The Shout sat down with Glen Brasington, CEO of Hawke’s Brewing Co to hear about future consolidation, the brand’s new Beer and Leisure Centre, and the visit of Prime Minister Albanese.
The concept of the Bob Hawke Beer and Leisure Centre is clear: packed with Hawke memorabilia, and with constant nods to the late PM’s 80s heyday, the bar is like an ‘elevated RSL’. It even has its own retro, country town Chinese restaurant, the Lucky Prawn, that serves classic dishes including prawn toast and sweet and sour pork.
An attached pool room recalls The Castle, complete with a collection of photos of Ashes and American Cup triumphs from days gone by. The venue’s memorabilia was partly curated by Bob Hawke’s daughter, Sue Peters-Hawke. And as Brasington explains, nostalgia is certainly a powerful force.
“We’ve been booked out probably since we opened,” Brasington says.
“We expected it to tail off, and we’ve factored in some seasonal decline because it’s been wet. But it’s an indoor venue, and when it’s grey, we have some of our bigger days.”
Prime Ministerial business
The Leisure Centre opened in April, with its launch pushed back from December following the impact of the Omicron strain. One notable early visitor was Anthony Albanese, who represents the brand’s home division of Grayndler, and visited the venue both as Leader of the Opposition, and newly minted Prime Minister.
“[Albanese] was a big fan of Bob and has been quite outspoken about modelling himself on him. He came down when we started brewing and then when we did slab and jab in the middle of COVID to encourage people to get vaccinated, he came down again and did a whole heap of fresh stuff for us,” Brasington says.
After the election, Albanese visited again, and was joined by Hawke’s widow Blanche d’Alpuget, daughter Sue, and granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price.
“They met him in the pool room and had 20 minutes, Sue, his daughter, was very keen to give some advice about being in office, and I think he was genuinely very happy to see Blanche. He did a whole heap of interviews, poured some beers – he was great, really great.”
A welcome for the trade
Hawke’s hospitality extends to more than just Prime Ministers, with the Leisure centre partly designed to offer trade customers a holistic experience of what the brand is about.
“For us, this is just a key marketing asset. Every bit of it is marketable and generates revenue through direct sales for us,” Brasington explains.
“Most weekends, and during the week, we’ll have a couple of hundred trade guests come through – taste the beer, have some lunch.
“Because it’s just so hard to compete in the craft segment unless you’ve got these kind of marketing assets. And everything is designed as well to try and be unique,” Brasington continues.
When creating the venue, Nathan Lennon and David Gibson, Founders of the brand, focused on every detail, to the extent that the architect, Bianca Isgro, was taken to both the Old Parliament House and Bob Hawke’s actual pool room in his Northbridge home. The pool room at the venue is said to be an exact replica.
The bar at the Leisure Centre extends beyond the usual offering of brew-pubs and taphouses. There is, of course, a wide range of Hawke beers on tap, including around five ‘one hit wonders’ only available at the venue – which the company uses partly to test demand for potential extensions of the brand’s range.
The beers are complemented by a full drinks offering, including natural wines, a spirits back-bar and a small menu of cocktails – which Brasington says are surprisingly popular.
“A lot of manufacturers, other brewers, are only able to sell what they make, [because] they’ve got a manufacturing licence,” Brasington adds.
However, Hawke’s does manufacture on-site, and the venue is more than just a bar and restaurant: it is home to the Hawke’s Brewery itself, with the beer-making equipment perched above the bar on the top floor.
The brewery has capacity to produce 1.5m litres of beer annually, with canning also performed in a room adjacent to the bar.
“We’ve got a long-term lease here – 15 years, so investing in the equipment and infrastructure was for the long term,” Brasington explains.
Previously, Hawke’s beer had been produced via contract brewing, including at Tribe Breweries, one of the largest craft contract brewers in Australia.
“We landed with Tribe in the end, and they were great, but everything was kind of up and down for a couple of years, and we were at that point where we said: to make the business sustainable, and control the quality, we needed our own operation,” Brasington says.
