Matilda Bay anniversary highlights rise of craft beer
It was 35 years ago this month the biggest revolution in Australian brewing was set in motion.
And more than a generation later the ingenuity of four men from WA has its legacy in the 450 craft beer businesses across the country.
On October 13 1983 a company called Dallenton Pty Ltd was officially registered in Perth.
Doesn’t ring a bell?
Well within 12 months Dallenton became Brewtech Pty Ltd. Maybe you have heard that name? Well what spawned from Brewtech has certainly resonated in the ears - and the mouths - of Australian beer drinkers.
Matilda Bay Brewing Co. didn’t enter the brewing lexicon until 1984 when its first beer hit the market but it was the work of Phil Sexton, Gary Gosatti, Ron Groves and John Tollis in the formative years that helped the industry disruptor kickstart craft beer across the country.
With the financial backing of prominent WA businessman and car enthusiast Peter Briggs, Brewtech bought an 80-year-old Freemasons Hotel in Fremantle, dropped in a makeshift brewkit, renamed it Sail and Anchor and Sexton began testing batches.
It wasn’t until July 1984 that Sexton, under the Anchor Co. brewing label, produced Anchor Ale, which was a reddish-brown beer that was something completely different in the WA market.
Midway through the following year Matilda Bay emerged, firstly to differentiate from the Anchor brand in the US but also because Sexton and his team were buying their own pubs in which to sell their wares because the dominant Swan Brewery had locked up just about every hotel in the State.
In 1983 WA had just one brewery. Today, it has 72.
Through the Brass Monkey, Albion, Sail and Anchor and the Queens hotels, beers such as Redback (wheat), Dogbolter (dunkel), Bohemian Pils and Iron Brew Strong Ale quickly gained traction in the market.
Sexton had developed his skills through Swan Brewery and a stint working and studying in England, learning artisanal techniques that would help greatly with Matilda Bay.
On his return he tried to convince Swan to take a craft route. Sexton ran into roadblocks. So he decided to drive on, breaking through traditional restrictions to not only establish WA's first new brewery since World War II but put in train a whole new beer industry.
“It was a barren landscape then; boring generic beers marketed around tribalism, chauvinistic lifestyle, sexism with trade barriers erected across the country that effectively maintained a monopoly/duopoly in each State,” he told The Sip last year.
“To make it worse, there were internal barriers within each market that still exist, today - the tap behaviour by majors, 'portfolio' marketing and financial contributions to retailers in exchange for 'loyalty'. Any of these behaviours in the US would end up with jail sentences.
“The industry today is a result of grassroots people power, as well as the well-choreographed damage the big brewers have wrought upon themselves.”
In 1988 Carlton and United Breweries purchased a 20 per cent stake in Matilda Bay. Two years later the mega-brewer snapped up the remaining stake in a deal that valued Matilda Bay at $50 million.
But by 2007 the operation had left WA for Victoria. Now the Matilda Bay beers are brewed in Tasmania, although CUB has severely downgraded the brand in its vast portfolio.
Nine years later Sexton played a key role in establishing Little Creatures in Fremantle and that brewery played a key role in generating the second wave of craft brewing in Australia.