Support local, breweries urge as bushfire closures continue

Breweries in the Victorian High Country are urging beer drinkers to support them and others by stocking and buying beer from breweries affected by the bushfires.

Tourism North East has joined the calls to “spend with them” and has suggested ways which those wanting to support businesses affected by the fires can help local businesses get back on their feet after the immediate danger has passed.

It is focusing on the ongoing emergency efforts, it said, but is looking to work with the government on plans for the ‘post-emergency recovery process’ to help get the region back on its feet.

While the experiences of the High Country breweries are just a snapshot of the wider devastation currently underway, the message from the breweries is to keep supporting them by supplying and buying beers from the affected breweries.

Mark Hubbard, founder of Blizzard Brewing, said that it was essential to make people aware of their plight.

“I think that’s the most important thing, and to make people aware that the way we really want to be supported is [for them] to return to our venues when it’s safe to do so and spend money with us, and support our products in the venues where we’re served, and if we’re not, then ask for us to be,” he said.

Laura Gray at Bright Brewery said that tourists had been advised to leave the area, but this advice was downgraded over the weekend.

“While the advice to visitors has been downgraded in recent days, allowing them to return, we in the High Country brewery trail are thinking of other ways for people to support us as well – one of which is buying High Country beer wherever you can, encouraging your local venues to get our beers on tap, buying online, and we’d love to see everyone re-planning their holidays as soon as they can,” she said.

“The best way to help support the region is going out and seeking those beers and asking venues if they’ll put them on.”

Media coverage is proving to be a double-edged sword, as the world is regaled with images of burnt landscapes, which is not necessarily the case throughout tourist hotspots like the Victorian High Country.

“At this point, the communities the High Country brewery trail breweries are located in, they haven’t burnt, they’ve been under threat and suffered great smoke haze and there’s potential it could burn, but right now all that natural beauty is still there, as long as it doesn’t get worse,” explained Hubbard.

The High Country breweries, amongst them Blizzard, Bright, King River, Bridge Road Brewers, Malt Shed and Mitta Mitta, said the fires were especially devastating to rural businesses, who often only trade in specific seasons to enable them to stay afloat the rest of the year.

“It’s so busy this time of year, when school holidays are on and people are on holidays. We get an influx of visitors up in the High Country this time of year,” explained Hubbard.

“We trade seven days a week during this time usually, and now it’s zero days.

“We don’t want charity, we just want to sell and have visitors come back, and those are the kinds of things people are supporting us with,” he said.

Bright’s Laura Gray said that the impact it will have on tourism confidence in the region can’t be quantified.

“Tourists were all told to leave basically. This is by far the biggest tourist season, and local businesses rely on summer trade to get through the rest of the year,” she said.

“For any business, to have to close for even a day will have a significant impact and we’ll be feeling the effects for much longer than just this summer and this financial year.”

Nathan Munt is the founder of King River Brewing, which saw the fires located around the town of Whitfield come within 4km of the brewery.

Munt said it was especially difficult for regional and rural breweries who do not have the same audience demographic or footfall as city-based breweries.

“All the businesses up here that rely on tourism during this time are all empty. We’re visiting as many of them as we can,” he said.

“We don’t have super high traffic, not like Bright, but we make our money the week after Christmas and the following week. That fortnight is generally our highest revenue period, [where we can] tide ourselves over until Easter, so we lost a week and a half of it.”

He said that the fires have not only been immediately difficult for the brewery and community, but will impact on the growth of the business growing forward too.

“Most of our money is retail through the taproom, about 60 per cent. We’ve made a conscious decision to try to start doing more wholesale this year, so we’ve put money aside to get more tanks, that’s basically the only thing holding us back and we’ll now have to use that money to stay afloat until March.

“The reality is I think we’ll be fine but it will put me back a year, so I won’t be able to do what I’m going to do.”

Bright Brewery was closed for more than a week, reopening on 11th January. Meanwhile Blizzard faced a close call and remains closed, but in the meantime has been supporting the firies, bringing in the Dinner Plain and Mt Hotham CFAs for a few cold ones.

Hubbard has also been back to the brewery to pick up stock which will supply the Beers for Bush Fires Events happening in Melbourne over the coming weeks.

King River’s Munt said that the support the whole brewing industry had both received and provided was overwhelming.

“The support has been amazing. There will be a whole bunch of tap takeovers, and doing tap takeovers with our beers, we’ll be able to generate a bit of retail,” he said.

“We’ve sold more beer in Melbourne in one day than we’ve ever done, which is amazing.

“People have straight away wanted to help. That’s a good feeling and what makes you appreciate what we’ve got in terms of a greater beer community.”

The Crafty Pint has coordinated brewery bushfire fundraiser efforts, so you can find out more about what breweries are up to to help their affected counterparts across the country.

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