Six String Brewing began like any other brewery. Inspired by years of homebrewing and a ‘real ale’ trip through the UK, Chris Benson approached his friend Adam Klasterka in 2009 with the idea of opening up a craft-minded brewery on the NSW central coast. They hoped to bring to the vibrant community an intimate ‘third place’ getaway between home and work where people can hang out with friends and enjoy good beer.
With the passion, interest and business plan locked in, Benson and Klasterka were then set on a path fraught with difficulty, and have suffered more than their fair share of setbacks in the past three years.
After a brief scout on a location that turned out to be too small for their needs, Benson and Klasterka locked themselves into a lease on a warehouse previously earmarked for a brewery in late 2010. A brewhouse was ordered from the USA, and the development for the site seemed to be progressing — it had previously been given the all-clear for beer production — until the body corporation passed a by-law prohibiting on-site sale of alcohol, which not only dashed the start-up hopes but set them back the full cost of a three-year lease on a site they would never use.
Fast forward to this year, and the two finally found a suitable site, in the light industrial area of Erina. The council and town planner were on board with their proposal, so they lodged the Development Application. Following the DA being advertised in the local news, they now find the brewery being hindered by local residents, who argue that the location is inappropriate, and that the premise is unnecessary in an area already swollen with bars and clubs.
While negotiations and objections such as this are to be expected in most new business ventures, one can deduce from the emotive language of the objectors that the opposition is not simply about noise complaints or even alcohol but more prominently about beer itself, with the familiar stereotype of beer-bellied yobbos competing in sculling competitions acting as a convenient pariah. Six String brewing faces a twin fight of community resistance to change and the struggle to overcome beer’s negative brand image.
“I think the wider public associate beer with trouble and can tend to stereotype people who drink it,” Klasterka says.
“Although this only holds true if they have not been exposed to the craft beer revolution.”
It is simpler to over-indulge in a drink where flavours are subdued and minimal, and certainly the general perception of beer is of just such a drink. Despite the fact that most craft beer ramps up the volume on flavour, and is sold at a premium price due to higher overheads on small-scale production, the over-indulgence objection seems to carry more weight with beer than it would with other alcoholic drinks.
Klasterka points to the fact that there are other businesses producing alcoholic beverages in the local vicinity, although those businesses (a winery and a distillery) are not doubling as consumption venues, and there are also plenty of bar options within a few kilometres of the proposed Six String site.
While I’m obviously a biased advocate for good beer, I still feel like the chug-a-lot beer brand makes it easy to demonise beer-exclusive brewpubs, while larger bars with subsidised tap contracts stock alco-pops to the hilt yet go largely unchecked.
Klasterka and Benson have corresponded with their opponents via email and letters to try and allay such fears, but the community has been mobilised, with sufficient objections raised to put the DA before a town meeting of Gosford City Council. This sets back opening plans by a few more months, with the boys having to start weighing other options, depending on how the town meeting goes.
“Best case scenario,” Klasterka says. “[We will start production] late 2012, early 2013.”
And the worst case scenario?
“Scrape ourselves off the floor and keep looking for a suitable location, be that outside of the Coast if need be.”
While lovers of good beer continue to hold their breath, the sobering fact remains that objections such as these will continue to plague craft beer start-ups, in part due to sometimes reasonable opposition on grounds of noise, odour and increased traffic, but also due to unfortunately persistent imagery of late-night, raucous amber-streaked binges that may not always hold true.
“Our aim is to create a small space in which to produce high quality ales, and a safe, friendly, intimate and comfortable environment in which to enjoy them,” Klasterka says.
“We do not want a pub or hotel-like venue in which people drink to excess with the aim of getting drunk. Our customers will come to appreciate great flavours and great company.”
Noble intentions, certainly, but it will be a tall order for these two beer lovers to prove that their noble intentions are not just paving stones on the proverbial road to Hell.