While owners Rame Abdallah and his wife Anni along with brewer Charlie Tompson have industry experience, they freely admit they were counting on local support for their self-funded venture, and they received it.
“When we first opened, we consistently had a full house every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The response from locals and other local businesses was amazing from day one,” Rame said.
“We had staff parties and functions which became a huge part of our business which we hadn’t actually planned for, but due to space with a large beer garden out the back, it suited them.
“The locals were just loyal and passionate about our beer and brewery, we really became part of the community really quickly which is what we were after… and support from local bottle shops and Dan Murphy’s wanting to carry independent brands has also been part of our success too.”
COVID-19, however, hit soon after. The help of state and federal governments has been key to Braeside’s survival, and the recent difficulties surrounding grants have highlighted the need for support to keep businesses afloat in the longer term.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve applied for, it’s been good, but without JobKeeper and the grant we got, we might not be around,” explained Abdallah.
“Being only 4 months old [when COVID-19 landed], JobKeeper and the grants saved our skin, which is really good on that side of things, but the unknown of when things like JobKeeper goes back to normal and restrictions stay, who knows what will happen.”
Braeside has taken advantage of the Outdoor Dining and Entertainment grant.
“We weren’t eligible for many grants [being a new business] but we’ve got both the general and producers licence. The Outdoor Dining grant was probably just a little bit short of what it will cost to upgrade outside. We’ve spent $7,500, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“It’s going to be tough but we’re in a position where we’re small enough to move with whatever restrictions are made and that’s what we’ll bank on , we can adapt very quickly, which is what we’ve done from day one.”
Melbourne in lockdown
A series of Melbourne breweries opened around this time last year, including those of established beer brands Moon Dog, which opened its Preston venue and Bodriggy which launched in Abbotsford last year.
But for a brand with no previous following, this year could have been make or break.
An over-reliance on Melbourne locals could have proved an Achilles’ heel for the business, it actually aided in their move to bottle shops during COVID-19.
“During COVID the success we’ve had with our packaged beer has been a highlight. We didn’t want to go down that path in the first two or three years but because of COVID we had to do it. And we’ve done that and sold 30,000 litres of beer in 5-6 months.
“But this growth happened because of our locals. When the 5km rules hit, our regulars might have been coming after work and school drop-offs, they started asking bottle shops that were closer to their house for our beer.
“When I started visiting bottle shops, they knew who we were which helped the product.”
While it might not sound like a lot in comparison to the bigger players, for a brewery doing it completely from scratch on a 5hL brewhouse from Spark, it’s a huge achievement, and Braeside beers are now listed in 50 bottle shops.
“We initially thought if we could get to 20 by the end of the year that would be a success,” explained Rame.
Part of this success is down to a solid core range, and, like other breweries, keeping the hype alive through limiteds – sorely needed bright spots in the grey horizon of Melbourne lockdowns.
“The other thing this has highlighted is the success of the core range and our move into brewing limited edition beers.
“Our batch of limited release beers which were in large cans sold 50-60 per cent in 48 hours and we’re doing another canning run, we’ve sold 50 per cent in pre-order sales for bottle shops already. “
“Not only that, we’ve had to develop really quickly and that’s been really good for the head brewer and myself, coming up with ideas of what we can brew, the feedback from customers has improved every single time. We’ve never been happy with the status quo, especially being in such a competitive industry, but this has been good for our skills.”
What the pandemic has placed in stark relief is the amount of beer out there, but Abdallah said he wasn’t concerned about the saturation of the market just yet, especially while pandemic restrictions remain.
“We’re the strictest in the world for lockdowns and other than food and drink, there’s not a lot to look forward to,” he said.
“You can indulge in other than quality food and drink, and people are happy to invest their hard-earned money into premium products,” Abdallah said.
However while habits have changed, the future economic conditions could look
“It’s going to be a double-edged sword. There will be people that have to tighten their belts, with JobKeeper dropped a couple of hundred dollars a month.
“But at the same time everyone needs a vice to enjoy life, while we have these restrictions, they want something to look forward to.”
Abdallah said that the support of local was key to their survival and that of other producers.
“The thing that’s really helping more than anything is that everyone is trying to support local, because supporting local keeps money in your area, city, state and creates more jobs.
“I think it’s [a trend that] started 12-24 months ago, but it was accelerated during COVID, in all aspects not just food and beverage but manufacturing and service too, which helps independent brewers like us.”
While Braeside’s first year wasn’t everything I’d hoped, the team remained positive.
“It’s definitely not what we expected but there’s no point in being miserable, we’re staying positive. The packaging side for us has blown our minds the success of it and that wouldn’t have happened without COVID. Once we do open, that’s another revenue stream that the business has.
“It’s kind of strange, it’s something no one ever thought they would experience, overcoming the hurdles in front of us.”
In celebration of its 1st birthday, Braeside is brewing a series of limited release beers, in addition to a Summer Kolsch added to the core range. The range includes a double dry-hopped pale ale, a west coast IPA, its 100-Day Pilsner and a Blueberry Muffin 7.4% abv sour.