Podcast Episode 12: GABS, Stomping Ground and The Local Taphouse Story with Co Founder Guy Greenstone
For our 12th episode I chat to Guy Greenstone, Co-Founder of The Local Taphouse, Stomping Ground Brewery and of course the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular or more commonly known as GABS. He takes us right back to the beginning and shares the story of how they’ve come to run one of the top craft beer venues in the country, a leading independent brewery and of course a top 10 beer festival of the world.
You can browse our full range of Stomping Ground beers here.
Full Text Transcript Below:
Lachlan: Welcome everyone to another episode of The Inside Word. My name is Lachlan McLean from Beer Cartel, Australia's number one craft beer retailer. For our 12th episode, I chat to Guy Greenstone, co-founder of The Local Taphouse, Stomping Ground Brewery, and of course, the Great Australian Beer Spectapular, or more commonly known as GABS.
Lachlan: He takes us right back to the beginning, and shares the story of how they've come to run one of the top craft beer pubs in the country, a leading independent brewery, and of course, a top ten beer festival of the world.
Lachlan: Thank you so much for joining me today, Guy.
Guy: Thanks for having me.
Lachlan: You mentioned to me before that you're at Stomping Ground, one of your three main places. What's going on at Stomping Ground at the moment?
Guy: Aw, geeze. We're getting excited because we're going to be installing a new canning line very soon. In the next couple of weeks. All the guys are getting ready for that. On top of that, we're about to launch a Into the Woods series, which is our barrel-aged program that we've been working on for the best part two years. We're releasing six barrel-aged beers very shortly, which is exciting.
Lachlan: Oh wow. Can't wait for that. Will they be in cans?
Guy: No, they're going to be in bottles. A mix of 750ml and 375ml bottles.
Lachlan: Oh, awesome. I remember when I was down at the brewery, maybe 18 months ago, and seeing the barrels. It's very exciting to see what comes out of them.
Guy: Yeah, absolutely. That's the thing. I mean, these things, you kind of, they're sitting around in barrels for months and years. Then we're doing a bit of blending and that sort of thing. It's not the kind of thing that you can rush, so it's very exciting when it's finally coming out.
Lachlan: The idea with the podcast and this is to delve back into some of your backstories. I think this one in particular, I think there's a great story to be told in yourself and Steve, and how it all came to be. A lot of people might know, or will know probably, GABS and Stomping Ground. But less so maybe The Local Taphouse down in St. Kilda, which I guess is the birthplace for a lot of this stuff. But before that even, how did yourself and Steve, and even yourself, get into the craft beer industry?
Guy: I'm originally a chemical engineer, so my very first job out of uni was in brewing. I joined a very, very large brewery in Sydney. In Lidcombe. I was working on the brewery process. Doing process improvement, optimization kind of work. That was my very first foray into the workforce, which I couldn't believe how lucky I was being an engineer and working in beer. There was a lot of competition for that job, as you can imagine. And so, I just thought that all my Christmases had come at once. It was the best thing ever.
Guy: And I really, really enjoyed it. I started on a graduate program with that company, and I moved around the business a fair bit. So, was actually only on the production side of things for a year before I moved into corporate strategy, and spent a bit of time there. A year and a half or something. Then I spent a couple of years in sales. That's when I moved down to Melbourne in Victoria.
Guy: That's sort of ignited my passion for beer, even though it was pretty macro, that the whole concept of producing beer. I just, I loved it. I love nothing more than taking people on tastings and training bar staff on the virtues of beer. I kept on gravitating towards the more craft part of the portfolio. Yeah, so my passion for craft beer was really well and truly ignited. I just couldn't get enough of it.
Lachlan: Is this where you met Steve? In this part of it? Or further down the track?
Guy: Yeah, that's right. I met Steve while I was working in sales. I'd moved down to Melbourne in 2001. And yeah, it was... He had a small bar called the St. Kilda Local. It was a really great bar. It was pretty close to me. It was pretty close to my local. If not my local, then second or third closest bar. I used to spend a fair bit of time there. He likes to describe me as a bar fly. No, like to think of myself as a little bit more cultured than that, but no I was...
Guy: We basically just hit it off. We became good mates. I was always talking about different beers, and he was just starting to experiment with some different beers. He had a couple of Matilda Bays beers on tap. He had a Coopers tap. He was enjoying going a little bit further away from the typical Carlton Draft and/or Guinness that most venues used to have on tap at the time. We'd speak about beer and other things. We got on really well.
Lachlan: And this was late 1990s? Early 2000s?
Guy: That was 2001. When we met and got to know each other. He had the bar for quite a long time. We got to know each other pretty well. And then he approached me one day and said, "Hey, I'm thinking of doing a specialty beer venue dedicated to beer." Because he'd been in LA and experienced a specialty beer venue there, and wanted to bring the concept to Australia. It hadn't really been done. He asked me if I was interested, and I was like, "Hell yeah am I interested."
Guy: He went and did a massive research trip overseas and got a whole bunch of ideas, both in Europe and the US. We came back and we actually put an offer on a place in Richmond. It was accepted, but we then later found out that the guy that was selling it to us had already sold it to somebody else. He was just trying to get a bit more. We ended up having to pull out of that deal at the very, very 11th hour. At the last minute.
Guy: Which was a bit disappointing, but as with many things, we felt that all things happen for a reason. Steve had an idea. He said, "Well..." Because the venue that we wanted to do, it was just too big to go in the St. Kilda Local. But we loved the location. We loved the space. He said, "Well, what happens if we go up at the St. Kilda Local?"
