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WA beer's cold response in hottest craft brew count

The GST isn’t the only national program that delivers a dud deal for WA.

Indeed, in spite of being part of the Federation since 1901, the west coast has been treated as a far flung, and easily forgotten outpost. That is until the eastern States need our gas or mining jobs. Or our GST cash.

WA actually voted to secede in 1933 but the rest of the country vetoed the move. Some old enough to remember are still not sure the decision to keep the State in the Commonwealth was a good idea.

So what has this got to do with beer?

Today was the 10th instalment of the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2017 poll, albeit for the first time not held on Australia Day, the date that is supposed to unify the nation in celebration.

Let’s get this straight. The H100 survey is an outstanding exercise and brilliantly managed. Everybody that produces a craft beer in this country can be part of the vote. No craft beer prejudices at all.

The outcome presents a genuine snapshot of the national artisanal brewing scene because it is the drinkers, the consumers that determine the success and failure of beer lines, who paint the industry picture. There is no intentional bias. Even the macro-brewery owned craft beers can have a go. Nobody can question the process.

However, the tyranny of distance is working against WA breweries in the poll. And there just aren’t enough Sandgropers on the west coast to have a strong enough influence on the voting of their favourite local beers.

Unless those breweries have national distribution.

Sure Feral’s Hop Hog has, traditionally (or at least while it was independent), been a podium finisher in the survey, but the sheer number of breweries, now more than 420, has meant it is difficult for WA breweries to get their beers noticed on the east coast. And that is fair enough of they’re not sold there.

One leading WA brewery told The Sip last week that sales on the east coast had plummeted in the past two years to the point where it was just about unviable to continue to send beers to certain markets beyond its border.

It was significant that WA’s highest rating beer in the H100 was Gage Roads’ Single Fin (4.5%) at No.5. The popularity of the brew can’t be denied. But Gage Roads has also spent the past 18 months ramping up its exposure on the other side on the wide brown land.

Feral has long had sales staff in New South Wales and Victoria. And Little Creatures, well, has the might of Lion’s selling teams and a brewery in Victoria.

Yet if you take out Little Creatures, the Amatil-owned Feral and Gage Roads, one of only two Australian breweries who are backed by shareholders on the ASX, then the result for small-to-medium WA breweries was grim.

Only three other local breweries, Nail (VPA at No.31), Colonial (Small Ale, Pale Ale and IPA at Nos.58, 59 and 65) and The Beer Farm (IPL at No.88) made the top 100 placings. And it should also be remembered that Colonial has a strong brewing presence in Melbourne. That point was highlighted by The Crafty Pint, too. In essence, seven of WA’s credited 16 beers on the list could have got there on the back of respondents drinking Victorian-made versions.

That VPA and IPL got in the top 100 was a significant achievement for Nail and The Beer Farm.

Again, the WA results are just a fact of life for those west of the Nullarbor. However, that desert is a significant business barrier for Sandgroper breweries. Cold shipping is a must but that comes at a cost that many can’t meet. So they don’t. Those stick to the home pond.

While there is absolutely nothing sinister in the voting – there are just more drinkers on the outer than the inside – it follows a trend in which WA, which pioneered Australian craft brewing in the 1980s and 1990s, has become a poor relation.

The number of entries from eastern States breweries for the Perth Royal Beer Show has plummeted in recent years. So, too, has the number of visiting judges from Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

And while La Sirene and Boatrocker were prominent and supportive in their appearance, far too many of colleagues from the other side gave WA Beer Week a miss.

Also, the Independent Brewers Association continues to give Perth the cold shoulder when it comes to staging its awards night or industry road show.

It prompted one senior member of the WA Brewers Association to recently suggest the body “put up the gates” to the eastern cousins – although that wall might have already been built from the other side. A few others believe there is more mileage in the WA industry looking to build stronger ties with South East Asia than New South Wales.

No doubt there are brewing officials from Sydney, Melbourne. Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart who see all of these points as nothing but WA – Whingeing Again.

Well they’d be correct. It is bad enough that Sandgropers give 65c in every GST dollar to build function centres on the Derwent or Torrens. Now the only Australian State that doesn’t have a macro-brewery (even Adelaide gets to produce WA’s once iconic Emu Export) has to cope with being the bastard at the family reunion when the nation’s craft beer industry gathers to celebrate its best products.

But that is now the life of brewing about these parts. And the good beer makers will no doubt just get on with the job in true WA spirit.


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