Back in March 2016, four of Australia’s best pro surfers, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Josh Kerr, made quite a splash when they launched the Gold Coast-based Balter Brewing Company with former Stone & Wood head brewer, Scott Hargraves.
Since then, Balter has achieved staggering success in the increasingly crowded Australian market. For the past two years running, the company’s superb XPA has taken out the number one spot in the GABS Hottest 100 (the beer industry’s version of the Triple J Hottest 100), and production has soared to 4.6 million litres a year across the core range of seven beers.
As reported by Brews News, Balter has today announced its sale to Carlton United Breweries (which is itself in the process of being passed from AB InBev to Asahi), a move that will shock and dismay the brewery’s most hardcore fans.
When Broadsheet reaches Hargraves for comment, he’s driving to Brisbane, fielding call after call about the sale.
“It’s very flattering to be approached. We’ve had plenty of [approaches] over the years, but we’ve always said no. It wasn’t suitable for us,” he says. “But over time, priorities have to change as you grow and evolve your business.”
Balter is owned by “47 to 49” shareholders, who are mostly friends and family. The sale, Hargraves says, is mainly for their benefit. “They’re all small people, who in a lot of cases had thrown their life savings into this four or five years ago and hadn’t really gotten much back except a couple of boxes of beer.
“Initially, back in the day, we thought, maybe naively, that we’d be able to pay dividends … but breweries are just such capital-intense businesses. With all our success, we’ve had to continue to spend on more capacity – more tanks, more equipment, more people. It’s like feeding a blast furnace. We ultimately realised the only way that we could start to pay these folks back, was if we looked deeper into this deal.”
Under the contract of sale, Balter’s recipes, suppliers and other business operations are guaranteed for five years. Its beers cannot be brewed anywhere else but at the original brewery in Currumbin, which now employs 65 people.
“Our number one priority was always to our employees, our shareholders and our beer itself. We’ve been able to enshrine and protect all of those things in this deal,” Hargraves says. “These guys don’t want to mess with that anyway. The reason we were attractive to them is because we make great beer.”
Likewise, Balter’s current practice of refrigerating canned beer from the moment it leaves the brewery to arriving at bottle shops around the country is also protected under the contract. This costly process is one of the reasons Balter’s XPA and other beers have such vivid flavours.
In return, CUB will provide a huge bump with marketing and distribution. Expect to see Balter beers appearing at a lot more venues soon, alongside beers from other CUB/Asahi acquisitions such as Mountain Goat, 4 Pines, Pirate Life and Green Beacon.