rate.

Victoria’s Holgate Brewhouse was founded in 1999 and is still very much in production with a brewery expansion in the making. So too have breweries like Little Creatures (2000), Feral Brewing Co (2002) and Gage Roads (2002) not only survived, but thrived.

We have to wonder why Australians weren’t ready for much more than low gravity lagers until the 21st Century.

Historically, migration to Australia has ebbed and flowed. In 1984-85 total migration was at 54,500, it jumped in 1989-1990 to 120,200 and went back down in 1994-95 to 76,500 and then to 70,237 in 1999-00.

One expat from the US Brennan Fielding, now head brewer at Burleigh Brewing, said that he started brewing in Australia because he missed good beer.

“When I started brewing in Brisbane from 2002 to 2006, at that time the palate of Australia was super young,” Fielding asserted.

“Australians were still being served industrial-style lagers made with adjuncts and high gravity, maybe non-natural hops and other such shortcuts, and to me that didn’t remotely taste like beer.”

“But this is what the drinking public was used to.”

This phenomenon, said Fielding, has been his motivation to brew beer since 1984.

However, perhaps more compelling an argument for an historic lack of beer diversity in Australia, has been the relatively low rate at which we travelled overseas.

Tourism Research Australia data shows that outbound tourism by Australians has almost doubled in the past decade. Australian residents travelling overseas has increased every year from 4,330 in 2006 to 9,118 in 2017.

The Reserve Bank of Australia reported in 2011, that the propensity for Australians to travel overseas for a holiday has picked up markedly since late 2003, rising from around 8 per cent of the resident Australian population annually to be just under 20 per cent of the population in recent years (although some of these trips reflect multiple visits by individuals).

The RBA also reported that travelling overseas for the purpose of a holiday has been the fastest growing component of outbound travel for Australians, with more moderate growth in overseas trips for business, employment and education.

“The increase in demand for overseas holidays has seen spending by Australians on overseas travel increase at an average annual rate of 7.5 per cent (in nominal terms) over the 10 years to 2009/10, much higher than the average annual rise in domestic tourism expenditure of 3.2 per cent. This divergence in growth is expected to persist,” the RBA reported.

It seems the more Australians have expanded on their horizons, so too have they broadened their beer palates.

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