Four independent Tasmanian brewers have teamed up to partner with the 31-year-old Taste of Tasmania Festival in Hobart, a beer partnership deal which has long been held by mainstream brewers Lion or CUB.
The four indie brewers have pooled their resources to match the sponsorship of the big brewers.
Parnell said that the festival has in years past been heavily focused on local producers – except for when it came to the beer.
Traditionally held by Lion-owned Boags or CUB-owned Cascade Brewery, the sponsorship covers the main beer offering for the festival, which runs from 28th December 2019 to 3rd January, alongside the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
“That’s what in recent years we’ve been chipping away at.
“Yes, we’ll never have that same level of commercial clout [as the mainstream brewers] and we get that, but beyond that high street tap point, there are other areas we can compete with big beer, and that includes at festivals and major events,” Parnell explained.
“[Events have] traditionally been sponsored by big beer and there are plenty of examples of independents being locked out or not allowed to compete, and we’re showing that we can compete with big beer by collaborating.”
Parnell said that Tasmania’s other breweries will be welcome at this year’s Taste of Tasmania, and will have stalls throughout the festival. He suggested that in future, more brewers could get involved too.
“We knew if we tried to get everyone on board it would be too hard [initially]. We want a model in place that would work in the future for everyone,” he explained.
“We [the four brewers] all had a tight-knit history which made it natural to come together for this.
“It’s only part of the festival we’ve got exclusive arrangements for, with other brewers doing their own stalls. That was a stipulation we had, because we didn’t want to lock them out.”
He said that the festival was a way to showcase Tasmanian brewing talent.
“The reality is that independent beer is still only 5 or 6 per cent of the market, but in Tasmania it’s accelerating faster, although from a lower base.
“We still had to build the business case for it, but [the festival directors] have seen our capabilities and have been more than willing to negotiate and work with us.”
Taste of Tasmania festival director Brooke Webb, who has been at the helm since 2017, has previously worked as a festival producer at the Sydney Opera House and artistic director at the Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group in the US.
She said that it was a natural decision for the festival to get the local brewers on board.
“[The brewers are] such awesome guys and they took such a leap of faith in committing to this partnership. I don’t think we’ve ever done anything like this before and it’s exactly the direction we wanted to take this in.
“What’s so great about Tasmania is that it’s a big community of conscious eaters and drinkers. So knowing where the beer comes from, knowing the people that make the beer and knowing it’s supporting the local community down here, that’s important, and made it natural [to bring the brewers on board].”
She said the festival organisers wanted to focus on everything local, which was why it made sense to get the indie brewers involved, over the usual suspects.
“The audience at the Taste is so diverse – our audience is 65 per cent Tasmanian and 35 per cent from overseas. We want to showcase all the current food and beverage options this year, and we constantly change it with a whole team of curators.”
When it comes to the beer, the brewers and festival organisers aren’t expecting visitors to go for milkshake IPAs or kettle sours straight away.
“It’s a reality that people like [beer from the big brewers] and we have a responsibility to also cater to our audience,” said Webb. “[But] this year we’re really showing them the independent side and how it matches up, if not exceeds their own expectations and knowledge of what is in their hometown.”
Parnell said that even though Tasmanian tastes might still lean towards the mainstream end of the spectrum, the nature of craft beer means there will be something for everyone.
“The market gets it that things have changed and they might have to search a bit for something that’s right for them.
“That‘s what we’ll make clear at the festival. That it’s not all heavy, complicated craft beer. We’ve got 250,000 people that might want a clean lager or ale and that’s what we’ll be catering for, as well as pleasing the craft beer drinkers,” he said.
Webb finished by saying that it was the devotion of local brewers to their products that was really in the spirit of the Taste of Tasmania festival.
“We want to celebrate the local brewers down here – it’s becoming a much bigger industry, and they’re so passionate and dedicated to what they do,” she said.
“That inspires us and I can’t even say how proud we are to be working with them.”