Mornington Peninsula Brewery founder Matt Bebe is consulting to the NSW start-up brewery, Woolgoolga ‘Woopi’ Brewing Co on the Coffs Coast.
The brainchild of Sarah and Ryan Poole and Aaron and Jacqui Dobner, the brewpub is being supported by founder and former CEO of Mornington Peninsula Brewery Matt Bebe and its former head brewer Andrew ‘AG’ Gow.
Bebe is now driving the Tar Barrel Brewery & Distillery in Mornington, which launched last year. It was founded after the sale of Mornington Peninsula Brewery to Tribe in 2018.
Sarah said she and Ryan met Matt and his team while living down in Victoria.
“I’m a Mornington Peninsula girl originally, but [Ryan and I] made a move to the coast two years ago for a lifestyle change. We both had businesses and sold those businesses and wanted to do something different,” she explained.
“I had done some work with Matt at Mornington Peninsula Brewery at that stage and just love the whole industry and what they did with the brewery – how you can make something for your own location and region like that.
“I saw it grow and build and become this fantastic space for locals, and a destination brewery too.
“My husband and I thought if we moved to the north coast of NSW, what a perfect location for a brewery like that.”
The development application for Woopi Brewing Company (officially the Woolgoolga Brewing Company) was initially submitted in August and was approved by the Coffs Harbour City Council in November, originally under the Black Apple Brewing Co. brand.
It will be located at 7 Willis Road in Woolgoolga, turning a formerly vacant lot into an artisan food and drink business. But it has not been an easy time to launch a brewery.
“Everyone said when COVID hit that we were crazy. Even the real estate agents asked why would we do that in these times?” Sarah said.
“But Matt [Bebe] said just do it, we’re going to get to the other side of this.”
In fact, the move to a regional town with tourist credentials might have been a stroke of genius.
Even Mighty Craft-owned Jetty Road Brewery has thrown its weight behind a small regional tourist town after it withdrew plans for a central Melbourne site, and Australians are being encouraged to holiday at home this year as the COVID- 19 pandemic continues.
“Regional hubs are now operating within their own means, as definitely international and even interstate travel is restricted. In the foreseeable future, we will stay local and find new things to do and that’s part of what we’ll be planning to leverage,” explained Sarah.
Tar Barrel Brewery’s Bebe said that they were encouraged by the US model of regional and local brewpubs.
“Regional breweries always have been and always will be driving the local community and COVID has pushed this to an even higher intensity,” he said.
“[In America] the [brewpubs] that were local, nimble and niche, they were not only surviving but thriving because they became part of the town – the local watering hole – and that’s very Australian in itself.”
The Pooles, coming from an operational and consultancy background, were not new to the brewing industry but were under no illusions about the difficulty of launching their own brewery, even with industry veterans like Bebe and AG along for the ride.
“From working with Matt previously, I knew what went into it,” Sarah said.
“It’s not for the faint-hearted. You can’t undervalue or underestimate someone with 20-plus years of experience, so wherever we can share information we do. Andrew and Matt have been incredible resources.”
At this stage, with DA and liquor licence approvals in place, Woolgoolga Brewing Co. is on the home stretch, but with demolitions, plumbing and the brewhouse yet to be delivered and commissioned.
The brewhouse itself is a 15hL Brewtique kit, and while AG will have input, new brewer Aaron Dobner will be taking the helm.
The Pooles met Dobner through friends and discovered they had the same dream for a family-friendly brewery in Woolgoolga.
“He’s been working with other local brewers, and doing time at sites in Armidale. He will be under the mentorship of AG to get further experience in commercial brewing but he has been working on recipes in the meantime.”
The connection with Tar Barrel also means that any COVID-related holdups with the brewery will be mitigated with the option to brew out of the Victorian brewery.
Funding a new brewery
Getting the backing to launch a new brewery is always difficult, but Poole was strategic about investment in the business.
“It’s a million-dollar undertaking so we have investors. We had a clear picture of what we wanted but we knew we needed a core group of local investors,” she explained.
“We were strategic about getting local, well-known families who have been in the region for a long time. That really makes a difference in regional towns.
“So we’ve got a really good mix of local families, and a couple of people who have moved to Woopi who want to see this sort of development.”
While Bebe is involved on a consultancy basis, he will not be investing but receiving shares in the business for his support.
“I’ve just started [with Tar Barrel], I’m knee-deep in investment there. I’d love to help, but from a financial point of view we needed to find investors like we did with Mornington.”
Bebe said it was part of the ethos of the Australian brewing industry to collaborate, and he wanted to be a part of the Woopi Brewing Co. story.
“It’s all about seeing something come to fruition,” he said.
“It’s important that people recognise [that brewing] is not like other industries. There’s collaboration, a meeting of the minds rather than a them versus us thing. So I’m happy to be involved where I can, I had some awesome people help me, and I wanted to give back.
“The Woopi Brewing Co. has landed onto a winner.”
Poole explained that this collaborative spirit was something she wanted to bring to Woolgoolga.
“We really want to foster that industry spirit up here too and bring more people into this region so they have some choice, and that’s what we’ll be focusing on going forward.”
Woolgoolga ‘Woopi’ Brewing Co. is set to open by the middle of 2021.
Follow the progress of the Woolgoolga Brewing Co. on the Bintani Brewery Radar, which tracks Australia’s breweries-in-planning.