Each year Sydney Beer Week pulls the local beer scene sharply into focus, concentrating and amplifying larger trends. Here’s a look at what 2017 showed us.
Sydney Beer Week positions a magnifying glass over our local beer landscape, providing greater visibility of what breweries and venues are doing and what punters are gravitating towards.
Now the dust has settled, we can reflect on what the week provided.
In Safe Hands
The first mention of Sydney Beer Week 2017 has to go to the team behind it. Previous years have been, on the whole, excellent. But the SBW team, led by Liam Pereira, Dave Phillips and co. took 2017 to a new level.
There’s always an element of doubt when something of this magnitude comes under new management, even when the new crew have such a good track record. However, they pulled it off with aplomb. Sydney Beer Week looks to be in safe hands for future years.
We’ve Come A Long Way
Starting the week at 8am with technical talks at an inner city blendery was unimaginable a couple of years ago. But a full day of in-depth talks from industry professionals on the agricultural and brewing sides, paired with barrel-aged beers, shows how rapidly our local beer scene has diversified and matured.
The opening event at Wildflower’s cellar door provided one of those moments to sit back and reflect on how beer in Sydney has evolved.Starting the week at 8am with technical talks at an inner city blendery was unimaginable a couple of years ago. Click To Tweet
An Important But Challenging Market
It’s been clear for a while, and it’s fairly obvious why, but interstate breweries want to get their beer into Sydney. However, it’s more competitive than it’s ever been.
During the Sessionable podcast recording at The Royal Albert Hotel, representatives from Beer Farm (WA) and Mornington Peninsula (Vic) both spoke of the need and desire to put down strong roots in Sydney.
While Mornington have been in the market for a while, it’s particularly interesting to see Beer Farm forging strong ties with Sydney venues, prioritising our city over Melbourne.
The push for sales in Sydney can be seen in interstate and international breweries, including AB-Inbev brands like Goose Island.
Events such as State of Brews give interstate breweries an opportunity to get their beer into the hands of drinkers in some of Sydney’s best beer-focused pubs.
Breweries from outside of Sydney are only going to increase the competition for taps and shelf space. Local breweries are going to need to keep quality high in order to stay competitive.
Local Matters As Much As Ever
While the “local boys done good” is not the failsafe story that it once was, there’s still a passion for local products. People want to support local businesses and it seems that they still take pride in drinking locally and frequenting community venues or breweries.
This can be seen in places outside of the typical craft beer hotspots but also in established favourites such as Wayward Brewing or Bitter Phew.
These venues have a core of regular customers who feel a sense of ownership over the place, and find a sense of meaning in spending time there. Both of these examples were singled out in the Sydney Beer Week Awards, winning Best Brewery Cellar Door and Best Sydney Beer Bar / Pub respectively.
Outside of these circles, the amazement with which people react when they find out they can visit a brewery nearby, or that the beer in their hand is from just down the road, can still excite otherwise jaded onlookers.
The craft beer scene is still relatively small but it’s growing and there are plenty of people starting their journey (for lack of a better word). Sydney Beer Week acts as a catalyst for local growth.
There’s Growth Outside Of The Inner City
Sydney’s western suburbs seem an obvious place for growth and Sydney Beer Week affirmed that. There was a greater geographical spread of events this year and it showed that there’s a thirst for quality, independent beer from Penrith to Forster and from Campbelltown to Minto.
While the majority of events still happened in suburbs that have an established reputation for good beer, perhaps we’ll see the next beer hotspot pop up in the western suburbs or south of the city. There’s certainly a population looking for it.
The price of beer was brought into focus during Sydney Beer Week. Keg & Brew listed Brewdog Punk IPA for $25.50 a schooner. The venue eventually admitted to a mistake in the pricing but only after a number of complaints. It was reduced to $13 a schooner (still a significant price tag) while other beers in the venue remained the same price. Compare the cost of that beer to the price of Cantillon at Bitter Phew and it looks even more scandalous.
In a competitive environment, there’s pressure not just on breweries but on venues too. During Sydney Beer Week, demand grows so it’s easy to see why venues might want to increase their margins. Is it fair on consumers? No.
What consumers do have though is lots of options. As the landscape becomes more competitive for venues, we may see customers vote with their wallets. I’ve always defended top prices for top quality beer but sometimes things can go too far and it won’t end well for those trying to make a quick buck.
With some venues demanding discounts and some breweries happy to offer them, price will continue to be a major component in how our beer scene evolves. Let’s hope it goes the right way. A race to the bottom on the supply side and inflated pricing for customers won’t help anyone.A race to the bottom on the supply side and inflated pricing for customers won't help anyone. Click To Tweet
Much is made of Sydney’s alcohol related problems. Thankfully Sydney Beer Week went off without incident. It’s a broad generalisation but perhaps that’s the nature of craft beer. Maybe it attracts people who are bit more laid back, who drink for the enjoyment rather than to get drunk.
What Sydney Beer Week shows is that Sydneysiders can enjoy alcohol responsibly and in groups. Hopefully our law makers will take note.What Sydney Beer Week shows is that Sydneysiders can enjoy alcohol responsibly and in groups. Click To Tweet
Stratification Of Beer
Divisions between different sized breweries is something I predicted a year or two ago and we’re starting to see it.
Big Beer has a presence at Sydney Beer Week through sponsors like CUB’s Yak Ales and AB-InBev’s Goose Island. They understand that there’s a market here. It’s sponsorship that funds the growth of Sydney Beer Week.
Otherwise, the likes of Wayward, Batch, Young Henrys and so on are establishing themselves as real players in the Sydney beer scene with every passing year. The quality of their production goes from strength to strength and it’s putting them in a different category to a number of breweries in the city.
While these brands are getting into more venues and bottleshops, there are other breweries hot on their heels, gunning for the same spaces. At the other end of the spectrum there are smaller producers somewhat content with serving a smaller population.
These echelons are starting to form in our local beer scene and it’s something which will be interesting to watch unfold, particularly on the back of recent acquisitions and an influx of international and interstate brands.
A Healthy Local Beer Scene
Sydney Beer Week 2017 showed that we have a pretty healthy local beer scene. There are still areas where we can develop as a beer city and as a beer culture but we’re on the right track. The festival is doing its bit to encourage that growth.
Plenty happened throughout Sydney Beer Week 2017. Leave a comment below with your experiences and observations.
If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at some photo highlights from Sydney Beer Week 2017.