Brisbane’s Helios Brewing Company marked its first six months of trading this weekend, with the founders celebrating their successes and acknowledging the obstacles they’ve had to overcome.
Helios founders Scott Shomer, Tony Rutter, and Jayne Rutter are all environments specialists, and share a passion for sustainability. They custom designed Helios’ brewing equipment and processes using solar-powered technology, to maximise water efficiency and energy, and minimise waste and their carbon footprint.
The task of building, opening, and running a brewery involved a number of challenges to take them out of their comfort zone. In a blog post celebrating their first half year in business, Jayne noted that the whole process had been a steep learning curve.
“Over the past six months we have learnt so much about running a business, brewing beer, wholesale sales, marketing, customer service, council approval processes, certifications. The list goes on,” Jayne said.
Difficulties began in the development and approval stages of opening the brewery.
“I went back and forth for 16 months with City Council before they approved my development application,” Scott said.
“And that’s compared to two months for BrewDog. When you’re paying for property during that time, all the fees month after month… it gets kind of expensive.”
“And it was silly stuff. We argued for four months about trash cans. We argued for two months about the width of the driveway.”
“They said it had to be half a metre wider to get a full-size garbage truck in… [even though] we’re a sustainable company, and we don’t generate that much waste, and don’t need that truck.”
Another struggle was in customising their equipment.
“We’ve tried to do everything slightly differently to be more sustainable, and use less water and electricity. We sat down with each of the providers and said, ‘I know you’ve got this gear… but here’s what we want it to do.’ That took some time to get right. We had to work out some kinks.”
It’s not unusual for new breweries to face unexpected obstacles. Fortunately, some aspects did go according to plan. The amount they budgeted for the building and opening of the brewery was an accurate prediction.
“[Costs] like the steam boiler we massively underestimated. But some things went under, some things went over, and in the end, we ended up right in the ballpark of where we thought we’d be.”
The owners are also satisfied with the quality of their beer, which they credit to their experienced head brewer Charlie Hodgson, formerly of Gage Roads and Mash Brewing.
“He’s older than any of the other brewers we interviewed, and with that comes a certain amount of maturity. He hasn’t taken a wrong step yet.”
“As a new brewery, at five months, we went through our line-up to decide what to send to the national competition,” Scott said.
“I have a BJCP certification, so I took off my proud owner’s hat, and analysed every one of our beers. And I’m so proud of what we’re doing. It stands out.”
However, good beer isn’t the only requirement for a successful brewery. Moving forward, the Helios team is looking at the challenge of marketing and selling their beer in a busy market.
“We can produce awesome beer. But now I’m trying to learn the tricks of the trade in sales.
“Both myself and my two partners were scientists. None of us are salespeople, or marketing people.”
“It’s hard not to look at [other breweries] and think, hey, why don’t we have a sales team and marketing team.”
“We’ll get there. But not at six months.”
Meanwhile the Helios team are finding themselves in the struggle of figuring out work-life balance, as all small business owners experience. Scott and Charlie are Helios’ only two full-time employees, with Jayne and Tony continuing to work their other jobs, at least for the time being.
“We’re all learning how to juggle family life and brewery life,” says Jayne. “You’ve got to put in the hard yards while you’re trying to build a customer base, and earn a good income from the brewery.”
The cellar door at Helios doesn’t yet have any dedicated bar staff, but is run by the three owners and Charlie.
“It’s completely different to anything we’ve ever done. But everyone is so lovely and understanding. They see the realness of us. They know we’re not bar guys. We’re the owners.”
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.