“We raised capital, went out and found a cornerstone investor. They came on board that funded the building of brewery, and then friends and family and the two founders put their life savings into it.
“So I think that was probably the hardest period was making the decision to go for a, you know, a capital intensive industrial asset with all the complexity,” Brasington continues.
“Until that point it was two guys in a garage and contract brewing with some distribution.”
According to Brasington, Rob Murray, former Lion CEO, was instrumental in persuading Lennon and Gibson that a venue was key.
“Rob was really good, because he had a lot of experience with Little Creatures, and he was the one that convinced them that this part of the business was important as a marketing asset and a good cash generator
“To make [this space] work, you’ve got have something like this,” Brasington says, gesturing to the restaurant and bar.
“This is the best use of the space, because of the margin that you get from selling direct.”
Brewing for the future
An eye-catching element of the brewery is an airtight floor to ceiling container, featuring lettuces growing up the wall in staggered pots. This project is part of a collaboration with UTS, which sees carbon dioxide from the beer tanks piped directly into the greenhouse-like structure, with different crops tested to see which best absorbs carbon.
This is but one element of the brewery’s sustainability efforts, alongside a large solar panel array on the roof.
“We get water off the roof and we have a 100 kilowatt solar system that basically powers everything, so that’s very sustainable. On a normal day, everything that you see will be drawing from that,” Brasington says.
“The brewhouse is a Thermakraft system with heat transfer.”
As with other breweries, spent grain is sent to agriculture, reducing waste, while the packaging used by Hawek’s is recyclable. When the company does have to import, Brasington says, they will use a zero carbon freight supplier.
A key part of Hawke’s Brewing Co is its partnership with Landcare, an organisation of great importance to Bob Hawke himself, as Brasington explains.
“We only really exist as a company because of that arrangement [with Landcare],” Brasington says.
“Bob liked beer, and he liked the idea of being, part of a beer company, but certainly, I think what got him over the line was – we’re an environmentally aware, sustainably driven company, and our success as a business would benefit Landcare.
“A percentage of profits and all of Bob’s royalties go to Landcare. We’ve got a logo on our pack, and we pay a licence fee to do that. Our staff also volunteer at [Landcare] events, and we try to integrate it as much as possible,” Brasington continues.
Above the bar is a large sign that reads: ‘Every sip is a quid for Landcare’, with a tally of the money raised found below.
Brewery and category forecast
Beyond the walls of the venue itself, Hawke’s is a brand operating in both retail and the on-premise, and The Shout asked Brasington what his predictions were, both for his brand, and for the beer category as a whole.
“I think for us, the next 12 months is a bit of consolidation phase for us, because we’ve spent the last five years dreaming of having a place to showcase the brand, dreaming of being able to experiment with different beers on tap, and cheaply,” Brasington says.
“Success in the next 12 months is national ranging with the majors and really, really refining our retail offer.
“We’re not a craft beer brand. We don’t want to do a new style or flavour every month or week. Really we see the opportunity as being a premium national and local independent brand.
“That’s what consumers are telling us as well, because a lot of the brands that they love are now owned by foreign companies, and they want to support local beer and small business, but often the quality or consistency isn’t there. There is that middle grown that is really interesting,” Brasington continued.
Finally, the area where Brasington sees the greatest potential for growth is in the light beer category.
“The last five years have been midstream market, and I honestly I think if the same R&D is applied to the light category, we’ll end up with a lot of really good beers around that one to 1.8 per cent mark.”
Hawke’s currently does not offer a non-alc beer and does not have the equipment required to produce one.
“Personally, I think there’s too much of a taste compromise to go to zero, I drink them and I understand them alright, but I will still happily have a light beer, but there are no that many options out there that deliver for my taste profile.”
Notably, one of the ‘One Hit Wonder’ beers currently on trial tap is a 1.5 per cent XPA. Watch this space.