Byron Bay Brewery has begun the era of Lion ownership with the introduction of three new lagers and a revitalised hospitality offering.
The brewery re-opened last month having retained its head brewer from the previous ownership, Alastair Gillespie, with Malt Shovel head brewer Chris Sheehan providing additional oversight.
“From a career perspective I’m so stoked to have support from other brewers, because although I’ve got a dream job up here, the one thing is I felt a little bit isolated,” Gillespie told Australian Brews News.
New in the Byron Bay range are The Hazy One (Cloudy Pale Lager), The Bold One (India Pale Lager) and The Rosy One (Mid-Strength Red Lager).
Sheehan said Lion had spied a gap in the market for craft lagers, which he believes will play well in the brewery’s home market of northern NSW and south east Queensland.
But the beers have not been dumbed down by any stretch, offering flavour intensity and complexity that Sheehan hopes will challenge drinkers’ perceptions of lager.
“We wanted to make some lagers that would sit alongside a Pale Ale or an IPA and a lot of people wouldn’t know the difference,” he said.
“We also wanted a range that would appeal to everybody: A bit of ‘gateway’ and a bit of beer nerd and a bit in between.”
The three new beers join two survivors from the previous regime – a Pale Ale and an IPA – rebranded respectively as The Pale One and The Lively One.
The Dark One (Dark Lager) will be added next year, making it four lagers out of a range of six beers.
If the Byron Bay beers are ever to be brewed and/or packaged at a second location, as has long been the case for James Squire and Kosciuszko, it will have to be deftly handled – at least moreso than last time.
The previous owner’s move to license the brand to CUB, so that it traded on Byron Bay provenance while being covertly produced elsewhere, tarnished its image with locals.
Given this chequered history and the brand’s tiny scale, its appeal to Lion was perplexing for some.
There are surely easier towns in Australia for a multinational brewer to slot in than Byron, whose residents are renowned for their localism and hostility towards big business, famously blocking the entries of brands such as McDonald’s, KFC and Dan Murphy’s.
But Lion has clearly been very mindful of all these sensitivities. For the foreseeable future, all the beers are most certainly being brewed on-site in Byron, where the restaurant menu loudly declares its support of local producers.
External distribution has begun slowly and carefully, with pourage currently limited to just six other Lion customers between Byron and the Gold Coast.
“I believe we’re at the start of something great here, we have the opportunity to almost build from the ground up,” Gillespie said.
“We’ve got a new opportunity to gain confidence from the community. The customer service at the restaurant is remarkable – those kind of things really give some confidence in the brand. I’m excited to see how it snowballs.”
Hospitality expertise gleaned from the Little Creatures business has been deployed at the newly refurbished Byron Bay Brewery, where the food and service was impressive during our media visit last week.
By delivering an exceptional experience for visitors, Lion hopes to replicate some of the success of Kosciuszko Pale Ale, which has been driven by Snowy Mountains tourists revisiting “The Spirit of Kosciuszko” on their return home.
Reviving the spirit of Byron Bay Brewery will require a long maturation process, much moreso than the production of its four lagers.
But new owner Lion has repeatedly shown it is patient and meticulous in nurturing small brands.
James Atkinson was a guest of Byron Bay Brewery.
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