A little while ago an article in Brews News caught my attention. The co-founder of well known US brewery, Karl Strauss, said that soft launches for brewpubs are over.
The implication is that people know about your new venue long before you open, so there’s no opportunity for a soft launch. Instead you need to be ready to go from day one.
What Karl Strauss co-founder, Chris Cramer, says is just good sense. Anyone launching a venue, brewpub or otherwise, should be investing in staff training. All venues should be ready to provide great service from the day they open.
Cramer was commenting on the American beer market but it got me thinking about whether his assertions apply to Sydney and Australia. There’s truth in what he says, but there are significant differences in the Australian market.
Generally speaking, the same concept of the brewpub doesn’t apply to Australia. At least not yet.
Hospitality: USA vs Australia
Hospitality is a strong industry in the US. You get good service because of the tipping culture. (This is thanks to the minimum wage being so poor for such a wealthy nation. But that’s a political argument that I won’t get into right now.)
As the Brews News piece describes, Karl Strauss invests heavily in staff training before opening. This is good practice and something that larger operations in Australia have invested in.
But across the board it’s a bit different here. We have a great hospitality industry with generally very high standards. People seem to get it and do it well, particularly at good beer venues.
Sydney has a good population of career hospitality professionals that go about their jobs with pride and precision. It’s brilliant for punters.Sydney has a good population of career hospitality professionals that go about their jobs with pride and precision... Click To Tweet
With so many people wanting to be involved in good beer, a new venue is able to launch with a workforce that is already knowledgeable or at least eager to learn, often both.
It’s true that people know about venues before they open. Often people will be there from day one. However, hype in Australian beer isn’t the same as hype in American beer.
Australia beer drinkers are more laid back than their American counterparts. The beer scene in the US seems driven in part by a mania around new brands and The Next Big Thing. There’s an almost partisan approach to the way people drink beer.
We’re not that intense in Australia which certainly affords venue owners a bit more slack when working through teething problems.
The beer drinkers who are heavily invested in the scene will know about a new venue in advance. But as a larger population, we’re inclined to wait for new things to be reaffirmed before we bother with them. A following has to develop before crowds of punters will flock.
Population And Scale
The other obvious difference between the US and Australia is population. The US has a great many thirsty beer drinkers spread across the country. Australia’s population is concentrated in a few cities. These cities are already well served when it comes to beer.
Brewpubs in Los Angeles and Anaheim (decent enough beer cities in their own right) play into people’s appetites for what’s happening in San Diego or San Francisco, cities which have stronger brewing traditions.
Perhaps that’s why it takes more for beer drinkers in Australian cities to buy into the hype. We’re not short of options in major cities.
Such vast population differences also impact scale. Launching a brewpub in Sydney won’t be the same as launching a Karl Strauss brewpub. In America, they’re often more like satellite breweries. They’re way beyond large scale pubs.
The brewpubs we have in Sydney are much smaller. They don’t really need a large workforce requiring months of training before the venue opens. Just someone who knows and understands the beer and how to serve it.
Brewpubs In Sydney
In the evolution of good beer we seem to have somewhat bypassed the brewpub model in Sydney. There are a few in regional towns but they’re less common in densely populated areas.
The only real brewpubs we’ve seen were in the first waves of good beer in Sydney. The Lord Nelson Hotel is something of a brewpub, as is Redoak.
Not many of them are brewpubs in the truest sense, either erring toward a beer cafe style offering or a wider hospitality or brewery taproom focus.
We have a very strong pub culture which is where we’d typically buy beer on-premise.
Recently people have grown to love small bars and, in the last few years, brewery taprooms. However, the primary focus for breweries has been on shipping packaged or kegged beer outside of their venue.
Can Brewpub Soft Launches Be Successful?
All things considered, Sydney and Australia have the conditions to be successful with the brewpub model, particularly on a small scale in the immediate future.Sydney and Australia have the conditions to be successful with the brewpub model, particularly on a small scale... Click To Tweet
That said, things might change in the future. I’ve written before about breweries buying venues or launching brewpubs.
A nationally recognised brand with enough capital or investment could thrust themselves into another market. By leveraging people’s affinity for the brand and a desire to drink in a brewery setting, we may see a true satellite brewpub in the American sense.
That’s when Chris Cramer’s comments will apply to the Australian beer market.
Can a brewpub or brewery venue still have a soft launch in Sydney? I think so, for now.
It’ll be interesting to see how the recently opened 4 Pines venues go, given they’re putting their name to what are essentially satellite venues. They should be very well equipped to get it right from day one.
American Trends Don’t Always Apply To Australia
We often look to America for how trends in the beer industry might play out here. We do this more than I’d like.
Firstly because our laws around tax, licensing and distribution are very different. Secondly, because we’re doing our own thing and we’re good at it.
I think this is one of those occasions when we should embrace the difference.