In beer we often hear about the bold innovator who is willing to risk it all and throw caution to the wind. They go all out and sometimes, it pays off. Though inspiring, to me, it doesn’t ring true.
Real success for any business is based on an investment that progresses over time. It has a base in communities, relationships that are slowly built up and then solidified with commitment, passion and a little bit of fun.
The Grifter is a group of young men beginning that journey. Three friends whose shared passion for beer has lead them to take the first step down a very long road. They haven’t quit their jobs, they haven’t invested their life savings, but they are making the kind of progress that leads to success.
I decided to chat with Glenn from The Grifter to get an insight on what it’s like to start your own beer company, the challenges you face starting out in the beer industry and what their out look is like for the future.
Who is Grifter?
It’s Matt King, Trent Evan’s and myself (Glenn Wignall). Like a lot of people we got into doing this through home brewing. Matt and I have been home brew buddies for a while who got hooked after trying a couple kit and kilos a few years back and eventually worked our way up to all grain brewing. The 3 of us do everything. When I say everything I mean creating the recipes, brewing the beer, designing all the graphics and packaging and delivering the beer all outside our 9-5s and we love it.
How did you come to this point? What led up to you guys starting Grifter?
Well coming from a home-brewing background we got on the path of selling our beer after doing a couple of collaborative one off home-brews for Trent’s skateboard company. They were intended as Christmas gifts for his retail stockists but they became pretty popular and people started asking where to buy it from and bars even contacted us about stocking them. We were a bit shocked but I guess it sparked the idea of getting our license for any future projects.
We always thought about how cool it would be to brew on a commercial brew house and I had offered at a couple local micros to help out for free on weekends but nothing came of it. Then I met Richard Adamson at a beer tasting one night just as he was getting ready to open Young Henry’s. He mentioned the possibility of doing some contract brewing with him when they opened and we jumped at it. Matt had just finished doing a month’s work experience at a brewery up North also so it was pretty good timing. The deal breaker for us though was that we wanted to brew everything by ourselves and, luckily, Richard was willing to let us.
I saw the collaboration with Pass Port. What kind of reaction did you get from other brewers? Do you think marketing like this is important for microbreweries?
Not sure if many other brewers saw it to be honest? Probably none as it was targeted at skateboarders who like craft beer. Yeah I guess marketing is important to a degree but we don’t believe in going too far. We obviously love Australian craft beer and we see the energy and passion that these brewers put into their art, but it sucks that a lot of people don’t. I believe you shouldn’t have to trick someone into buying a beer with thousands of dollars worth of cunning advertisements. We reckon that walking into a bar and finding a handcrafted beer that was made around the corner is amazing, and shouldn’t require a fancy marketing strategy.
But in saying that we do have a brand direction and a certain feel we’re trying to convey which came directly from the three of us over a few beers. Luckily Trent is pretty savvy with the computer and our friend/local artist Mark Alsweiler does our paintings for us.
What is your planned beer range?
The plan is to make good honest craft beer that we, and hopefully others, enjoy. We’ve just released our first beer, which we’re describing as a ‘worldly’ pale ale in terms of flavour and ingredients. We’re always tinkering around with new recipes on our homebrew setup that we can scale up and at the moment we’re working on a smoked oatmeal stout and a Belgian red ale. It’s just a matter of seeing how it will work commercially. The basic premise for us is to create beers that are different, but remain highly drinkable. We also think that beer is best enjoyed with others, therefore all our beer’s will be named after people in the hopes that the beers become good friend.
What kind of bars are you looking at getting into at the moment?
We’re trying to focus on smaller venues in the inner Sydney region that already push craft beer. As most people know it’s pretty tough out there in terms of getting on taps and we only want to work with people who are of the same mentality when it comes to beer or any other locally made boutique product. We feel it’s important to be able to walk into a bar and find a beer that was made a short distance from the venue and bars that don’t understand that won’t be stocking our beer. Whether or not that is a good business strategy is another question but luckily for us, we all have day jobs.
Do you feel like it’s a very competitive market at the moment, even with the big players put to the side? Do you think out of town craft beer (particularly Victorian brewers) get more attention than local Sydney brewers?
You could be right there but I think that’s to do with there not being as many big breweries here. We don’t have any high profile craft breweries in Sydney yet, like Mountain Goat or Little Creatures that definitely seem to draw attention to the smaller guys in their respective cities.
Sydney is definitely on the come-up though I must say. There’s always been some great beer being made here but it’s more that venue owners and everyday punters are beginning to realize there’s a lot more to this beverage than they thought.
How did Grifter come together, what was the process?
A lot of our friends have their own little enterprises and we always talked about how good it would be to brew our beers for a wider audience. All the encouragement from friends and family amounted in us writing all our idea’s down and getting the necessary bits of paper. We were initially thinking about starting a bottle-shop or bar before the opportunity to brew came up. We just wanted to be involved in craft beer and this is how it panned out.
What is that process like, in terms of “getting those bits or paper”? Did you feel like it was a lot to go through or do you feel like it’s a fairly easy process that would encourage fairly easy entry to the market?
Well as we don’t own a brewery we didn’t have to deal with half the stuff others have had to endure. We applied and got approved for our liquor license, which was rather straightforward although it took awhile. If we were ever lucky enough to one day own our own brewery it would most likely be another story. The thought scares me.
I know you guys are brewing via contract at the new Young Henry’s brewery, what’s the relationship with them?
Well like I mentioned before we’re doing all our brewing out there in Newtown. Richard, Oscar and Ben have been super helpful with everything. It’s been a really good experience for us learning the ropes with Adamson, he’s got a lot of knowledge up his sleeve. We’re in there most weekends and some weekdays either brewing, filtering, kegging or cleaning. It’s a pretty fun place to hang out, nothing like brewing at 8am the morning with the stereo right up. Young Henry’s is a really positive thing for Sydney.
No business starts at its peak. Giving ear and paying attention to the young, aspiring brewers gives craft beer lovers a sense of the existing challenges that face those who are striving to grow the passion for beer in Australia.
One thing that I love about craft beer is that there is an emphasis on community. Grifter is a great example of that community in action and exemplifies what separates the craft from the business end of the industry.