It was a celebration for Mash Brewing’s 10th anniversary.
Yet it could have been a wake for independent beer drinkers with arm bands replacing coasters at the bar.
The Queens Hotel in Highgate has this year welcomed many of WA’s leading small breweries in a special Loft series. The monthly events have been well supported.
But the talk upstairs last week wasn’t as much about how far Mash had come but the difficulty it would now have to get a regular run at the popular inner suburban venue.
The winds of ALH’s impending tap deal with Lion and CUB were blowing discontent through the gathering.
Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group reports it has 330 licensed venues across the country. As they weren’t affiliated with either of the two pillars of Big Beer some independent breweries could get a tap or two to showcase those wares.
Even as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigates tap contracts, it was likely Lion and CUB were going to again squeeze out the smaller players.
It affects WA venues such as Saint George Hotel, The Vic, Belgian Beer Café, the Balmoral, Hyde Park Hotel and strong independent beer supporters Sail and Anchor and Queens.
What is so ironic is the Sail and Anchor and Queens were key premises in sparking the craft beer revolution in Perth in the early 1980s. Both were part of the Brewtech or Matilda Bay Brewery empire that brought the Fremantle-brewed Redback and Dogbolter to drinkers lips around the time Australia held the America’s Cup.
The Phil Sexton-led Brewtech bought the hotels because the brewery couldn’t get its beers into regular pubs under the control of the Swan Brewery. Now Sexton’s contemporaries face the same struggled against Lion and CUB (AB InBev).
Thirty years later and the Queens is back to where independent beer started.
Options are limited even though there are more beers than ever available to consumers.
What it does highlight is the strong need for “craft” brewers to have their own shopfronts, be it a brewpub, taproom or frequent collaborations with beer venues.
Fewer available pouring opportunities will hurt the smaller operations. Take emerging brewery Innate, which has had a solid run at the Sail and Anchor. There might not be room now the Big Boys have barged back in.
As always it will be the punters who decide the winner of this beer tussle. But the independent breweries are coming from a long way back. They'll need plenty to vote with their taste buds.
Other WA venues linked to the ALH changeover -
Wanneroo Villa Tavern