Stone & Wood tackles contemporary beer category with Green Coast
In a further sign that ‘flavour forward’ can only take the craft beer category so far, Australia’s largest ‘craft’ brewer Stone & Wood Brewing has set out to tackle the contemporary beer market by launching a clear-bottled crisp lager.
The 3.5% abv “sessionable” lager is being released under the Green Coast brand and described as being for “the beer lover who is seeking out something truly refreshing”.
The move comes as the ‘contemporary’ beer market, created a decade ago by Great Northern, has grown to 33 per cent of the Australian beer market by value, up from 25 per cent five years ago.
Over the same period, craft beer’s value share of the beer market has grown from nine per cent to 13 per cent, including all craft beer brands but excluding Coopers and Furphy.
With its Original and Super Crisp variants, Great Northern dominates the contemporary market and is the largest beer brand in Australia with a value share of the total beer market in the mid-teens and growing.
Great Northern’s market dominance hasn’t been seen in the market since the decline of VB over a decade ago, with the traditional brand once commanding a quarter share of the beer market.
Regional not ‘craft’ brewer
In launching a beer style once seen as the antithesis of ‘craft’, the Northern Rivers brewery has set out to reinforce its position as a regional brewer rather than a craft brewer and acknowledges the move is going to require a mindset shift for some beer drinkers.
A blog post signed by the three founders as far back as 2015 said the industry has gone past its ability to define things such as ‘craft’.
“We have to let the drinker define what they like and what they value,” the post said.
“We don’t think you can BE a ‘craft’ brewer, you can only be described as one by other people, based on their perspective of you and their own personal meaning of the term.
“Let’s face it people have their own framework and beliefs that will dictate what their own personal thoughts and meanings are when they use a word to describe something.”
Not everyone wants a Pacific Ale
The launch comes after Stone & Wood signed on as official sponsors of the Wallabies and general manager Nick Boots said the beer was an important part of that opportunity.
“The Wallaby’s sponsorship is a great way to leverage the original (Green Coast), but also creating a contemporary beer, clear glass, easy-drinking lager at 3.5% abv gives us a real chance to extend that sponsorship and really leverage that in the huge, huge part of the market drinking contemporary beers that we just don’t participate in,” Boots said.
He said lager had been an important part of the brewery’s story since its early days when it was originally launched as Pale Lager, but the brewery felt it needed to be more inclusive of all tastes.
“We’ve seen some nice growth out of Green Coast but for most people, it’s been the Stone & Wood beer with the green label,” Boots said.
“This is a great opportunity to accelerate that story and the growth and awareness of Green Coast Lager, but we know that the contemporary market is enormous, clearly driven by Great Northern, and that it can’t be ignored any further.
“We feel that as a brewer of just really good beer, not necessarily the craftiest beer out there, then that gives us permission to play in there.”
He said the new lager was for people who liked the Stone & Wood brand, but not necessarily the flavour of other ‘craft’ beers.
“We’re very passionate about providing something for all our loyal drinkers in our backyard and in our local community and we’re conscious that Pacific Ale and our other beers aren’t for everyone,” he said.
“There’s a huge chunk of the market that says I love everything Stone & Wood stand for as a business but none of their beers work for me.
“So in creating this three-and-a-half per cent easy-drinking lager we think we have something that is more broadly appealing that still maintains all the messages and credibility of Stone & Wood.”
If you can’t beat them?
While saying that it was a beer to appeal to other drinkers, Nick Boots didn’t think craft beer had seen an end to the growth of fuller flavoured beers.
“I don’t think it is, I would like to see craft as a share of the Australian market go from nearly 10 per cent as it is now up to 20 per cent, and I still think that is absolutely possible as we have seen in New Zealand and the US,” he said.
“That’s still an aspiration I personally have and I think our beers will play nicely in there.
“But in my lifetime, it’s going to be a long time before craft is any larger portion of the market than that.
“It’s wrong of us to ignore that eighty or ninety per cent of the market where craft beer is just not for them at this point in time but they are looking for a brand that resonates with them, whether it’s our environmental focus or our community focus or other reasons people buy into who we are or what we do.
“We want to give those guys or girls a beer.”
Capacity constraints see production outsourced
While identifying strongly as a ‘craft’ brewer hasn’t been an important element of the Stone & Wood brand, the business has regularly faced shortages of its flagship Pacific Ale as a result of decisions to maintain production in house. Continuing capacity constraints as it plans for its next major expansion has meant that the brewery has been forced to outsource production of the new beer in order to capitalise on the timing of the Wallaby sponsorship.
The challenge for the brewery is that the production partner is Coca Cola Amatil’s state-of-the-art Yenda Brewery, which is potentially at odds with a strict independence branding. Feral was voted out of the IBA after being purchased by CCA.
Boots said he didn’t think the ‘pragmatic’ decision would affect the beer’s independent credentials.
“We have (outsourced production), in the short-term while the new Murwullimbah brewery is built, and we’re hoping to break ground there either side of Christmas, the intention is that this beer and all our beers come back in-house.”
“We’re brewing this beer to begin with at another regional New South Wales brewery who we have worked very closely with and it’s just capacity thing.
“If we wanted to launch this beer, it meant we had to make less Pacific Ale, which is something we don’t want to do.
“It’s a pragmatic decision to give us two years to get Murwullumbah up and running and the intention is to bring it back in-house.
“At the end of the day we just wanted a great beer in this space and we wanted to do it sooner rather than later.”
He said that given the audience for this beer, independence was less of a brand attribute.
“The other thing we are conscious of is that with the contemporary market, independence is not particularly engaging or not particularly well understood,” he said.
“It’s quite different to the craft market, we’re conscious of that and we don’t think it will have a significant impact on the success or otherwise of the brand because effectively 100 per cent of the contemporary beers are made by the big guys.
“If we’re a small guy and we’re using a medium guy in the short term – using their stainless steel effectively – we don’t think that will have a significant impact.”
Released this week, the brewery says the beer is made with Australian pale malt, crystal malt and malt extracts. It is hopped with Saaz, and in a nod to its clear bottled packaging also uses light stable hop extracts.
“It’s the drink that’s the ideal companion to life’s simple moments: the backyard BBQ with mates, an afternoon watching the footy and that perfect moment when you pop the top off a cold brew at the end of a long day,” a media release noted.