Hopsters Co-op Brewery is set to open a taproom in Sydney’s Inner West.
The co-operative of 580 members has been working on plans for the taproom in the suburb of Enmore for a number of years, having been founded in 2016 by Marco Vargas.
Its direction has changed since then, with new members coming in, bringing new ideas, and with them, a chance at a venue of its own.
Maya Engelbrecht, chair of Hopsters, who shares the board of directors with eight other members, said that the taproom was a natural progression for the co-operative, which currently contract brews.
“We were looking for a place to give our brewery a home,” she explained.
“We weren’t sure which direction we were going to take, if we were just going for a straight up commercial brewery with a taproom, or if we want to go a different route and have a taproom, with a focus on front of house.”
She explained that it made sense for Hopsters to go down the taproom route initially, for a number of reasons.
“Looking at our cash projections and flows and talking to people in the market, it is easier as a startup to have a taproom rather than going straight for a commercial brewery,” she said.
“We’re member focused, so if you’re trying to grow your member base and you are a member-owner and want to show off to your friends, you want to take them to a nice place, sit down, have a chat. So we decided on the taproom route, and signed the lease at 198 Enmore Road.”
The taproom has been fully self-funded by the members.
“We signed a lease in August 2017 and it’s taken us a while to get up and running, mainly because we we’re self-funded,” explained Engelbrecht.
“We’re getting money from members rather than going to a financial institution, where loan options are often unfavourable.”
When it was founded in 2016, the aim was to attract 5,000 members, but the way the co-operative funds itself has changed along with its membership.
“We started doing renovations but we had to put them on hold, we didn’t have enough funding from offering incentives for additional shares, that’s when we started on short term loans.
“We’ve had a number of funding drives, then finally we went on to loan agreements.
“Short term loans in the form of unsecured notes or debentures…the interest was phenomenal.”
Engelbrecht explained that they had investigated equity crowdfunding, but it wasn’t an option for the company because of its structure.
“We looked into that a lot I can tell you. It wasn’t an opportunity available to us – firstly it’s not available to a co-operative as legislation hasn’t been passed to allow a share offering.”
She said the nature of equity crowdfunding also put the team off.
“I signed up to a couple of these things and after the initial share offering, all I get is event invitations…which is nice but there’s only one level of involvement.”
Engelbrecht explained that the model they have allowed direct involvement in the growth of the brewery from the people who invest.
“There’s nothing that brings people together more than giving them an opportunity to help,” she said.
“As soon as they do something they really feel like they are part of it, own it, and it’s theirs.
“A lot of our members are chipping in to paint the floors, do the furnishings, we are trying to rely on the community nature of our operation, and people are really coming to the party.
“It’s such a great community and they all belong out of passion. They have their own commercial ventures but they want to be part of the co-operative, because it’s about the people…and about the beer.”
Indeed Engelbrecht works in IT, while there are also lawyers, doctors, accountants, firefighters, builders and carpenters amongst Hopsters’ members.
When it comes to the beer, the Hopsters team contract brew at a number of locations, and will be doing so for the foreseeable future, with a view to looking into a production brewery if the taproom proves successful.
With many owner-members being homebrewers (about 50 per cent Engelbrecht estimated) a brewing committee was set up to develop and scale up recipes with help from partner breweries.
They have a number of beers already in their core range, including a Lamington Stout, Passionfruit Sorbet, a Pale Ale, an IPA, an Oatmeal Stout, and an Extra Special Bitter.
Currently, 75 per cent of Hopsters beer is sold in cans to members and online, with another 25 per cent in kegs to sell wholesale, but this will inevitably change as they focus on supplying the taproom.
It will be open in the first half of the year, following final inspections from the Inner West Council and a certificate from Sydney Water.
“It’s taken a lot to get things going when you work 9-6, but it’s a passion,” Engelbrecht said.
“Once we open the taproom we have another source of revenue, and we’ll need to start looking more broadly at what we can do in a commercial perspective in terms of production… and once you’ve got one taproom why not two or three?
“We’re a well glued, oiled machine right now, and doing things in leaps and bounds.”
The Hopsters taproom will be opening at 198 Enmore Rd, Enmore, NSW, 2042 later this year.
The co-operative is open to all members, and more information can be found here.