While beer consumption has been falling since the 1970s, Australian’s demand for quality is higher than ever with a record 150 breweries brewing craft beer across the country, but how local are our favourite craft beers?
A CHOICE review of the beer market has found it dominated by the Japanese-owned Lion and London-headquartered SABMiller, with claims it is hard for independent brewers to get a fair go on the pub taps.
The news comes following reports that the ACCC’s is investing the supply of beer to Australia's pub industry to determine whether brewers are resorting to anti-competitive tactics that lock out rival beer brands.
“There’s big money to be made from craft beer with Kirin/Lion and SABmiller/Fosters currently accounting for 47% of the ‘craft beer’. Major brewers dominate the taps with most publicans having contracts with the major brewers.
However, if you’re looking for an Australian owned craft beer this Australia Day you can cross out many beers you may have considered to be Aussie craft including:
Alehouse Summer Gold (Coca Cola Amatil),
Little Creatures (Kirin)
James Squire (Kirin)
White Rabbit (Kirin)
Fat Yak (SABMiller)
Matilda Bay (SABMiller); and
Coopers remains the largest Australian-owned brewer retaining only 3.5% of the market share.
By definition a craft brewery is a brewery that produces a limited amount of beer and The Australian Craft Brewers association thinks a craft beer is independent, traditional and 100% Australian owned, with no ownership or control by a major brewer. This hasn’t stopped Coles and Woolworth’s recently entering the craft beer market with Steamrail Ale (Coles) and Sail and Anchor (Woolworths).
Steamrail ale comes from the ‘Steamrail brewing company’ with colonial themed branding and the line ‘there’s a story behind every great beer and that's never been truer than with the new beer range from the Steamrail Brewing Company.’ Clever marketing, but is it craft? Coles has declined to comment. Gage Roads signed a three-year supply deal with Woolworths, producing private label beer for the supermarket.
“There’s big money to be made in craft beer with the demand for a premium taste. Consumers are happy to pay for this. Gone are the days where ‘a hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer’. There’s no ‘treating strains or fixing trains’. Instead there’s the quest for premium taste with an array of pilsners, pale ales and stouts, or beer infused with flavours like coffee, chocolate, truffles and even oysters!,” says CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godrey.
With the Australian brewing industry one of the most profitable in the world, placement on pub taps is in hot demand. The Australian Real Craft Beer Association claims that major brewers control the taps through their ability to offer publicans contracts with kickbacks such as rebates or installation and maintenance of lines and taps by brewery. They say that often smaller breweries are unable to compete with these services, with tap real estate shrinking to one or two ‘floating taps’ allocated to craft brewers.
“It’s up to the consumer to decide what is important to them when it comes to drinking craft beer. If it’s a premium taste from a large brewery, that’s okay. If it’s integral you’re supporting an Australian owned microbrewery, find out who owns the brand you’re drinking.”
“This Australia day, if you’re ordering a craft beer at your local, consider where the appeal lies. Is it clever bespoke branding, a fantastic taste or a desire to support Australian craft?”
Tom Godfrey – 0430 172 669
To read more on CHOICE tests, reviews and campaigns, go to choice.com.au