Alice Springs Brewing Co. is doubling capacity, having just ordered a new 12hL brewkit.
The Northern Territory brewery, one of a handful in the state, has experienced strong growth since it was founded in 2018.
“Where we’re at now brewing on a 500-litre Braumeister and a second kettle, we brew 1,800 litres a day out of that,” said co-founder Kyle Pearson.
“It’s a good system and it’s got us where we are, especially where we are, there’s never any parts and there’s often not someone who knows how to fix it so it’s worked for us in that sense.
“But it’s operating way beyond what it was designed to do, the logical step is to grow.”
Alice Springs has grown far out of its initial scope, said Pearson, despite it being a relatively young brewery.
“When we started we only bought the 500-litre Braumeister and I thought I’d still work full time and hang out on the weekend at the brewery with my mates.
“But it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Three months in I realised I would have to quit my job, just the demand for the hospitality side was huge, and as that grew we found ourselves always chasing every little drop we could make.
“Brian our brewer, he still works full time and he couldn’t put the time in and do his full-time job, that’s a problem we’ve dealt with for 18 months to 2 years. We had a lot of 4am nights.
“And it’s only blown up from there.”
It got to the point where Pearson, whose background is in sales at Carlton & United Breweries, was transitioning into the role of brewer,” he said.
“Three or four months ago I had this realisation that by default I was becoming the brewer.
“I enjoy brewing and homebrewing but wouldn’t call myself a brewer, so I had the realisation that I’d be better to do what I’ve done my whole career and bring someone in to help [with the brewing].
So Alice Springs brought in Jum Ryan, formerly of Little Creatures.
“Jum came on board, which has been awesome. We went to the same school, but in different years, we’re both from the same part of Victoria. He’s one of those guys in that he’s been there for two days and felt like he’d been there for two years.
“He’s got a sense of humour too which you need in the middle of the desert.”
Prior to this, COVID-19 was a bump in the road, but like IronBark Hill Brewhouse which has also recently expanded with a 12hL kit, Alice Springs went into overdrive.
“By the end of COVID, it got worse, people got more parochial and aware of where their beer was coming from, and our beer became even more popular.
“So as much as it was a bad thing for everyone, it was one of the worst followed by the best things to happen to Alice Springs.”
Alice Springs levelling up its equipment
The 12hL Bespoke Brewing Solutions kit will have to be adapted to the venue, which wasn’t made for such a big kit, Pearson explained.
“We’re governed by the space, the ceiling is low and the Bespoke 12hL kit is obviously bigger than what we’ve got, we’ll have to make compromises around roof height, but I’m not sure if we’ll be ducking our heads to brew just yet!”
Choosing a brewkit in a pandemic proved difficult too.
“We spoke to a few suppliers, but with post-COVID lockdowns we haven’t been able to go and have a look like we normally would before any big purchase, but we’re happy with the guys from Bespoke, they felt the right fit for us.”
The kit has been designed and ordered, and is currently being manufactured before it gets shipped over, first to a port and then overland on trains.
“Commissioning is the easy part, the unloading and getting it in, that will be a big job ahead of us,” Pearson said.
The team have also invested in a canning line.
“Bottles are predominant in the Northern Territory still, we have a lot of requests for bottles. But our bottler we have is very manual, and we’ve stepped way up from where we were.
“I’m also a fan of cans, they’re probably the future and automation was what we were looking for, so that’s definitely sped things up and made packaging less painful.”
Distribution and tourism
Like any growing brewery, Alice Springs is having to balance demand and supply.
“We’ve got quite a bit of demand and people asking for our products but we’re focused on Alice and Darwin.
“We don’t want to overcommit, we’ve done it before, we sell all this beer and then we have to try and limit our growth, coming from CUB that’s hard to do! There you’re always chasing it rather than worrying about overcommitting.
“So we have to be careful where we go, we’re aware of our size and need to grow organically which requires a bit of patience.
“We’re very committed to Alice Springs market, and just want to have enough to service our patch rather than world domination.”
But overall, things are returning to a semblance of normality in the Northern Territory, Pearson said.
“I’m in Darwin right now and it feels like Darwin 15 years ago, every pub was full on a Monday night, we haven’t seen that in Alice that much though.”
Alice, being more reliant on long-term and driving tourists rather than necessarily those flying in, has suffered from people’s caution as lockdowns occur intermittently across the country.
However, there have been other issues facing hospitality businesses in the town.
“It’s better than 12 months ago overall, but anyone would say that the biggest problem we face in the Northern Territory now is staff.
“When COVID hit, there was nothing for visa workers and no support so we told them all to go home, but I said back then when we start back up, there will be no one here to work.
“The visa workers do a lot of heavy lifting that Australian people don’t want to do.
“We have three venues in Alice Springs and we’re probably 10 staff short right now.
“It means you can’t deliver the product you want from a service perspective. At the moment, we’re brewing through the week and behind the bar on the weekend. I’ve spent 12 months moaning we have no business and now we have it but no staff!”
It’s a problem to have certainly, but considering the experiences of breweries in the past 12 months, not the worst one to have.
With luck, Alice Springs will be brewing on its new kit by the end of the year.