Cowaramup Brewing Co. has reached 15 years in business and is celebrating this milestone by reflecting on the development of the Western Australia craft scene.
Director and marketing manager Claire Parker, who first opened the brewery with husband and head brewer, Jeremy Good, in 2006, said reaching this milestone was a reflection of the team’s hard work.
“It’s funny because it feels like a long time and a short time,” Parker said.
“It has been fantastic to see the industry grow during this time and Jeremy’s enthusiasm for brewing has certainly influenced the industry in the South West and beyond.”
The journey to opening
The idea for Cowaramup first started with a passion for brewing and a dream to open a pub, as Parker explained.
“Jeremy was a passionate homebrewer and was looking at a pub as it was always something he had wanted to do. However, we had our daughter Bethany who was around three at the time and I wasn’t so keen on bringing her up in a pub atmosphere,” she said.
In 2001, the pair married in the Margaret River region and thought it was a good place to open a microbrewery. Soon after, Good began studying brewing and packaging through the Institute of Brewing & Distilling.
“The industry was very collaborative and everyone shared their information and helped each other out,” Parker explained.
“In fact Michael Brookes from Bootleg and Brendan [Varis] from Feral helped Jeremy brew his first beers on our new DME system that we had imported from Canada.”
Parker had a postgraduate degree in business management and decided to work on the business plan to open the brewery.
“We overestimated our sales but luckily for us we also overestimated our costs. We registered the business in July 2002 however we experienced a lot of delays due to planning and liquor licensing issues.
“Eventually, we opened our purpose-built brewery and restaurant with a soft opening with all the trades who had worked on the brewery, and then opened to the public the next day on 9th December 2006.
“We were lucky enough to get an Industry Tourism Grant of $100,000 on the 1st December 2006 which helped enormously.”
At that time in Western Australia, breweries like Bootleg Brewing Co. and Colonial Brewing Co. were already established businesses however, there weren’t many others in the region.
“There were really no other breweries except for a great little brewery called Bug Ocean Brewing Company, which operated out of the light industrial area.
“Its business model was based on distribution which was a difficult market at that time and it, unfortunately, did not survive in the longer term which was a great shame as they brewed great beer. They were slightly ahead of their time.”
Achievements and challenges
Since opening, Cowaramup has achieved some major accomplishments across the business. One that the team prides themselves on is the contribution to the industry’s growth.
“I personally feel that Jeremy’s passion for all things beer and brewing has made a significant impact on brewing in Western Australia and although he won’t say it, he has made a difference to the craft beer industry,” Parker said.
“This would not have been possible without the likes of Roger Bussell, Hugh Dunn, John Stallwood, Brendan Varis and Michael Brookes who shared their passion and knowledge of brewing.”
It’s through this collaborative nature that the team found success at the 2011 International Beer Awards.
“Brendan was instrumental in brewing the Cowaramup Pilsner with Jeremy which was awarded the Champion Lager and although there have been many [achievements] along the way, this remains the stand out,” Parker said.
As the team continued to go from strength to strength, the challenge soon became about managing the growth in a sustainable way.
“The biggest challenge is, without doubt, the ability to remain small and family-owned and achieve the growth required to remain viable.
“It is a constant challenge to generate the capital required for new infrastructure without external investment.”
This challenge not only applied to the brewery, but also to the industry as a whole.
“The growth of the industry has been quite phenomenal in a short space of time and there are now a lot of people employed in the craft brewing sector which has significant value and advantages,” Parker explained.
Navigating this challenge as a small business is what led to Cowaramup assisting with establishing the South West Brewer’s Alliance.
“I think this is very healthy for the industry, particularly if we continue to see it grow. We are a significant employer and there are obvious advantages and strengths which we can harness for the good of the industry.
“We can collectively make a significant difference in a wide range of areas which is difficult if not impossible to achieve as a small individual business.”
A sustainable future
In terms of what’s to come for Cowaramup, the team has already invested in various projects to expand upon the business including receiving a $72,530 grant last year to build a canning line and bring in fermenting tanks.
On where the industry is heading, Parker explained it’s hard to tell but there’s hope for progression within sustainability.
“I think that the passion in the industry is what drives it and that it is this passion that makes it exciting.
“The passion is the difference that can facilitate real change and I personally believe that this will be in the area of environmental sustainability.”
It’s an area Parker is especially passionate about, having formed a business to focus on sustainability projects with Gabrielle Varis called Fare Grain.
“We feel strongly that organisations have a responsibility to ensure that their strategies for economic growth are underpinned by sustainable operations.
“So our immediate focus is to ensure that the growth we are currently undertaking reflects our values and that we can make a positive contribution to the United Nations’ sustainability goals,” she said.
While the focus on growth is clear for Cowaramup, relying on its passion for the industry is what continues to drive the business forward.
“You might not make a million dollars but if you’re passionate about what you do, it doesn’t really matter.”