By Charles Whitting

Last year, Stomping Ground topped Beer & Brewer’s list of the 50 Best Brewpubs in Australia. Co-founder Steve Jeffares, who also co-founded The Local Taphouse in St Kilda, sat down for a chat about craft beer in Australia.

Stomping Ground topped Beer & Brewer’s list of top 50 brewpubs last year. What makes it stand out?

We’d been running The Local Taphouse for seven years and we had a deep understanding about what we wanted to bring to the market – beer hospitality. Central to everything we do is to share our love of craft beer with as many people as possible through experiences. We wanted to create a brewpub that reimagined the beer hall, a place that was family friendly, that was nice to sit out in the beer garden, and where you could see the brewing process happening behind the glass.

We get the staff at pubs who stock our beer to come to the brewery. We sit them down and taste a variety of beers. The staff enjoy the experience and that helps when they’re back behind the bar. I think that’s why you’re finding more brewery bars. There are some fantastic venues out there, and there are more planned. There are lots of opportunities for breweries. If you don’t have one, I think you’re at a great disadvantage. Even breweries without hospitality will install some element of it, even if it’s a tasting room on weekends. It’s really important that consumers can connect to their brand. I think every town in Australia could have a brewpub.

 As well as Stomping Ground, The Local Taphouse is on the top 50 beer venues list again this year. How has the beer venue scene changed since you opened 10 years ago?

In those days there were very few places that championed beer in a way that we wanted to. It’s one thing to have lots of beer on tap. It’s another to present them to customers in a way that educates them as much or little as they want. It’s how you sell, not what you sell. We educated people through the menu board, the printed menu, staff training and an array of beer events. Those people who were interested in exploring different beers, we were able to help them in a way that made it enjoyable. At the core of it, we were a really good pub and we always reiterate that. We knew that there were going to be more beer bars opening, so we needed to get the fundamentals right. That’s a reason that we continued to thrive in a more competitive market, I think.

 In your time, what have you made of the growing Australian craft beer scene and where do you think it’s headed?

I spoke to a bunch of people coming back to Australia after the Brewer’s Convention in Nashville. And they said that the best beer in Australia is as good as the beer, in many cases the best beer, that they’d experienced in their trips to other cities. The best Australian brewers are making fantastic beer and better than ever. The last decade has been a golden age. But we have to help those who are yet to perfect their beer. It’s in all our interests to help others improve, as we improve our beers as well.

There’s a really challenging phase coming upon the industry. What’s been confusing for consumers is the lack of clarity about ownership. For most consumers, their gateway to flavoursome beers comes through mainstream craft beer, but there’s a trend towards independence. As a consumer I’d go for an independent beer. We’re going through a big change and it represents a challenge, but also an opportunity for good operators. I think the new IBA seal of independence has the potential to be a game changer and provide real clarity for people who care about that sort of stuff.

 What’s next for you and for Stomping Ground?

We’ve always got lots of things on the boil. We’re about to launch our 100th beer. We think we’ll open another beer hall in Melbourne when we find the right site. Our immediate focus is on working with the venues and the bottle shops that are supporting us, and introducing our beer to as many people as possible. The pop-up in Melbourne Airport is closed for the winter as planned, but we’re looking at reopening it for the summer. It all comes down to that branded experience. We enjoy working with like-minded people to represent and reinforce our values.

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