American Craft Beer In Australia: What Does It Mean For Local Beer?

It was recently announced that Goose Island will be Carlton United Breweries’ flagship craft brand in Australia. Not only that, it will be brewed here rather than imported.

American Craft Beer In Australia What Does It Mean For Local Brewers?

This is an important step. The Chicago brewery was one of the first to be snapped up by AB Inbev. Following the recent MegaBrew merger, it fell under CUB’s control in Australia. And now they plan to push it into the Aussie market.

Ale Of A Time covered this 180 degree flip in CUB’s stance on craft. It’s certainly a change in their attitude towards the segment since the half-arsed launch of Lazy Yak.

An Influx Of American Beer Brands

Within the same week, Lagunitas, now half-owned by Heineken, also announced their plans to enter the Australian market. It was more a signal of intent rather than a plan.

Elsewhere we’ve seen Ballast Point and Stone stocked in Dan Murphy’s, while New Belgium has recently entered the market. Brands like Sierra Nevada have been accessible for a while and Brooklyn Brewery has recently sold a stake to Kirin which should push it into Lion’s distribution channels in Australia.

We’re pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to major American craft beer brands. And while freshness will always be a concern, it is possible to get some in pretty good condition.

The difference with the recent announcement is that Goose Island will be brewed in Australia, at the Cascade brewery in Tasmania.

We can be certain that those in charge of the Goose Island brand at AB Inbev will be ensuring it’s brewed so it tastes exactly as it does in the US. This should be great for beer drinkers in Australia.

Goose IPA is an accessible beer in the style. It’s not the most outrageous nor the most outstanding example but has a significant place in the growth of good beer in the US. There’s a chance it could do the same in Australia.

Usually I’d say that bringing across a brand that’s worked in the US doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in Australia. However, the alternative for CUB would be to acquire a local and well-recognised brand. But they did that and failed.

For once, CUB might actually be taking the craft segment seriously and doing something about it.

In targeting premium on-premise venues through the “slow burner” growth of craft and IPAs, it seems like they have something of a strategy, albeit focused around one brand.

What Does It Mean For Local Beer?

But what does it mean for local producers? If we can get “exotic” American brands, fresh and relatively cheap, does that put pressure on Aussie brewers? The answer is very likely, yes.

Any new entrant into a market will both face pressures and bring their own into the equation. The pressures are increased when the new entrant has an existing brand, a large marketing budget, strong distribution channels and significant cachet among their target market.

A brand like Goose Island will bring competition to the market unlike most new entrants.

While much of the craft beer geek population in Australia might recognise Goose Island as an AB Inbev brand, with a loosened grip on its craft credentials, there will be many beer drinkers excited at the prospect of a new American beer.

There will be many for whom this will be an introduction to craft beer or to IPA as a style. A new brand from the US available at a good price point in national retailers. It should work.

It remains to be seen what competition Goose Island will pose to local breweries for tap handles but CUB will certainly push it hard.

It remains to be seen what competition Goose Island will pose to local breweries for tap handles... Click To Tweet

Most likely Goose Island will present competition for other corporate-owned craft brands like Mountain Goat and James Squire, as well as recognisable national brands like Stone & Wood, 4 Pines and Feral. They will probably face both price pressure on packaged and keg produce as well as competition for taps.

While I think all of those aforementioned brands will ride this out with minimal damage the pressure will be forced downwards and there could be smaller regional and local breweries who suffer because of it.

Fresh Is Best. Local Is Fresh.

It’s interesting that this move happens at a time when the message of “fresh is best” really seems to be entering the consciousness of beer drinkers around Australia. It’s perhaps a necessity then that Goose Island is brewed in the country, rather than imported.

There’s certainly room for growth in Australian beer and there should be room for all variety of local and international breweries but the concern is what will be lost along the way. Small local producers are going to need to remain nimble and creative in getting their beer into the hands of consumers.

For the smaller local breweries that means focusing on their immediate customer base.

The message from Aussie breweries has to be around supporting local, independent Australian brands.

The message from Aussie breweries has to be around supporting local, independent Australian brands. Click To Tweet

American Craft Beer In Australia

There’s also a chance that Goose Island being brewed locally will push other American brands out. If a customer is keen to buy American IPAs then they might as well get them as fresh as possible. And the one brewed here should be the freshest.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of dynamic forms between the likes of Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point, Stone and, once they reach us, Lagunitas.

They’re all national brands in the US and will very quickly be the same in Australia. But will they all survive over here? And will the competition among American brands create opportunities for Australian breweries? Perhaps they’re questions for a future post.