Guy: We approached the landlord at the time and pitched the idea to him. He was right up for it. He said he'd be willing to pay for some base building works to create a second story, which was fantastic. And so, we basically did the concept at the St. Kilda Local and turned it into The Local Taphouse, which it is today.
Guy: That was in 2007 that trade stopped at the St. Kilda Local. And then we started a new company called The Local Taphouse that opened the doors in February 2008.
Lachlan: Wow. I didn't actually realize that Local Taphouse was from the original St. Kilda Local. How long had Steve been at the St. Kilda Local for?
Guy: Pretty much since 2001. He'd been there for six years. It was kind of this shabby chic bar that had a fireplace. We'd play the same closing soundtrack every night. It was a lot of fun. When I say we... I say we. I wasn't working there at the time, but I felt like a part of the furniture. I was there that much. We had a bull, then. It was a really great community. A really great vibe, and even before it became The Local Taphouse. Just the St. Kilda Local was very, very loved by a lot of locals, including myself.
Lachlan: You put the extra story on The Taphouse, The Local Taphouse, and you quickly established yourself in Australia as one of, if not one of the premier craft beer venues in Australia. You won many awards in Australia and around the world. Was it always, that drive as being... I know he went on the research trip, but to be super high-end? Or just good Australian beers? Or what was the premise behind it?
Guy: Yeah, great question. It wasn't really high-end that we were pitching. We still wanted to be accessible. The way we used to describe it is The Local Taphouse, the local being that we wanted to be real part of the community and part of the neighborhood. And taphouse being, the fact that it was an ode to better beer. We wanted to bring a great range of styles to as many people as we possibly could. And so, it was rather than high-end, we wanted to make it accessible, but we wanted to make really great quality. And do beer in a way we hadn't really seen it done in Australia before.
Guy: Our dream was if people could come into the bar and ask for a beer by style, like they do with wine, rather than ask for beer by brand. So you know, when people ask for a wine they say, "What have you got by way of a Chardonnay? Or a Cab Sav?" And we thought, "Why can't that happen with beer?" People were only asking by brand. But we wanted people to say, "Do you have an IPA? Do you have a [Sal 00:09:09]? Do you have any stouts? Or dark beers?" Et cetera.
Guy: That was what we set out to try and achieve. It didn't actually take very long before everybody started asking by style, which was fantastic. A big part of it was we really wanted to provide education, and that still exists across our businesses today. A big piece of what we do is educating the market, both consumers as well as staff, very importantly. And now, customers as well.
Guy: We really set out to lift the bar when it came to the education piece about all things beer. About its origins. Its varied styles. The process to produce it, et cetera.
Lachlan: You mentioned that The Local Taphouse was always very education forefront, but I think another thing that really sticks in the mind for myself is you're also massive innovators. Always trying new things. I guess just from this... You're opening the craft beer bar shows that. However, there was two other things that really came out of The Taphouse. The first... I don't actually know, which came first? GABS or The Hottest 100?
Guy: Good question. I reckon The Hottest 100. Just. Yeah, The Hottest 100 is now older than GABS, so yeah. But it was also three things. Not only was GABS born at The Local Taphouse, but also The Hottest 100, and also Ale Stars, which we [crosstalk 00:10:47].
Lachlan: Ah, of course.
Guy: Is still one of the leading or largest beer appreciation clubs in the country.
Lachlan: Absolutely. Well, before we jump onto GABS and The Hottest 100, did you want to elaborate on what Ale Stars actually is?
Guy: Ah, yeah. Sure. It's a gathering of like-minded people, beer enthusiasts. Led by our Ale Stars Czar, who's Shandy. Or Andy Gargan. It started off as we would do a deep dive into styles. We might look at Saisons. And then we might look at stouts. We might look at Belgium beers. But over the years it's evolved, and now we get a lot of showcase events where we bring in special guests from breweries from either overseas or around the country. We try to mix it up. We showcase some of the beers that they're producing that you might not be able to get typically at a bottle shop or anywhere else.
Guy: We speak to the people behind the beers. Who are the brewers, and who tell us about their story and about their passion for beer. About their inspiration for some of the beers that they've made. It's once a month. On the third Tuesday of every month. We would regularly, on the bigger nights, get 100 people showing up.
Guy: On the quiet nights we might only get 50 or 60. But it's a really great, fun night. In fact, we've got it tonight.
Lachlan: Who's up tonight?
Guy: Wilfer the Willows. We've got Scott [crosstalk 00:12:18]-
Lachlan: Oh, awesome.
Guy: Coming in to chat to us about their journey so far. Interestingly, they were Ale Stars before... Well, Scott was. He was an ale star before he started the brewery. We were really proud of the fact that both he and Dereck from Bad Shepherd, actually, were Ale Stars before they started their own breweries.
Guy: Unfortunately, they don't get to come very often anymore because they're so busy with their business, but we still always have their beer. Or most of the time have one or the others, or both of their beers on tap as well.
Lachlan: When was the first Ale Stars held?
Guy: It would've been in 2008. There's a lot of [crosstalk 00:13:05].
Lachlan: Way back at the start.
Guy: 2008 in... I think it was August. It was either July or August 2008.
Lachlan: Wow, so right back at the start.
Lachlan: So, what's that? That's 10 years. Over 10 years, now.
Guy: 11 [crosstalk 00:13:17].
Lachlan: Eleven-hundred-and-thirty odd Ale Stars?
Guy: Yeah. There's been a lot. And we [crosstalk 00:13:20].
Lachlan: That's very impressive.
Guy: I couldn't even tell you how many beers we've tasted, but it's some... And Shandy's been the Ale Star Czar the entire time. He's fantastic. He's a lot of fun if you can understand what he's saying. He's got a very strong Scottish accent. But yeah, he's a lot of fun. We always have a laugh. There's people that have been with us right from the very beginning.
