A Queensland bowls club has invested in indie beer and turned the fortunes of the club around.
Ahead of Indie Beer Day when beer fans across the country celebrate their favourite independent brewers, Wellers Hill Bowls Club in the Brisbane suburb of Tarragindi is transforming itself into a bastion of independent beer.
Ben Madsen, treasurer of the Bowls Club which was founded in 1962, has been helping the volunteer team bring indie beer in. He told Brews News that until this year, the club had only had a tap of Ballistic Beer Co. beer, whilst Erdinger, Carlton Mid and XXXX were the usual fare for bowls club members.
“I’ve always liked craft beer, I really liked the Ballistic Pale and asked if we could start looking at more beers like that. A rep came in and said we’ve got all these other beers, and I said fantastic, let’s do it,” Madsen explained.
“Now we have 10 taps of independent beer on at any time.
“The guys [at Wellers Hill] trusted me a bit with it to see how we go, and we’ve had four record weekends in a row now. We’re getting smashed.”
Part of the attraction of their new beer lineup was the local links to the brewers, explained Madsen.
“Now’s the time – everyone wants to support local. There’s nothing like this in the area, Wellers Hill is an affluent, family-orientated community suburb.
“We wanted to get our name out as many people never knew we were here and they heard about us [doing indie beer] after we drummed up a bit of interest.
“Ballistic and Slipstream are our local guys who are a stone’s throw, they are the basic beers on kegs and taps which are always going to be there. We want to always have those local guys and flip in other beers.”
The club already has taps of Black Hops, Revel, Semi-Pro, and Brendale Brewing Co. beers, as well as brews from Mr Banks and Deeds Brewing as representatives from further afield, and the new beers on tap have worked at bringing new people into the club who may not have even known it was there before, said Madsen.
“Now we’re getting 60 people instead of a handful.
“We’re starting to see people who have come down who like craft beer and they tend to come twice a weekend and they used to bowl at a different club.”
While bowls clubs have been known to dabble in craft beer especially as pokies prove to be either unsustainable or unattractive to family-friendly atmospheres, it was a new realm for Wellers Hill. The club still has the option of imported Erdinger and some packaged CUB and Lion beers for the diehard mainstream beer fans, but Madsen explained that the move to craft beer has been an easy transition for visitors and members.
“They might have paid $5 or $6 for a XXXX stubby previously but are quite happy to spend much more on a schooner of something good,” he said.
“The Passionfruit Brut IPA from Ballistic, you should have seen the old boys loving it. They try everything I bring in – even the G Force IPA from Slipstream or the Salted Caramel Brown Ale from Semi-Pro.”
Anyone that has worked at local sports clubs will know the difficulties in making enough money to stay afloat, and how an enterprise needs investment and innovation to prevent decline. Madsen said this was the same at Wellers Hill Bowls Club.
“Our club is only staffed by volunteers and it was getting maybe $1,000 in revenue a week just from club members,” he said.
“We’re not-for-profit and we want to keep ourselves running on a community council lease, so when we’re selling beers, we’re selling cheaper than anywhere else – we have a 10 per cent discount for members.”
They made the move to independent after years spent sourcing their alcohol piecemeal, rather than moving from a tap contract with the big brewers.
“We didn’t have to talk to Lion and get out of a clause because the beers we were getting in we weren’t even getting from them, we went to a pub up the road and were going to Dan Murphy’s and buying beer and wine from there.”
As the bowls club grows, Madsen said the independent brewers were helping them professionalise with their marketing too.
He said the Founders First Indie Craft Collective helped them out with new uniforms and other marketing materials in exchange for a percentage of taps, which has helped them promote themselves. They have also ramped up their social media and local community presence.
“From where we were, we didn’t have people in the club on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon necessarily, but when we had a big launch with ten taps, it went fantastic. I couldn’t believe it,” Madsen said.
“On the weekends if it was a good weekend we might do $2,000 and we did $5,000, $7,000 and another $5,000 over the last three weeks.
“It’s been hard because we’ve been smashed though – I poured beer for 5 hours straight, washing and cooling glasses, trying to find pint glasses. But it’s been good, hopefully we’ve not bitten off more than we can chew!”
Radio Brews News recently spoke with new IBA general manager Kylie Lethbridge about independence and tap contracts, including her own experiences owning a country pub.