WA brewers have voiced their disappointment at the announcement that Pirate Life would feature heavily at this year’s South West Craft Beer Festival, normally reserved for local brewers only.
The festival, which excludes Western Australian brewers who are not from the South West region, is set to be held this weekend. WA brewers featuring on the lineup include Artisan, Beerfarm, Bootleg, Cheeky Monkey, Bush Shack, Colonial and Rocky Ridge.
The last minute announcement that Pirate Life would be running the One Off Tasting Bar with “8 new one-off beers” was made publicly on Tuesday 4th February, just under two weeks before the event date.
Festival organisers said that they would be bringing “local legend” WA native Jared “Red” Proudfoot from Pirate Life back, making the SW connection.
The festival’s website advises that there will be more than 120 beers available from “20+ local brewers” and that it is “the perfect opportunity to sip and savour the best golden nectar the South West has to offer”.
Brendan Day, Vice President at the Western Australian Brewers Association, explained that sentiment from brewers he had spoken to was that it wasn’t Pirate Life’s involvement specifically, but how it had been introduced that was causing issues.
“While we’re disappointed at the inclusion of a brewery that’s not located in the South West taking the center bar, our disappointment doesn’t lie with Pirate Life, just that it detracts from the message of being a celebration of South West beer.
“It’s not as black and white as it appears, because I do believe [the festival organisers] tried to do the right thing, but South West breweries have been led to believe up until this point that it was a South West festival,” Day said.
“As brewers, we invest within the festival, bring in extra staff, develop limited editions, invest in the festival to build it up, and did it all under the impression it was for the local breweries and promoting them.
“Perth breweries were certainly upset at the decision. They’ll have stronger links [to the region] and considering Perth breweries have been trying to get involved for a while, that’s where the disappointment comes from.
“I believe the South West Craft Beer Fest had a unique selling point of being a celebration of South West breweries who were born from a wine region and are now absolutely crushing it with a breadth of world-class quality and styles. So is Pirate Life’s involvement contributing to it and celebrating it, or is it taking away from it?”
He said that if perhaps a different approach had been taken with a little more lead time, there might be less resistance in the industry to the inclusion.
“If they had more time to plan, and collaborate, because Pirate Life are obviously opening up in Perth and will be counted as a WA brewer, it would have built that atmosphere of being a legitimate contributor. It builds a more positive link.”
He said the South West was also a special case because of its location.
“There are plenty of festivals that bring in out-of-state brewers, but this is a unique one. That was its selling point.
“The breweries are quite spread out, the South West is a big area. There’s no other time these guys get together to do something like this. The inclusion of Pirate Life in the way that they’ve been included takes away from the show piece.
“We believe there are a number of festivals who do a great job of creating a space of including national and international breweries and the south west breweries enjoyed championing a festival that represents the region.”
Jack Rogers, event manager of the festival and event co-ordinator at Buzz Marketing, said that the decision to include Pirate Life had “not been made lightly”.
“Over the past 4 years the One Off Bar has basically outgrown itself to the point where most of our brewers attending now have a range of One Off brews they will serve up at their own tents. Having previously been a promotional tool for what is new (the basis of any festival) we now felt we needed a new angle to try and make the festival of continuing interest year on year.
He acknowledged that the Buzz Marketing team knew Red from Pirate Life for many years, and said the opportunity arose to work with them on the One Off Bar, with Buzz approaching them, rather than the other way round, he said. They have paid an exhibitor fee for the bar, while no other South West breweries have ever paid an exhibitor fee, said Rogers.
Update: Brews News has been informed that while exhibitors do not pay an initial fee, the organisers take a 40% commission on each dollar taken.
“The link of Red to the south-west (and him returning to the region to run the bar) we thought a positive association, together with the idea that they bring 8 One Off brews to serve, and don’t serve any of the beers from their core range (Pale Ale, IPA, Mosaic, Port Lager etc).
“This ties them specifically to the One Off Bar and reduces the direct competition to the local brewers.
“The decision to include Pirate Life has been made for this year only which has been communicated to the local brewers in detail.”
Rogers explained that brewers had received notice of the deal in early February, on the deal was completed with Pirate Life.
“We acknowledge this was late but also out of our control. To date we have only had pushback from one brewer on Pirate Life coming and nobody else has raised a concern to me despite numerous phone conversations since the announcement,” he said.
Rogers explained that they had recognised that the events industry is “becoming more and more challenging” .
“We as promoters have to look at ways to change things up to keep the punters (and the brewers) enthused to attend our festival,” he said.
“The impact of our decision can only be reviewed after the event has run and as always we will take feedback from everyone (but especially the south-west brewers as we see them as having a major stakeholding).”
Rogers said that if the move was successful, it would “open up conversations for guest invitations to be extended to other brewers to attend future festivals, but we would still like there to be some association with the south-west (either being a brewer from the region or someone perhaps that has done collabs with one or two of the local brewers).”
However he said that if the inclusion of Pirate Life is deemed to be not successful, the organisers will go back to the drawing board for new ideas for 2021.
Any breweries who want to discuss the issue further should get in touch with Buzz Marketing, Rogers said.