Lachlan: That's absolutely fantastic. The other two things we were talking about before, GABS and The Hottest 100. I guess we'll start with The Hottest 100. How did that all come to be?
Guy: Yeah, good question. We were tapping so many different beers, and some of the beers that had never really seen the light of day outside of where they were produced. It started a little bit of fun. We thought why don't we run a poll amongst staff to find out what their favorite beer of the year was, and we'll release the findings same day Triple J releases their findings for The Hottest 100.
Guy: Back then it was very, very low fire. We would basically get people to vote, and we'd collate it all in a spreadsheet. I think we set up a webform. Like a Survey Monkey kind of form. We'd get people to put their votes in for their favorite beers of the year. Then we'd have to collate them all and remove any duplicates. I remember Justin Joiner, who is our partner, collating all the data and having to clean it and fix it up. Then we'd announce the winner.
Guy: It grew and grew and grew from then. At one point in time, we got Crafty Pint and Australia Brews News involved as well. They would release the results, and there would be a lot of interest and a lot of traffic generated on their sites. We'd blog about the results and all that sort of stuff. Back in the days when people were blogging all the time. And yeah, it just really gathered momentum, it gathered speed, up to the point where this last year we had over 33,000 people vote or something like that, which is growing and growing.
Guy: It's now sort of become a barometer of what's hot in beer. There's always a lot of controversy because people say, "Oh, it's just a popularity contest." And actually, it is. It's basically-
Lachlan: [inaudible 00:15:40] what it is.
Guy: It's exactly what it is. People vote for their favorite beer. It's not the best beer, necessarily. If you look at the winners, they've all been outstanding beers and very deserved winners. But it's not like a blind tasting competition. It's about the entire package. So, what the beer represents. The style of beer. How widely available it is. Its personality, as well as its flavor. Those are the beers that tend to resonate.
Guy: If you look at the past winners, Hop Hog was up there for a few years. Little Creatures. Pale Ale was up there for a few years. Stone & Wood Pacific Ale has been up there for a lot of years. XPA from Balter has been up there for a couple of years. Even Murray's Icon 2IPA was right up there in the very, very early days.
Guy: It's always been pretty Pale Ale and IPA dominated because that tends to be the beer styles that really resonate with craft beer consumers, I guess. But it's always been really interesting to see. And you can see how well Balter's doing. It's not obviously the result of the poll.
Lachlan: Yeah. Absolutely.
Guy: Pirate Life, I think, topped it one year. Or got pretty close. But it's always a good barometer for what's really popular out there.
Lachlan: Yeah, I think it's... As you said, it's a popularity poll and it's not the best beers. But I think what it does do really well is it's a snapshot of the current industry. If you look at the beers that featured in The Hottest 100, all that just gone versus, say, two or three years ago. You can see New England IPAs are tearing their way through with [inaudible 00:17:18] have been top 10 from limited release beer. It's a real snapshot of where we are at the moment.
Guy: Absolutely. Couldn't agree more. And also things like sours creeping into the mix. And [gossers 00:17:29]. That sort of thing. And it's also, in some ways, quite telling when you look at which beers are doing really well that aren't pales and IPAs. That's a really good barometer for either how popular that particular beer is and what a great example of that style it is, but also some of the other styles that are coming into vogue, as you've just said.
Lachlan: Do you think... Well, yourself personally, do you have any... I guess, not problems. But there's a lot of breweries when it comes to Hottest 100 times, about really trying to generate interest to garner votes. I think last year, in particular, there was a number of people who were actively trying to get people who possibly haven't even had the beer before trying to vote for them. Do you think that's an issue? Or is that just part of the process?
Guy: No. Well I mean, we make the rules pretty clear. And the rules are you can't solicit votes. You can say, "Please vote." But you can't have any kind of inducements in order to vote. You can't offer a prize for voting. You can't say, "If you vote, you'll get this." It's more along the lines of by all means, spread the word and ask people to vote. Say, "If you like our beer, please vote for us." Putting pressure on people to vote who haven't tasted it is out of the spirit.
Guy: We're lucky, we've got a lot of people that understand the nature of the competition. The nature of the poll. We get a lot of feedback all the time from anybody who's noticed anything that's a little bit suspect, a little bit fishy. We investigate it and we shut it down, or we disqualify if we feel people have breached the spirit of the rules.
Guy: Obviously, now that it's got to particular size, it does have some commercial implications. If somebody gets in the top 10, or the top 5, there are retailers and venues right across Australia that actually taking note, and finding out what are the hot beers, and if they want to get them. Then that can have a commercial impact on the brewery.
Guy: There's a real incentive to try and get high votes, but... And so, with that comes extra need to be vigilant that people aren't bucking the system.
Lachlan: I think at the end of the day as well, if breweries are obviously not incentivizing, but if they're spreading the word and getting people to vote for them, they're only expanding the craft beer reach. More people are going to try craft beer, which is going to strengthen and grow the industry anyways. It's not really a bad thing.
Guy: No, as long as they're doing it within the spirit.
Guy: Inducement's no good. But if you're shouting from the rooftops, "Hey, please vote for us if you like our beers," we think that's absolutely within the spirit.
Lachlan: Especially if they get people that have never had those beers to try them. It's just more people into craft beer.
Guy: Yeah, exactly.
Lachlan: I guess for The Hottest 100, is there any plans for it opposed to just continually growing it? Is there any tie-ins? What do you see for it in the future?
Guy: The Hottest 100?
Guy: Look, we want it to continue. I mean, there's already been a couple of spin-offs in a way in that we now release The Next 100. So from 101 to 200. We also look at a couple of sublists, which are the beers that have been released that year. How they're fairing. Because some of the feedback we've been getting is oh it's the same beers every time in those top 5 or so.
