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Australia’s top craft brewery has no secrets


Beer drinkers are finding the taste of a trend towards extreme business transparency to their liking, naming Gold Coast-based Black Hops Brewing as Australia’s best craft brewery.

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Black Hops has been a leader in the market trend to disclose every aspect of the business, even going so far as to share the recipe for their core beer range.

The latest accolade for the brewery on the Gold Coast of Queensland was topping Beer Cartel’s 2020 Australian Craft Beer Survey.

Black Hops co-founder and CEO Dan Norris said in a strong year that has defied many of the knocks wrought on other businesses by the pandemic, the brewery had super-charged its model of engaging strongly with its audience.

It earned the brewery top marks from around 17,000 craft beer drinkers surveyed during the COVID-impacted 12 months. Balter Brewing Company, also based on the Gold Coast,  was rated second, followed by Canberra- based Bentspoke.

The survey found craft beer drinkers had changed their beer purchasing behaviour during COVID-19, buying more Australian craft beer in place of other beer types such as mainstream beers and international craft beer.

After May, following the Australian peak of COVID in all but Victoria, beer drinkers continued to spend more and continue to stock up on craft beers, again shunning more mainstream labels, the survey found.

“Our numbers overall have been up. From what I can see, breweries that have taprooms have been doing really well,” Norris said.

“We’ve also got the benefit of being able to distribute through bottle shops and bottle shops have been doing really well during this time.  It’s been a very good year for us.”

Norris said the brewery had been open and transparent since it sourced start-up capital through reward-based crowdfunding, then expanded to a second Gold Coast brewery with the support of equity crowdfunding.

Black Hops has also just settled into a new 10-hectolitre production space and a 100-seater taproom in Brisbane.

Norris said the business’s information flow was as regular as the limited release beers the brewery produced.

“That’s been our thing from the start. We had a blog and social media before we even had a beer out.  We were writing articles on how to brew eggnog stout even though we’d never done one before and it just went from there,” he said.

“We haven’t just done it to get here. We are constantly putting out lots of information for our audience and trying to be as transparent as we can and trying to help other breweries get started with choosing equipment or branding or anything really.”

Norris said the information share was part of the brewery’s DNA, putting it at the front edge of consumer-driven demands for brands to be authentic and open.

“It requires a bit of a leap of faith and confidence in your own brand to operate this way, to expect that our business is going to be fine and we are not going to reveal things that competitors will pick up.

“That’s just something I’ve been really confident about from the start.  We’ve got a good business, a good brand, a good team with a good story and a good product.  We’ve got no reason to be nervous about competitors so we just take the approach of giving out as much info as we can.”

However it was a two-way street, with consumers offering ideas that were used for many of the label’s limited release brews, he said.

With monthly limited releases into bottle shops around Queensland along with the core range, as well as weekly limited releases at the taprooms, Black Hops had produced around 100 different beers in the past 12 months.

“We’re definitely one of the breweries that do limited releases. At the Brisbane launch we had seven new beers just on that one day.

“We can package at both breweries as well, so when we bring a beer out we often do fully branded cans and a full product release just for a beer that can sell out in an hour and a half.”

The next move for Black Hops was the soon-to-be-opened barrel age tasting room at Burleigh on the Gold Coast, he said.

The tasting room just for beers aged in wood, such as sour beers and barrel-aged stout, will be the first dedicated barrel-aged beer tasting room in Queensland.

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