Melbourne’s Kaiju Beer is using a state government grant to enable it to expand its production capacity.
The brewery, best known for its Kaiju Krush Tropical Pale Ale, applied to the Victorian Government’s Small-Scale and Craft Program last year, and the grant has enabled it to order an upgraded canning line to complement its investment in capacity.
Over the last 12 months, the brewery has grown with the installation of a custom-built 50hL brewhouse and an Alfa Laval Brew 250 Centrifuge.
Additional tanks and a Krones Craftmate canning line have now been ordered, the latter with the aid of the state government grant.
Once installed, they will bring Kaiju’s potential capacity well above the 1.5 million litres allowed by its current setup.
“It has been so crazy, there’s been so much going on [during COVID-19],” said Kaiju’s Callum Reeves.
“All of our volume transferred to cans from keg stock and volume didn’t decrease which is awesome, but it’s definitely put pressure on the production team.”
Priming for expansion
Kaiju invested in a 50hL brewkit from little-known Chinese manufacturer Ningbo Xingheyu Machinery at the end of last year, and since then the brewery’s focus has been on ensuring the higher production outputs could be facilitated.
“We were lucky in that we received the brewhouse in December last year [before COVID hit]. It took us a few months to get it up and running, as we bought it from China and it was a DIY job in putting together.
“We got it together in June and since then have been able to put out more beer – it doubled capacity in terms of wort production,” said Reeves.
But with expansion comes growing pains.
“What capacity will be at the end of the upgrades is a moving targets. The good part is we’re getting two more tanks, but at this point adding more tanks doesn’t add capacity because we get stuck at the packaging line.
“When you double capacity in one area you put pressure on another. You’re always chasing your tail, figuring out where the bottleneck is, and for us it was packaging.”
Reeves explained that Kaiju submitted its expression of interest for the first stream of the grant programme, which offered grants of up to $25,000, before upping its EOI to fit in the second stream, which offered grants between $25,000 and $200,000.
“They liked our EOI, because a part of what we’re trying to do is to be able to give access to other small producers around like distilleries and cideries, as well as other brewers, so we could have somewhere other people could package their goods.
“It gives people a different packaging option, and will hopefully help create jobs in a sector where jobs created per litre of product outweigh macro scale [production facilities].”
He said running the additional canning line alongside its existing one would allow them to double the output of the brewery. Having already installed the 50hL brewhouse, they looked as big as they could go.
“We thought, given the growth rates we’ve achieved over the past few years, we might only get a couple of years of growth out of a smaller canning line and then we’ll be in a situation where we have to shut down and install a new one.
“Now we’re basically going from 3,000 cans to 15,000 cans an hour, but obviously won’t be doing that 24 hours a day.
“We looked at a couple of different packaging lines – we were looking for our forever baby in terms of the filler we wanted to get and we decided on the Krones Craftmate.
“It’s the same filler that a lot of the bigger breweries around Australia are using – we saw the technology in action, so we decided to bite the bullet.
“It’s a lot more money but should never have to upgrade again. Even if we got up to Stone & Wood size we could still run this. Although getting to that size isn’t what we’re looking at, we have loads and loads of headroom now, it’s pretty exciting.”
Kaiju’s major market success story is Krush, which was, at the time it was launched and came out in cans in 2016, the Melbourne brewer’s lowest abv beer.
Krush is still a major draw in Australia, but the brewer has found a more diversified demand when it comes to export.
“It’s been a funny one because we sent a big order over to the UK recently and that has skewed our numbers away from Krush,” explained Reeves.
“For the UK order, there was less Krush on it compared to other things. But sending beer to other countries, it’s equal numbers across the other beers as it’s more about variety.
“But in Australia, Krush still dominates. It is at least as much or more of our business than it was.”
While Kaiju also experimented with lower alcohol beers with Main Squeeze, but its higher abv beers have remained fan favourites.
“Main Squeeze goes pretty well, but Metamorphosis is our second biggest and then Aftermath.”
Craft beer employers
Kaiju has also recently made a major appointment, bringing Marc Triolo on board, a Carlton & United Breweries veteran.
Formerly a CUB brewing area manager, Triolo has 18 years of experience in brewing and will become Kaiju’s head of production, which Reeves said is a testament to Kaiju’s success and potential.
“Businesses like ours are sustainable businesses,” he said.
“We’re agile, we’re able to make things happen quickly, so where there’s good talent, whether they’ve come from a major player or a small place, they can make their mark on something here.
“I want everyone to be super satisfied with their work here and would love to be able to give people their opportunity to do that, and after 8 years in business and growing as we have, we are more of a stable business.
“Our ability to bring on someone of that calibre is great, it’s a massive commitment for us but it’s one we think is really important to do as craft brewers, having those skills in place in areas which we think about all the time, like quality and safety.
“Honing that focus on those areas and having that well-instilled focus on those areas, that make us a safe, responsible and fun place to work.”