It’s concerning that small, independent brewers are starting to employ the big brewery tactics of locking up taps, says Hawkers Beer co-founder Mazen Hajjar.
All brewers large or small should have equal and fair access to the market, Hajjar told Australian Brews News.
“The reason I am such an advocate of market access is it is healthy for everybody,” he said.
“It keeps the consumer interested because we keep them interested in new products, new guys, new stories happening all the time.
“And it is important for craft beer because competition helps us improve the quality of our production and the quality of our offering, and actually forces us to be responsive to market forces, improving our efficiency and reducing our costs.”
Hajjar said market access in Australia is already badly constrained by the big brewers’ tap contracts, which are currently the subject of an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
As such, he hopes the recent trend towards independent brewers buying taps does not become commonplace.
“There’s quite a few bars that I can name that have recently started, who’ve basically said, ‘sure, we can give you a permanent placement, if you pay an $X amount’,” he said.
“That’s not very healthy for two reasons. First, we’re legitimising what the big guys do… If the ACCC is looking at contract taps, do you really want to be contract tapping yourself?” he asked.
“We have to have the moral high ground here. If you are going to preach ‘no sex before marriage’, you’d better be a virgin.
“But also, we’re locking out the small guy. This industry thrives on the little guy, we need the little guys. They are the people who are driving innovation and creativity,” said Hajjar.
“If I lock a tap and someone else locks a tap and someone else locks a tap and ten of us lock a tap, all of a sudden, that venue will no longer be able to offer some of the small guys a tap, or offer the variety that the consumer’s demanding.”
Hajjar said fees of up to $3500 to purchase a tap are not unheard of, and the brewers who pay up will inevitably have to put their fastest selling beer on in order to recoup their investment.
“What you end up with is a standard tap list everywhere you go, which is just paying lip service to craft beer,” he said.
He stressed that he is just “raising a little red flag” in the hope that the industry considers the direction it is heading in.
“I love craft beer and I’m very passionate about getting craft beer into the hands of every consumer,” he said.
“I see the potential in this developing to be a problem, if we’re not aware of it in the early days.”
Mazen Hajjar also spoke to Radio Brews News recently. You can listen to that interview here.