Guy: What we've started to do is releasing a list of the hottest new beers, the hottest beers in particular styles, The Next 100, so that we've got some of those sublists that can give you a really good indication of what is doing really well that might not feature as prominently in The Hottest 100, because of the fact that it's dominated by beers that have been around there for quite a while. Have got quite wide distribution. Or are a particular style.
Guy: Those sublists, I think, are really a great showcase of different information. And also, there's all the infographics that the likes of Crafty Pint produce, which show where the beers are coming from in terms of state. And where you guys... You guys produce some good stuff as well. You know, different parts of the country that the beers are coming from. All that sort of stuff.
Lachlan: I think a lot of the time, as we said, it's a bit of a snapshot of the industry. There's not usually too many things that stick out and go, "Oh, wow. Wasn't expecting that." I know I've got a couple that kind of stood out to me, but was there any points in the list where they're coming out and you're like, "Oh, wow. I didn't see that coming."
Guy: Yeah, look, there was. Without wanting to talk negatively about anyone or anything, there was a year when one particular product ended up doing exceptionally well. We realized that it was ripe for the rigging. That's when we changed the way we processed the information, and how we were able to really setup some safeguards to make sure that people couldn't take advantage of that.
Guy: Because it was a beer that didn't really match with our understanding of what the market perception was like. We could tell that it was a bit anomalous, and there was a campaign and there was something done that was not quite right. That changed the way we, yeah, we process the information after that.
Lachlan: Yeah, right.
Guy: I mean, it's funny. At some point in time we changed it over to... Ownership for GABS, so it's now the GABS Hottest 100. The reason we did that is we felt that we really could get a much wider audience through GABS, and vice versa. Get The Hottest 100 out to a wider audience than just The Local Taphouse, which is somewhat affected by the fact that it's only really relevant to a much smaller part of the population, being just in St. Kilda. Whereas GABS is around the country, and thousands and thousands of people go there. So, it made a lot more sense for us to take it over to GABS.
Lachlan: You mentioned GABS, then. I guess it's a good segue to move into The Great Australian Beer Spectacular, as it was known. Once again, that was started at Taphouse. How did all that come to be?
Guy: Yeah, great question. So, how we started was basically we were loving beer so much. And still. It was such a passion. Still is such a passion. We really wanted to showcase beer from different places and different regions and different themes. We came up with these festivals that we would hold at the Taphouse. At the time, we also had The Local Taphouse in Sydney as well.
Guy: We would call them Spectapulars, and they would be themed. American, like the Star Spangled Spectapular. We'd get beers from America. We had a Moose and Mountie Spectapular, which was beer from Canada. We had an Italian Spectapular. We had a New Zealand. An Anzac Spectapular.
Guy: These were a lot of fun. And each time we would not only get 20 different beers from the country, the best that we could find, but we would also start to... Our staff would get dressed up. We would have food that was relevant to the theme. It was a lot of fun. We had so much fun.
Guy: And one day... It was actually Justin who... We were all sitting around and he was saying, "What about rather than just..." Because we wanted to showcase Australian beer as well. But we thought Australian beer is kind of... Everyone can get Australian beer, how can we do something a bit different? We came up with the idea that if we ask the breweries to produce a beer, especially for the event, then it would all be quite new and quite exciting.
Guy: We asked as many brewers as we could. And to our delight, they all said yes. We ended up having 21 different beers on tap at this event, which we called The Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. Actually, no. We called it The Great Australian Beer Spectapular. We had 21 different beers from Aussies, because one was on hand pump. It just went nuts. Everybody just couldn't wait to see what each brewer had done. It was so exciting.
Lachlan: Back then, I guess to the new people into craft beer, when you say oh you had 21 new beers on tap, compared to nowadays. That was quite an achievement back 10 years ago.
Guy: Especially considering none of them had been tasted before. They had all been brewed especially for the event. We held the event concurrently both in the Sydney Local Taphouse as well as in the Melbourne Local Taphouse. Everyone kind of got dressed up. I remember being dressed up as... I think Justin was a cricketer. I think I came as Steve Irwin or something like that. I can't remember exactly. But it was a heap of fun. Oh no, that's right. I came as a surfer with zinc on the nose.
Guy: Everybody was there. And the whole who's who of the brewing industry was showing up at The Local Taphouse in St. Kilda. We couldn't fit more people in. There was queues out the door. Everybody was so excited about it that we knew that we'd hit on something pretty special. We felt we were going to need a bigger boat. That gave us the courage to take it offsite and start GABS.
Guy: At that point in time, we decided to change it to The Great Australasian Beer Spectapular, because we loved the Kiwi beers so much. It was so much good beer coming out of New Zealand that we wanted to include New Zealand, so we changed the name to The Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. We held that at the Royal Exhibition Building for the first time in 2012, having held it the year before at the two Taphouses in 2011.
Lachlan: I'm just having a look right in front of me at the moment from the 2011 GABS. Of some of those beers. Some of them are still around. I guess people wouldn't actually know that that's where they came from. So, Feral's Karma Citra.
Guy: Yeah, that was the first time they ever brewed that for us.
Lachlan: Yeah. The Hog Eight. The Empress.
Guy: Yeah, so they... They used to have the... No, it was The Temptress. I think they had The Empress before, but they did The Temptress for that. I think.
Lachlan: And then, what else is here? The Mountain Goat Cucumber Summer Ale. I guess that's going into their summer ale. Yeah, a whole load of beers that are still floating around today. It is interesting when looking at Four Pints doing a Wee Heavy. How, I guess, styles have changed. I think it's absolutely fantastic to see that some of the beers that were brewed then. I guess some of the ones brewed for the festival ongoingly are still around kicking today.
