It has been an overwhelming year for Alice Springs Brewing Co, dealing with growing demand for the young brewery’s beer, the Northern Territory’s complex liquor laws, and the challenges of getting resources and ingredients to one of Australia’s most remote towns.
The brewery is one of three located in the Northern Territory and was the first to be located in Alice Springs. when it opened in 2018.
It’s been a steep learning curve for co-founder Kyle Pearson and his team, as the brewery was faced with huge demand for fresh beer which hadn’t been stuck on trucks or warehouses for months.
He said that one of the first things he and his team realised was that their brewhouse design was not going to suffice long term.
“It became evident to us about three months in that we could not sustain the business we were doing on our existing equipment,” Pearson said.
“We were continually exceeding our own budget targets by 250 per cent and whilst it was a good problem to have, it was still a massive problem.
“We added more equipment in our kitchen and almost doubled our fermenting space.”
Complex liquor laws and licensing
Apart from keeping up with demand, Alice Springs Brewing was faced with the complexities of the Northern Territory’s liquor laws.
Partially as a result of these regulations, brewing is a relatively new trend in the NT, and working through laws and licensing can be a tedious process for newcomers.
“We started our brewery and hospitality operation under a liquor act that was older than me, and there certainly wasn’t provisions for a brewery, brewpub, small bar or wholesaler in there.
“We were the first new licence for Alice Springs under the newly established NT Liquor Commission and whilst I think overall the Commission was fair on our application, it is a massive process and one that could potentially deter more people from entering the industry.”
The brewpub has maintained a wholesale licence since opening, which has allowed the team to sell their brews to local venues.
“Whilst we have a wholesale licence our focus has been to ensure our venue is in good supply.
“We know this has frustrated some of our customers from time to time and even after our best efforts we have run short of beer on a few occasions.
“The good news is, with our recent fermenter addition we can offer steady supply of our core range beers to our wholesale customers and still keep up the supply to the taps in our bar as well.”
When it comes to resourcing for the brewery, Pearson explained that whilst governing bodies are generally supportive there are some frustrations.
“Water is in good supply in Alice however as far as brewing goes, it is shithouse,” Pearson said.
“We did come up with a solution to treat the water, however we knew it would produce a large amount of waste and being in the desert it didn’t sit well with us to do this.
“We ended up finding a solution to treat the waste water and use it on our gardens, cutting down on the water we were using to keep up both our veggies and gardens,” Pearson explained.
Being a remote brewery has also meant that the team have to get all resources and ingredients shipped further than most.
“I could launch into a lengthy debate about our perils with freight, however realistically it comes with the Territory, (pun intended),” Pearson said.
Even access to basic telecoms like phone and internet connection proves to be a bit tougher in NT, with connection issues and a limited number of providers, he said.
Alice Springs’ craft beer community
Whilst there was a lot of unknown in being the first brewery in Alice Springs, Pearson had a lot of history working in the town, and said he believed that Alice Springs traditionally led the market for craft beer in the Territory.
“I spent 6 years working for one of the big beer companies in sales in Alice, and ten years ago you would have struggled to find a tap of craft here anywhere” Pearson said.
“Given my background in the NT market, I knew the demographics well and our focus remains around producing easy drinking beers suitable for this climate. We are lucky however that there is also a growing demand for hop-forward and emerging styles and trends.
“It’s great to see a number of venues in Alice now supporting independent breweries from all over Australia and the different styles of beer on offer are amazing.”
Pearson explained when it comes to customers, the brewery had just had one of the best tourist seasons, potentially due to the news of closures for the Uluru climb and Lake Eyre.
The brewery is also located within walking distance of three major caravan parks which means there are good tourist numbers during peak seasons.
While the brewery enjoys having support from both avenues, Pearson said they choose to keep a large focus on the local people, given that they receive support from them year round.
“We do our best to do everything with local businesses and suppliers. We have had great support from a number of local businesses and business people and we are truly thankful for this.
“We have plans to do a collab brew with Beaver Brewery in Darwin which is just 1,500 kilometres down the road, however we need to find some time.”
When it comes to future plans Pearson said that they have plans to add more fermenter space and eventually upgrade the brewhouse.
“We are hoping to release our first packaged line by Christmas and we also are planning to expand our hospitality operation.”
Looking back, Pearson said, he only wishes that he had invested more in the brewery in the beginning.
“There was a lot of unknown in opening the first brewery in Alice Springs in modern times and well, hindsight is a beautiful thing.
“I am so thankful to have such a great team of staff around me, who are all close friends and family.
“I’m a big believer in “you are only as good as the people around you” and I believe this is the reason why we have been successful to date and will continue to be in the future,” Pearson finished.