The microbrewing boom continues in Australia, with Brisbane and Queensland leading the charge.

That’s the finding of an industry survey conducted by noted brewing historian Dr Brett J. Stubbs. In his end-of-2017 round-up of brewery openings for Brews News, Stubbs counted 49 breweries opening across the whole of Australia. Of those, a whopping 17 were in Queensland, with eight in Brisbane alone.

That compared to Victoria and New South Wales, which welcomed 11 and nine new breweries, respectively. Western Australia tallied five new establishments, South Australia four, the ACT two and Tasmania one. No new breweries opened in the Northern Territory.

Stubbs’s figures are based on counting the actual installation of beer-making hardware, rather than new brands. They also exclude new contract-brewed brands, which don’t add brewing capacity to the market.

If 49 sounds like a lot of new breweries, it’s actually down from 57 apiece in 2015 and 2016, suggesting the market in Australia is approaching saturation. In that context, Brisbane’s boom might just be about the city catching up.

“To some extent I think it’s catching up to the rest of the country,” says Brisbane-based beer expert and Brews News founder (and occasional Broadsheet contributor) Matt Kirkegaard. “It’s not that we haven’t had a great beer scene. But a lot of projects that have been planned for a couple of years are coming online now. That’s why we saw the big bump in 2017.

STAY IN THE KNOW
Get our pick of the best news, features and events delivered twice a week

“The projects we’ve seen in southeast Queensland have generally been carefully planned and well put together.

Among them were openings for Malt Brewing and Slipstream Brewing, as well as production brewing operations coming online for established players such as Newstead Brewing Co and Green Beacon with its new Geebung facility.

In his Brews News piece, Stubbs wonders if we’re beginning to see the slowdown of growth in Australia’s microbrewery sector. In a news release attached to the story, Brews News editor James Atkinson said one brewery opening roughly every week in Australia is unsustainable.

“We have already seen a few closures and businesses put up for sale in the previous 12 months,” Atkinson said. “Is the long-predicted shakeout of the craft beer sector coming, or has it already started?”

Kirkegaard is not so concerned, saying that while the market is maturing there are still plenty of big projects in the pipeline, both in Brisbane and around the country.

“More people are discovering craft beer so the market is growing, not just the supply of beer,” Kirkegaard says. “The really important thing is small breweries really need to enunciate why their beer is different. Then people are willing to pay a premium for small and interesting breweries with a great story.”

Of course, the growing popularity of brewpubs is only partly to do with the beer. It’s also about being somewhere interesting to drink.

“Exactly,” Kirkegaard says. “That’s what we’ve seen in the United States, where studies show that the growth of brewery bars is actually putting pressure on the local pub. It’s great to sit in a brewery bar; that’s part of the experience.

“It’s not enough to be like The Scratch when it first opened and just be a craft beer bar anymore, because just about everywhere has craft beer these days. The pressure on pubs and bars these days is to stay relevant when people are enjoying sitting in the place that makes the beer.”