Guy: Can you see there in the list what Stone & Wood did?
Lachlan: Stone & Wood did... Where are they? Stone & Wood. Stone & Wood. They did... Where are they? Red Relief.
Guy: Red Relief. Ah, that's right. I think that had a charity element to it as well. From memory.
Lachlan: So yeah, so much good stuff. But like you said, you moved into... Was it the Melbourne Town Hall, was it?
Guy: The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, which is a beautiful heritage-rich building in Carlton. Which is, I think, from the 1860s or something like that. It's where Parliament first sat in 1901. Stunning, stunning building. We were very lucky to call that home in Melbourne.
Lachlan: And was it originally just the one day festival?
Guy: No, we actually kicked things off as a three day festival. We must've had rocks in our heads. We didn't know what we were doing, to be honest. We just were thinking big. Steve, my partner, he always likes to think big, which is a blessing and a curse all at the same time. So, we just went for it. If we knew then what we know now, we probably would've started smaller and built up. But we just went for it. It was both an amazing feat and also an absolute disaster all at the same time.
Lachlan: You managed to do it for a few years in Melbourne, and then you expanded to Sydney. Want to say 2014? '15?
Guy: Good question. I have to look back at my notes. It was either '14. I think it could've been '15. '15, '16, '17, '18, '19. Yeah, I think it was-
Lachlan: It was definitely [crosstalk 00:30:23] '16.
Guy: Yeah, I think it was '15.
Lachlan: And so, Sydney you were at the Redfern Carriageworks now that are the... Where are we? The-
Guy: Yeah, we were actually at the Australian Technology Park across the railway line from the Carriageworks in Eveleigh, which is Redfern. That was a beautiful space as well, but we outgrew it after a couple of years. Notwithstanding the fact that they were actually going to develop it as well. Now we've been at the Showgrounds in Homebush for the last three years. We did two years at the Australian Technology Park. So, five years in Sydney altogether.
Guy: And then-
Lachlan: Just this year you've expanded up to Brisbane?
Guy: Yeah, Brisbane we did for the first time this year in 2019. And Auckland we've now done four. Four Aucklands as well. These days it's Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Brisbane is the tour. This year I think we... I can't remember the exact numbers at the top of my head, but it was something like about 55,000 across the four cities.
Lachlan: It's become, I guess, very much the festival to go to. There's a lot of beer festivals, but I don't think anything comes to the size, to the quality of beers that are on tap, and it's definitely the one to go to. I think one everyone has in the diary and the calendar.
Lachlan: On that, it's been what? Eight years since the first one. Did you ever expect it to get to this level?
Guy: It's actually nine. If you count them, '11, '12, '13, '14, '15, '16, '17, '18, '19. So, it's been nine if you include the very first one.
Lachlan: But did you... Yeah, did you ever expect it to get to this level?
Guy: Look, I don't think when we started it, we had a master plan. It's just kind of evolved organically. I don't think if you had of asked me what's it going to look like in 9 or 10 years time, I don't think I would've had... I think we knew we were on to something, and we just wanted to celebrate these great beers. We knew that we could create... We'd been looking to do something, and that just hit the nerve, as I said. We just wanted to get behind it and make it happen.
Guy: Interestingly, our whole mission in everything that we do is to share our love of great beer with as many in our community as possible through exceptional experiences. That is a common thread in everything we do. So, Local Taphouse, GABS, and also obviously Stomping Ground these days. That ticks all those boxes. It really does help us get the message of great beer to a really wide audience. That's why we've always been so passionate about it.
Guy: I think one of the things that happened, right at the beginning is, as I was kind of alluding to, the first year we had 10,000 people show up. Which we were absolutely thrilled about, but we were devastated that the queues were so long and that people weren't having the most amazing experience. We also lost a bomb. We had to almost go back to the drawing board and pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. And really have cold, hard conversations with ourselves as to whether we could actually afford to do it again, whether we had the will to do it again, because it was a real rollercoaster. Obviously, we decided to do it.
Guy: But from the beginning, what we did is we started on this continuous improvement path where we always looked of ways that we could do things better. I don't think we've ever, ever had a GABS where we thought, "Okay, we nailed everything." There's always things that we feel we can do better. We take a lot of notes. We get feedback from a lot of different stakeholders, whether it's our amazing volunteers, our amazing staff, punters, exhibitors, you name it. We're always looking to get feedback and find out how we can do things better. I think that that's driven us and we really enjoy that process.
Lachlan: You say there you're always trying to grow and always trying to make it better. When these things get to the size that GABS is now. I think it was voted a few years ago top 10 beer festivals of the world, which is absolutely phenomenal. Does it ever get to a point where you can't control the direction that it wants to go in? It's just this massive beast that's going in its own direction?
Guy: Not really. I think, if anything, we've matured into an identity that we're quite comfortable with. It hasn't been by accident. It's been very purposefully curated and created. We've noticed some trends along the way as well. But we feel as though... I mean, every time we change something, a lot of people notice, a lot of people don't notice. But I don't think we've ever had two festivals the same. There's always been some tweaks and some changes. Whether it's the entertainment. Whether it's the layout. Whether it's the food offering. Whether it's the, you know, certain themes. That sort of thing.
Guy: Anyway. It's definitely been curated and created in a specific way. But does it have a life of its own? Well, I guess it's got its own personality. It's very well established. The changes aren't going to be... It's not going to become a music festival, for instance.
Guy: We'll always remain a beer festival.
Guy: [inaudible 00:35:54] and food festival. But beer is certainly at the heart of everything we do.
