Exit Brewing has undertaken a rebrand, marking its next stage of growth.
The Melbourne brewery, founded in 2014 by Fraser Rettie and Grum Knight, initially started as a contract brewer, renting out tanks at Cavalier alongside Kaiju.
When Kaiju was able to build a brewery, Exit joined in and the two have shared a brewery ever since.
But times are changing, highlighting the challenges of a shared space following Kaiju’s accelerated growth in recent years.
Exit meanwhile has been on a more modest trajectory and the team, including marketing manager Monica Callinan, are making changes behind the scenes at the brewery to prepare it for its next stage.
“Fraser decided that he would step back from the day-to-day at Exit, and would go back into the IT world and maintain operations at the bar,” Callinan explained.
“Grum and Fraser have a bar in Richmond, it used to be the Exit taproom and while there are always the three taps of Exit there, it is very much an independent craft beer bar now.”
Callinan previously worked for Kaiju, before moving to Exit full time.
“I knew Exit very well and knew how amazing the beers were – Grum wins AIBA trophies regularly,” she said.
“They had a niche following, those people that know Exit adore them and are loyal followers. However, I felt, as an outsider, that their branding really let them down and did not convey the quality in the can or keg.
“I came on after leaving Kaiju and that was my mission, to tell the world how amazing these beers are.
“We started talking about doing a rebrand 2019 and then the pandemic starts and everything shut down.”
For a business reliant on off-premise and a small on-premise offering, things could have been catastrophic for Exit.
“When the pandemic started we collectively shat ourselves, this is the end of Exit, we thought. At the time we didn’t have a national retail presence either.
“We’re very much a batch-by-batch brewery. Our sales were 85 per cent keg sales prior to that.”
Government support, however, provided them with a lifeline.
“We had some great government funding for small businesses and JobKeeper, and that took the pressure off, so then we could actually work on the business.
“I really wanted to keep my job, and selfishly made my case to instigate the rebrand.”
The Exit rebrand
The Exit team brought on Lauren Bonkowski of Small Fortunes to help with the rebrand.
“I’d never met Lauren before and every meeting was by Zoom,” explained Callinan. “So it was hard to establish a relationship but we managed it, and we were locked up and so in our heads were in it the whole time.
“She’s been a huge asset, she gets the packaging side and knows how designs are going to sit on a curved surface like a can. We’re really proud of it, even though we’re so far off our brief!”
The Exit rebrand intends to mark a new phase for the brewery.
“I felt the old branding was really masculine, there were a lot of black, harsh lines, angular, and the main logo just didn’t resonate with a lot of people. It was supposed to be a modified exit sign but I think it was lost on people
“In 2014 you could be quirky and clever, in 2021 you can’t, it’s too competitive of a space,” she said.
It also mirrors some seismic changes in the industry and consumer trends, she said.
“You have to be really deliberate in your brand messaging and story. I felt everything needed to be spruced up and softened a bit because the craft beer industry has changed a lot in those seven years.
“We have much more engaged customers, and more of a female base, so I wanted to soften it and make it more approachable, and actually put Exit on the front of the tin.
“We’re not a Garage Project or a Kaiju, we are very, very small and we wanted to convey quality.”
Exit has completed the rebrand of the majority of its core range brand with just the Amber Ale left to complete, but as always, there were mixed reviews on social media.
“There was a lot of negativity, and everyone was like Monica, don’t look at Beer Thread for two weeks. But what comes out of it [after that initial reaction] is what people really feel, and we only get positive. They say ‘I love what you guys have done’ now.”
The rebrand is a step toward their future plans.
“We’re aiming for more distribution, now we have three products in First Choice here in Victoria, but we are definitely looking for wider distribution,” Callinan explained.
“Now we’ve got fresh beer, new labels, increasing distribution, we’re going to have a red hot go and have a crack at making it a viable, profitable brewery.
“Before this, they were straddling the line between business and a hobby for a few years there.”
As the team move forward with plans to grow and professionalise, this could mean a reassessment of their current situation.
“At Kaiju, their production has gone through the roof. The brewery is changing a lot to accommodate this, the 25hL has been sold, now it’s 50hl, so that’s the minimum size we can brew and that’s a lot for a brewery like us, it’s a limiting factor so we can’t roll out limiteds like other people.
“It’s great being at Kaiju, they have all the equipment, a new Krones canning line on the way and three-vessel brewhouse, they’ve really invested in infrastructure, but there’s a big gap between the breweries now, so we won’t be there forever because it doesn’t work for us.”
So long-term future plans could include Exit setting up its own brewery.
“We would love to do that, but that’s part of the five-year plan probably.”
Find out more about Exit Brewing on the Beer is a Conversation podcast with Grum Knight.