In a milestone that has passed largely unnoticed, today marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of what is now the Independent Brewers Association.
On 2nd November 2011 an email was sent out announcing the launch of Craft Beer Limited, a “national association for the benefit of the craft brewing industry”.
The launch followed several months of industry discussion commenced early in 2011 and included the meeting of a steering committee during Good Beer Week in that year, with a discussion paper circulated to craft brewers in July.
The steering committee at launch comprised Brad Rogers and Jamie Cook (Stone & Wood), Brendan Varis (Feral), Dave Bonighton (Mountain Goat), Miles Hull (Little Creatures), Owen Johnston (Moo Brew), Bruce Peachey and Adam Trippe-Smith (McLaren Vale).
While a national association representing the industry of approximately 100 breweries had long been a topic of discussion for the various state-based associations, the association’s launch immediately split the industry on account of the decision to include craft breweries wholly owned by Lion and CUB.
Craft beer versus ‘real’ craft beer
Days prior to the announcement by Craft Beer Limited, a splinter group of brewers led by Sydney-based Redoak, began contacting brewers to announce the formation of the Australian Real Craft Beer Association (ARCBA).
The move sparked a divisive and very public schism as both camps attempted to enunciate their vision for the industry. ASIC records show that the ‘real’ faction moved to register Australian Craft Beer Association Limited on the same day that that association chose to announce its formation, denying that group use of the name it had been working under.
“When we were ready to launch we went to register the name with ASIC and were surprised to find someone had reserved the name days beforehand,” CBL explained later, having by then adopted the name Craft Beer Industry Association.
“We didn’t want this to hold us up so, on the run, we launched under the name Craft Beer Limited as a short term solution until we were able to acquire a name that best represented the association.
“Now that we are up and running and gaining members and support as a true industry association we have changed our name to the Craft Beer Industry Association (CBIA), a name that simply describes who we are.”
However the splinter association failed to generate broad support across the industry and, after several years of inactivity, the Australian Real Craft Beer Association Ltd was voluntarily deregistered on 27th April this year. ASIC records show that the Australian Craft Beer Association was deregistered on 29th April 2020.
Move to independence
Launching with the aim to represent “the craft brewing industry and harness the broader community of craft beer to maximise the impact and potential of craft brewers,” the organisation’s stated purpose was to ‘promote, protect and grow the Australian craft beer segment.”
It was decided early in the formation process that independence from the major brewers would not be a feature of membership eligibility, as growing the market for craft beer broadly was seen as the most important goal. Having a ‘bigger, stronger and more sustainable craft beer category will benefit all craft brewers’ was the vision.
Despite launching its inaugural Craft Brewers Conference in May 2013, new categories, and its own awards in 2014, the association seemed to struggle to gain broad industry support. An unwieldy and confusing definition of craft beer, apparently designed to accommodate the inclusion of major brewers, failed to ignite the passion amongst the industry or consumers.
Even major craft breweries supporting of the idea of an association declined to be involved, with one of the largest – 4 Pines – being a very notable hold out.
Founder Jaron Mitchell said at the time that the brewery would “absolutely” join the CBIA once it had excluded brewers that were not independent.
“The US industry have done such a good job… They managed to put some definition around who a ‘craft brewer’ was,” he said.
“The spirit of who is a craft brewer, that’s something that I think definitely has consumer equity that I think has really been lost, so far here [in Australia].”
Ironically, within six months of the CBIA moving to establish itself as a body representing independent brewers, 4 Pines had sold to the then ABInBev, forcing the IBA to terminate the brewer’s membership.
Independence and beyond
In late 2016 the association began the process of orchestrating the departure of big brewers from its membership base, in response to pressure from their small, independent counterparts.
A survey of brewers by the CBIA found that 75 per cent called for its membership structure to be reformed. In March the following year the association announced it would re-define membership eligibility based on independent brewers “without relying on an arbitrary definition of ‘craft beer’”.
Lion issued a media release announcing its brewery members were resigning from the association.
“We believe the current internal focus on ‘big vs. small’ is divisive and a distraction from more important issues and opportunities facing the brewing industry,” the company said.
The release was in the name of Malt Shovel brewmaster and Craft Beer Industry Association co-founder, Chuck Hahn, who was clearly hurt by the move, after having been an active contributor to the association.
“There is a part of the industry that seems intent on defining itself not in terms of what’s great about craft – the quality beers, the passionate brewers and the characters behind them – but in terms of who owns what,” he said in the statement.
Hear more about Chuck’s contribution to the Australian brewing industry, and his reaction to the move towards independence, in this Drinks Adventures podcast.
In 2018 the Craft Beer Awards were rebranded as The Indies and later that year merged with Good Beer Week, a move that had been floated in the earliest discussions around the formation of a craft beer association. That year the IBA also launched the independence seal, and the following year Indie Beer Day.
In 2019 the Tasmanian Independent Brewers Association agreed to merge with the IBA as a state chapter but the organisation is yet to negotiate an official partnership with the pioneering Western Australian Brewers Association.
In a sign that the move to independence has paid dividends, at least in the small brewing industry, the IBA currently lists 414 brewery members and 116 associate members.
While not making the date itself, IBA CEO Kylie Lethbridge said the association is planning for the next ten years.
“Thanks to Brews News for acknowledging and celebrating the anniversary of the various iterations of the independent craft beer representative body,” she said.
“It is such a pleasure to be a part of this ever-evolving story and to work with outstanding leaders, industry champions and the wealth of businesses that make great beer.
“I look forward to the next phase as we develop our ten-year industry blueprint and continue to give our all to ensure the best possible outcome for independent brewers across Australia.”