Lachlan: I guess as well for GABS, like you said, nine times it's happened. It's gone from one venue to four in two different countries. What can we expect in the future? Can we expect more places? Yeah, what can we expect?
Guy: Look, we're always looking to tweak things, as I alluded to. There's always exciting entertainment pieces and changes at the actual events. But we're also looking at other geographies as well. Brisbane is only brand new, so we really want to develop that. We think that the market there is really receptive to great beer. We're just really looking forward to next year to doing it all again.
Guy: We've got ambitions to take it overseas. To take it to other geographies as well. When and where that happens, we'll see. Again, it's about sharing our love of great beer with as many in our community as possible. And that community extends. It's not only isolated to Melbourne or to Australia. It's effectively a world community these days. A global community. We really want to share that passion for beer as widely as we can. But within reason. We're not mad, either.
Lachlan: Oh no, I personally can't wait. I'm sure there's many people out there that can't wait for next year's. And I'm sure planning for next year's gets underway before this year's happened. I'm sure it's not a short turnaround. What goes into the planning of this kind of event?
Guy: Well, we've now got two... Steve and I used to do all of that ourselves. Obviously, there's always been a team of people that help us. Either contractors or staff that get involved. But we used to run the show, the two of us. And then three years ago or so, roughly, we employed... Craig Williams is our event director, who is ironically the first person to kind of gave us the impetus to go to the Royal Exhibition Building because he was a partnerships manager with Fairfax. So, gave us our very, very first sponsorship.
Guy: Anyway. Several years later, we were looking to put someone on because it was getting too big for us to handle. We asked him if he knew anyone. We'd kept in touch. He said, "Well, yeah, I do. Me." So, we gave him over the course of the next three years, we've slowly but surely given him the reins. He's amazing. He's massively instrumental in how things work. He employed [Rooter 00:38:39], who is event coordinator or event manager. I can't remember what her exact title is, but she basically gets shit done. She and Craig are basically full-time on it.
Guy: This year we also engaged Courtney for a six month contract. Then we've got a whole team of contractors that help us. We've had the same event management company help us from the very beginning. They've been with us for nine years now. Of course there's teams of security teams, cleaners, and then there's a massive volunteer contingent. Some of our volunteers have been with us for every single festival, which is amazing. We've had some volunteers who met and then subsequently got married at GABS. And then of course, staff. Whether it's bar staff, or behind the scenes staff, or coordinators.
Guy: It takes hundreds of people to put it on, but we've only got... Surprisingly, but aside from Steve and myself, we've only got two full-time staff.
Lachlan: Oh wow. That's-
Guy: So, yeah. Planning and production happens... Now it's a year-round thing. It's a 12 month process. It used to be that we'd try to cram it into four months, or five months, and we'd almost die. That's why when Craig and Rooter came onboard, they kind of saved our lives.
Lachlan: Yeah, these things certainly don't just materialize overnight. There's a lot of planning and a whole load that goes into it.
Lachlan: If you're looking for any of the Stomping Ground beers, new releases, or an old favorite, be sure to check out the Beer Cartel website at beercartel.com.au.
Lachlan: We've talked about The Local Taphouse, Hottest 100, GABS. Three incredibly successful ventures. You then go and open a brewery. Was that just a natural progression?
Guy: Yeah. It sort of felt like a natural progression. Weirdly, we kind of did consider it in the very early days when The Local Taphouse was just born. In some ways, I wish we'd started right back then. At the time, we had our hands full developing The Local Taphouse, and we wanted to bring the best beers that we possibly could to the taps. We felt that that was best served by not brewing our own beer, but by cherry picking the best that we could find.
Guy: But after being sort of the coalface of consumers, of selling beer for a period of time, we felt we had a good understanding of the consumer desires. Also, we just loved beer. We just felt it was the right thing to do. The right time to start making it ourselves.
Lachlan: So, Stomping Ground came to be. When did that open? And what's Stomping Ground?
Guy: Stomping Ground, it came to be... Well, once upon a time, Collingwood, which is where Stomping Ground sits, it was the epicenter of brewing in the whole of Australia. Certainly in Melbourne. Then over the years, those breweries consolidated and were taken over by bigger ones to the point where they just became one big monolithic brewery, which is still up the road. We wanted to bring brewing back to its original stomping ground. It was the first new brewery that had opened up in Collingwood in over 100 years. Once upon a time, there was something like 30 different breweries in the area. There were malt works in the area. There was all sorts of supporting industry.
Guy: So, it was bringing brewing back to its original stomping ground is one reason. But the other reason was that a stomping ground is a place that you feel comfortable and at home. It's where you used to hang. There's a bit of a sense of nostalgia about it. You've got a sense of ownership over it. We wanted people, our customers and consumers, to feel that way about Stomping Ground. To feel at home, easy. To feel a sense of ownership over it. And also to have those old fashioned values, that sense of nostalgia, about what it was like to have a brewery back in the day where it was, really, an integral part of the community. It was an employer. But as well it supported local initiatives and local causes. And had a bit of a social conscience to it as well. That's where the concept of Stomping Ground came from.
Guy: And then from a beer point of view, we really wanted to, again, just showcase a wide range of styles and take people on a journey from wherever they happened to be on their beer continuum to wherever they wanted to go. So, if you're right at the pointy end, we wanted to be able to provide really pointy end beers like the barrel-aged beers, and some sours, and some triple IPAs. But if you were just new to beer and just really... We feel that there's a really important place for people just discovering better beer. We do a tiny foot, which is a 2.5% IPA. We also do lagers, brown ales, Russian Imperial Stouts. We do the whole range, and we really pride ourselves on that range of beer that we really want to showcase and take to the people.
