King River Brewing in the Victorian High Country started the year with plans for expansion as it looks to double capacity at the brewery.
It had a challenging time in 2020, which started with the bushfires which destroyed homes and livelihoods and decimated the tourist industry that many businesses in the area relied upon, followed quickly by COVID.
But King River, founded in 2016 by Brianna and Nathan Munt, has been able to use the year to plan its expansion which has been in the works for nearly two years.
“I’ve been trying to expand our production volumes since 2019 and have had a few hurdles,” Nathan admitted.
“So after holding on for dear life last year I’ve put everything we’ve got left into new shiny things.
“We’re undergoing a redevelopment of our taproom to create a better customer experience and upgrade our taps, hopefully [to be] completed by the end of February. It entails a new custom bar, tap systems, cool room, take away fridge and pizza area.
“I’ve also finally purchased three new tanks to more than double our capacity and two new 5hL tanks to start producing more experimental beers and to work with our barrel sizes for our barrel-aged beers.”
The tanks are due to arrive at the brewery in March – which is also when Nathan and wife and King River co-founder Brianna are expecting their second child.
“Things are keeping us very interested! I’m doing all of this because I believe there’s a really great future for the brewery. What last year has taught us is that our quality offering is working really well.”
The lessons of COVID taught King River to diversify to secure its future.
“We still can’t hit enough retailers with our current tanks and this will all change before mid-year,” Munt explained.
The tourist trade in the High Country has done a U-turn from this time last year as international travel bans remain in place, and that has helped fuel the expansion.
“After our biggest Christmas period ever, we are hoping that people continue to travel to the High Country in a similar fashion and find all the wonderful nooks and crannies nature has to offer up here, maybe even stopping by King River Brewing on their way to a magical adventure.
“I think local tourism and in-country national tourism is this year’s biggest winner and we are looking forward to welcoming everyone with some very drinkable beers in our new taproom.”
King River looks back on 2020
Like fellow High Country breweries such as Bright, King River felt the effects of the bushfires.
“We had one great weekend after the fires around the January public holiday,” explained Nathan.
“Our area was not burned so we’re incredibly lucky. The major damage for us was due to the lack of tourism and I feel deeply for those that weren’t so fortunate.
“During the fires we were very well helped by Melbourne businesses supporting us because of the bushfires and it kept production going, like Otters Promise, Uitgang Bar and the Local Taphouse St Kilda, to name a few.
“I ramped up production when it looked like we were clear in February which left us with a lot of kegged beer we had to dump thanks to COVID – same as every brewery I’m sure!”
As many other small breweries did, King River made the pivot to online sales and packaged beer.
“I didn’t want to invest any more resources into producing beer having a large stash already for our busy period. I quickly realised we were only going to stay afloat making online sales and quickly put together our online store.”
While the move worked during the lockdowns, like many breweries it had to reassess its strategy and as normal business resumes.
“I built the store pretty much overnight and migrated our site to it – still our site is just the store as I’ve not had time to go back and redo it.”
King River was set up for majority packaged sales, Munt explained, with normal levels of bottle sales around 30 per cent to 70 per cent kegged.
“Moving everything to bottles made for a lot of long days and nights, getting tanks into bottle for the online store. I really applaud the couple of guys I have working with me for their stamina.
“[It was a] painful process but necessary and shows one of the areas we know we need to grow into.
“From the store we initially had really good sales and I thought ‘Wow, we should have done this a lot earlier!’.”
“In my mind, getting it up and running was the best thing that came out of a very trying period. Certainly, we have something to build on there.
“I’d just launched a membership in February too, which was inconceivably good timing.”
The beer club is currently limited to around 85 members, but there are plans for a further 100 for the next membership run set to launch on 10th February.
It is also moving into cans from bottles, and is using East Coast Canning to do so more efficiently.
“We don’t see a reduction in cost of production but we do get our fermenters back a lot quicker, which lets us make more quality brews,” Munt explained.
Find out more about King River Brewing and its beginnings on the Beer is a Conversation podcast with Brianna and Nathan Munt.