Wild Life Brewing to expand after $200k raise

Regional Victorian brewery Wild Life Brewing is expanding on the back of a private capital raise.

Wild Life was founded by Shepparton locals Jack Hawkins, James Thomson and Rhys Porter in 2019 as an antidote to the “faux craft” being sold into regional areas, said the team.

The brewery has an existing venue and microbrewery to brew limited releases, contract brewing its core range at Hawkers. This was only supposed to be a temporary situation though, explained co-founder James Thomson.

“But with the pandemic dragging on we had to pivot and turn it into a slightly more permanent taproom and brewery for the last two years,” Thomson said.

“We currently brew a unique beer every month in this small space that gets released to our members club once a month, and with the help of Hawkers as contractors, we have been able to grow the sales of our two core range beers since launching two years ago.”

But the brewery has recently undertaken a $200,000 private investment raise which will allow it to put some capital behind its expansion plans and bring operations in house.

Craft beer in the country

Thomson and Rhys Porter are avid homebrewers turned commercial brewers, whilst fellow co-director Jack Hawkins has helped build multiple Australian craft spirits brands including Starward Whisky.

“With Jack’s past in building high-quality accessible craft brands and mine and Rhys’ dedication to brewing it seemed like we had the perfect team right in front of us to build something unique and special to our area.

“We all love craft beer but felt there was a big disconnect between 90 per cent of the craft world when it came to the average country consumer.”

This is particularly true in the country, Thomson explained.

“We wanted to build an authentic brewery that makes beer for the country lifestyle; easy going, high quality all-natural and approachable, as over the last few years we have seen more and more attempts to sell “faux craft” into regional areas by the macro players, taking advantage of people’s thirst for something better but not actually delivering to them the quality that we all seek.”

Brand first then brewery

Every new brewery strategy is different, but they often fall into two patterns, either focusing on contract brewing and distribution, or on a home venue and those all-important on-premise profit margins.

Wild Life managed a little of both.

“Frankly [we did it because] we had no money- plenty of know-how and dreams but we are a very lean team and we just wanted to start getting great beer into people’s hands in our area as soon as possible,” Thomson explained.

“So we built out a small 3-vessel system that allowed us to prototype and build our recipes, tested those recipes, and worked with Hawkers to scale them up on their equipment so that we wouldn’t have any availability issues from the get-go.

“Even though we are still small, we have always been dedicated to making sure the product was available at all times with no friction to our customers- it’s something we take just as seriously as the beer itself.”

This strategy, with the added benefit of a small venue to keep the money rolling in, meaning that it was a sustainable way to reduce the up-front costs of getting to market, Thomsonsaid.

“It also allowed us to “build in public” which is something Jack wanted to do, allowing us to dip our toes in, bit-by-bit, and have a conversation with the town about what they really wanted from us.”

Private raise

While many other breweries are going in for public equity crowdfunding raises, most recently Spinifex, which raised $2 million, and Sobah Beverages, which just this week has hit $1 million, Wild Life decided to go a different route. Thomson said that being Shepparton boys, they always wanted to keep it as local as possible.

“This core principle is why with our very first raise we didn’t go to the market so to speak,” he said.

“Instead, we approached a small handful of individuals who since the beginning of the brewery had been huge supporters and had voiced that they’d love to help out with our growth one day.

“These angel investors are essentially retail investors but more importantly, they are fans and friends that share the same vision as us, for building an amazing brewery and brand that represents the country and Shepparton in an amazing way,” he said.

Breweries across the country understand the importance of a dedicated core fan base, and have come up with creative ways to nurture that audience, which was partially the aim of the raise.

“It is super important to us [that local people own a piece of the brewery] as we want to make sure any success we have is something that is equitable and ownable for any and all individuals in the Goulburn Valley,” said Thomson.

“We could have approached professional investors, and even had interest from some parties in that world, but we want to do things right by the town and our earliest believers. So this was the way for us.”

This will not be the last raise for Wild Life, with plans in the works to further open up the ownership of the brand.

The new Wild Life brewery

The brewing team will be working on Hop Nation’s former brewkit, allowing it to bring its Session Ale and Dry Lager in house.

While Wild Life is not new to the hospitality scene in Shepparton, the new location in a central spot is described as a “dream location” by the team.

“We have been searching for months on end for the right spot and the pandemic has made this incredibly difficult, we’ve essentially thought we’d be in three other locations already,” Thomson admitted, reiterating an issue many new breweries face.

“In the final hours of making a decision though, another friend of the brewery put forward an opportunity for us to take over a building they were connected to. We fell in love with the new site as soon as we checked it out.”

Planning and negotiations on the new location are near completion, and Wild Life is predicting that the venue and production facility will be fitted out and running by the end of the year.

“Our biggest struggle has been to find a new home that was large enough for us to grow into and scale with, [whilst] still in the middle of town, and with an amazing outdoor area for people to enjoy. This site ticks all the boxes and we’ll be keen to reveal architectural renders soon.

When complete, it will have a capacity of more than 150 people with a sizeable beer garden.

“We are wanting to build this space out to be so much more than a Wild Life taproom, ideally, we’ll be celebrating many other independent brewers and doing our best to build a regional craft beer hub,” Thomson said.

Wild Life plans on growing regionally and beyond. Following the expansion it says it will double its distribution in Victoria. But despite recent changes in the market and the ongoing discussion around the importance of independence, this is a flag Wild Life still want to fly.

“We’re fiercely proud to be independent and want to try to re-define what a smaller independent brewery can achieve by going back to basics; brewing good beer, listening to our fans, and empowering people to know more about what they’re drinking,” said Thomson.

“Ultimately, our dream is for Wild Life Brewing Co to be nationally recognised brand that represents the amazing lifestyle that we have in the country.”

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