Lachlan: When was the first beer brewed at the current location?
Guy: The current location would've been March 2016. Yeah, three-and-a-half years ago is when we first brewed the Gipps Street Pale Ale at Stomping Ground.
Lachlan: And for those people that haven't actually been to the venue, it is absolutely phenomenal. I can't think of another brewery that's got as good a venue as you have.
Guy: Ah, thanks.
Lachlan: Was that always the intention? To have that big beer garden and the kitchen. Was that always the intention? I guess, it is very different to the feeling of The Local Taphouse.
Guy: Yeah, look, it was. Again, we went on a research trips. Justin couldn't make it because he just had a baby. And so, he had to stay home. But so Steve and I, and [Asher 00:44:47], our head brewer, went on a research trip to the States. And we basically checked out a whole bunch of different breweries right up and down the East Coast. Oh, sorry. The West Coast. They went over to the East Coast before I went back. But we also went... They went to Colorado as well.
Guy: We checked out all these different breweries, and we were overwhelmed by how amazing the beer was. But by and large we were underwhelmed by the level of hospitality offer that was out there. We didn't think anything was that amazing. And Melbourne is really world-class when it comes to the hospitality offers.
Guy: We wanted to combine amazing beer with an amazing hospitality experience. We really wanted to strive for excellence. It's really amazing to hear you say that you think is great, which is really so great to hear. We really want to, basically, create an amazing experience for our customers and introduce people to great beers.
Guy: The hospitality component is obviously a strength of ours, having been at The Local Taphouse for many years. And had a couple of Local Taphouses. And also GABS, in a lot of ways, is a hospitality offer on steroids over a short period of time. And so, yeah, it was a very important part of what we wanted to do. We wanted people to feel comfortable and included. That meant providing an environment that was conducive to sharing a beer, having a great laugh, and also being very family friendly so that we brought as many people into the fold as possible.
Lachlan: I think another thing for Stomping Ground as well with... It still continues from The Taphouse with the inclusiveness, but also education. You mentioned at the start of this that education was key and paramount to The Local Taphouse. A stat that I found while I was doing some research was, across both venues, over the time there's been 12 certified cicerones. I think that number's correct.
Guy: Yeah, I haven't done the latest count, but yes, that's true. I think there may even be more since then.
Lachlan: Yeah. There's not many venues that would even have one, let alone two. And you've got 12.
Guy: Yeah, 12 across the [inaudible 00:47:03]. I mean, you're right. Education is a massively important part for us. And for so many different reasons. First of all, just for staff engagement. I mean, I think our people are our greatest asset. In order to get people really motivated and interested, and give them something back, I think it's really important that we provide that platform or that opportunity for education. That's what people really, really enjoy.
Guy: It's not just beer, by the way. I mean, the cicerone part is really important. But we like to educate staff on everything. Whiskeys. Wines. The whole shebang. Customer service is key as well.
Guy: Educated, engaged staff are the best staff. I'd like to think we've got the best staff out there. I certainly love them. We have a really great team and a really great... Everybody's got a good balance between work ethic and fun. Yeah, we're really, really proud of that as well.
Lachlan: And those staff... I guess those 12 certified cicerones, you haven't gone out there and advertised for we're looking for a bar manager who's certified cicerone. These are staff members that have joined Stomping Ground that you've put them through the course?
Guy: That's right, yeah.
Lachlan: And on that, with Stomping Ground-
Guy: [crosstalk 00:48:26] There have been one or two people that have joined us that were already a cicerone, which is always great. But by and large, I think the majority of the people have done the course with us.
Lachlan: Yeah, I think... That's the way to do it I think. Put them through the education. One thing on Stomping Ground that came out the news, probably a month ago now, that was really big news was you're opening a second venue.
Guy: Yes. Actually two more.
Lachlan: Two more venues?
Lachlan: Ah, I haven't actually heard about that second one. What are they?
Guy: Okay, well we're opening one in Moorabbin in February.
Guy: At an old tobacco factory. An old Philip Morris tobacco factory in Moorabbin as part of a precinct that's got a bit commercial property, a bit of industrial property, and a food and bev precinct that links the two up.
Guy: That whole hospitality piece is something that we love doing. We love people to come and experience our brand. But we wanted to do it in a way that was very sensitive to our customers. We didn't want to open up a venue in the heart of where all our customers were because we didn't want to ruffle any feathers by being competitors, effectively. So, we really wanted to go a bit more in an industrial location. And so, we found something that wasn't in the heart of our customer base. But also service to particular demographic where there wasn't much for them at all in that particular area.
Guy: We're really excited about that. I mean, that southeast area has got a big and growing population. It's got a lot of young families and there's not a lot of option. Going into the city or to Collingwood is a little bit far. We're pretty excited. We're going to have a 12 hec brewery there, and we're going to make a lot of small batch, experimental, fun beers there. We'll still do the bulk of our operations in Collingwood where we'll still have the canning line, and we'll do our packaging here. But we'll be able to do keg-only beer down there in Moorabbin.
Lachlan: Now, do you remember the second venue? I'll let you explain it. This one is super exciting. What's the second new venue you're opening?
Guy: Oh, so the second new one is the airport.
Guy: That's going to open mid December, so that's hurtling along. And yeah, we're really excited for that one. It's basically a space that's about 350 square meters or so in Terminal 3, on the airside. So, you've gone through security in the Virgin Terminal. We're going to have the first brewery in an airport in Australia. And I think only the second in the Southern Hemisphere. We originally thought we were the first, but turns out there's one in Johannesburg, I believe. Only about the 15 in the world, from my understanding.
Guy: Yeah. Which is really exciting. So, we'll be able to brew beer at the airport, which is going to pose a whole bunch of headaches. How do you get malt and hops and everything through security every time? But-
Lachlan: That was going to be one of my questions, yeah.
Guy: We love a good challenge. Yeah, so that's exciting as well. And look, it's a small brewery. It's only like a pilot, so it's a 6-hec brewery. And we'll be able to brew hopefully a couple of times a week. Create a small number of beers that are only available onsite. Yeah, so that's really exciting.
Guy: And we've had a lot of fun coming up with some names for what the beer could be called. All airport and airplane and aviation themed. I'm sure you can let your imagination run wild as well, but if anyone's listening to this and has some great suggestion for a aviation-style name for a beer, please feel free to send it through.
Lachlan: You mentioned that those challenges that's going to be associated with brewing beer, not just at an airport, but through the security part of the airport. Are you able to tell us what some of those challenges might be?
Guy: Well I mean, just as you can imagine, everything associated with operating at the airport. Certainly on the airside. Through security means that staff have to go through. Supplies have to go through. Everything has to go through. You have to add a whole bunch of time to the delivery process and to the operations process in order to make that happen. It just makes it more complicated. It's not as easy as going, "Aw shit, I need some of this. I'll just go down the road and grab it."
Guy: The supplies have to be authorized. There's a whole bunch of a process that goes through it. Goes with it. Yeah, that poses some challenges.
Lachlan: And what was the process of applying or trying to get the brewery in the airport? I can't imagine there's advertisement saying, "Looking for new brewery in Melbourne Airport." How did that come about?
Guy: It was a cold call, actually. Steve just called the airport and said, "Hey, have you got any sites?" They said, "Funny you should ask because we're thinking of going to tender pretty soon because we want to mix things up."
Guy: And so, Justin and Steve went and had a look at the sites and they said, "Look, there's a tender coming, but in the meantime, have a look around." We had a look around. Then Justin said, "Hey, have you got anything within the outdoor area?" Because we always love a bit of outdoor. And they said, "Well, we don't. But funny you should ask that because we don't know what to do with this space in between Terminal 3 and 4. And would you be interested in doing it?"
Guy: We looked at it and it looked like an amazing space. It was a bit of an unknown because it was outside before you even get into the airport. And they said, "Look, if you guys are interested in that, you could probably do something. But you need to do it by December." This is about five weeks before. This is in the end of October. Because you can't do anything... If you don't do it by December, you can't do it at all.
Guy: We said, "Do you reckon we can do it?" So, we did. And we did a popup there for the next two summers and operated there for like 13, 14 weeks over summer. It went really well. It was a great... The airport loved it. The staff at the airport loved it. For us it was great because it showcased our brand at the gateway to Melbourne. And we really love to celebrate Melbourne's culture. That's what we're all about. So, the gateway to Melbourne being Melbourne's airport was just a really great logical place for us to be.
Guy: Yeah, that ended up boding well for when the tender process actually did end up going live. We ended up winning the contract, which is great.
Lachlan: I can't wait for next time I'm in Melbourne, and then hopefully the brewery will be open then, to finally be able to get some good beers at the airport. Which has sorely been lacked in Australia.
Guy: Yeah. No, we're super excited by it as well. Can't wait. I'll be flying a lot more Virgin, I think.
Lachlan: Yeah. So, it's in the Virgin Terminal? That's who we need to fly to get access to it?
Guy: Correct, yeah. It is. It's really in the Virgin Terminal.
Lachlan: Last but not least for Stomping Ground, you've talked about the two new venues. Is there anything else on the future? Or what can we expect in the next couple of years?
Guy: Look, for us we're kind of like a lot of other small breweries, we're figuring things out as we go. We're very, very lucky. The beer community, and the brewing community, is really collaborative and supportive. And it's getting very, very competitive. There's a lot of new players emerging all the time. You're starting to find that a couple of breweries are not going so well.
Guy: But the one thing that I'm just enormously grateful for is that the people that involved tend to be really great people. There's really collaborative... There's breweries just around the corner from us that we ask advice from. Also into state. People have been so helpful and supportive. And by the same token, when there's new up and comers that we're speaking to. We have Dollar Bill every now and then produce some work here. We've done the same thing for Molly Rose. They've produced some work here.
Guy: We got help from Bodriggy recently. We've run out of salt and we go pick it up from there. The guys from Fixation come and wash their kegs here every now and then. We went to Stone & Wood and went through their sensory program, and they taught us what they're doing. Because we've added a sensory program to what we're doing now, which we're enormously proud of. It's just helping us to lift our game when it comes to beer quality.
Guy: All of these things are... The industry's so collaborative. We're really enormously grateful to be a part of it. I guess it's going to get harder and harder, but as long we can carry on being nice to each other and collaborative, that's the main thing.
Lachlan: Well, I think over the last near on hour, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. To get the rundown of where it all came from with The Local Taphouse, to The Hottest 100, GABS, Stomping Ground. To the innovation that you've done, I think the industry owes a lot. And it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Guy: Oh, mate, that's my absolute pleasure. Thanks for the chat. I hope I was coherent and didn't um and ah too much.
Lachlan: Awesome. Thanks, Guy.
Guy: Okay. Thanks, buddy. Cheers.
Lachlan: Guy, Steve, and Justin have truly changed the landscape of craft beer in Australia. We wouldn't be anywhere near where we are without them. Once again, thank you so much to Guy for joining me today. And if you have any questions, please let us know on our Facebook group, Beer Cartel's Craft Beer Collective.
Lachlan: If you'd like to stay up to date with the latest from the craft beer industry, please hit subscribe at either iTunes podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. That's it for today. I'll see you next time.