Are breweries the new bars?

A selection of tinnies produced at Yulli's brewery.
A selection of tinnies produced at Yulli's brewery.  Photo: Cole Bennetts

The drinking scene in our capital cities is all but unrecognisable from a decade ago.

The roll-out of small bar liquor licences in various states has been followed more recently by an explosion in brewery taprooms, most notably in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. And distilleries are entering the fray, opening their own bars to the public.

The interior at Yulli's Brews in Sydney.
The interior at Yulli's Brews in Sydney. Photo: Cole Bennetts

Competition for the drinker's dollar is becoming increasingly tight. The issue has been controversial in the United States, where breweries are opening at a record rate and selling increasing amounts of beer in their own taprooms at the expense of traditional beer bars.

The dynamics and scale are vastly different in Australia but some people in the local craft beer industry question whether similar conflict is likely to arise here.

Michael Bain, owner of Sydney's Royal Albert Hotel, says the rise of brewery bars has helped increase awareness in craft beer.

The range of beers produced at Yulli's Brewery.
The range of beers produced at Yulli's Brewery. Photo: Cole Bennetts

"Five years ago, many people in Sydney would have been unlikely to have set foot in a brewery. Nowadays it's a very common activity," Bain says.

"All pubs serving craft beer have benefited to some extent from taprooms increasing consumer awareness about the category."

But it's a double-edged sword.

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"We have undoubtedly noticed increased competition from taprooms for specific drinking occasions such as Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

"We do need to differentiate our offering to these venues, so it does mean we are less likely to pour beers that people can enjoy at the brewery a few suburbs away," Bain says.

Steve Jeffares is co-founder of Stomping Ground Brewery & Beer Hall, a brewery and hospitality venue that opened in Collingwood, Melbourne, in late 2016.

Steve Jeffares at his Stomping Ground Brewery & Beer Hall.
Steve Jeffares at his Stomping Ground Brewery & Beer Hall. Photo: Jason South

"We've certainly encountered some venues who see us as direct competition and have chosen not to put [our beers] on tap," Jeffares says. "But because we're a large venue located away from the high streets, it's not like we're right on their doorstep."

Stomping Ground has its own kitchen offering a substantial food menu, but Jeffares says the brewery does not otherwise operate like a pub.

"We don't have guest taps in the beer hall, as a general rule. If people come to Stomping Ground, all they can get is Stomping Ground beer," he says.

Fixation Brewing Company's new Collingwood venue, The Incubator.
Fixation Brewing Company's new Collingwood venue, The Incubator. Photo: David Hyde

"If we started having four, five or six guest taps, like some breweries choose to do in their taprooms, I could see how pubs and bars in the area would see the morphing of these brewery bars into regular beer bars and feel it's too close for comfort."

Opening on September 5 is The Incubator, the new home of Fixation Brewing Company, also in Collingwood.

Managing partner Tom Delmont says it is a pivotal moment for the brand, which is proudly fixated on making one beer style only: India Pale Ale.

To date Fixation has produced all its beers at the affiliated Stone & Wood Brewing Company in northern NSW. The Incubator will enable greater experimentation with "new hoppy ideas", the best of which may be scaled up for larger scale production at Stone & Wood.

"We've been working towards this for almost three years now. As far as I know we're the only brewing company that's only making one style of beer," Delmont says.

"Everything's going to be hop-driven, to some extent, but we have a range of styles within IPA; different yeast strains, different hops, different malt, fruit additions."

The Incubator has created several new beers in time for the launch, including two locally themed hazy IPAs; 86 Tram Line and Easey Street.

Breweries in Sydney's inner west recently had trading conditions relaxed for their taprooms, most of which had antiquated liquor licences created to suit winery cellar doors rather than bars.

"To allow someone to try only a little bit of beer and then buy [bottles to] take away is an alien way of selling beer to beer drinkers," says Young Henrys Brewing founder and Inner West Brewery Association vice president Richard Adamson.

"The changes just remove the ambiguity so that breweries can serve their beers in any sized glass, and there's no question about how many times a customer tries a particular beer," he says.

"It is limited to selling your own products and you've still got limits around entertainment. It's not like you're going to have TVs and live bands, because generally speaking the zoning doesn't allow for that."

Publican Ray Reilly purchased Marrickville venue the Henson in 2013, and has watched breweries multiply around him ever since. But he feels his pub offers something different to the brewery taprooms, which are typically more rustic in feel, with food trucks the extent of their dining options.

"Probably 75 per cent of our trade is families," Reilly says. "I think breweries attract a bit of a younger crowd. It helps the community as a whole. Marrickville is now a destination. What we find happening is there are a lot of brewery crawls, so they might come in here and eat during, before or after their brewery crawl."

New kids on the block

Bodriggy Brewing, Vic

The team behind craft beer bar Dr Morse has been quietly establishing its own brewery, Bodriggy Brewing, since buying a neighbouring property two years ago. Expected to open early 2019, Bodriggy's large-scale taproom will offer live music, retail sales and outdoor drinking areas.

245 Johnston Street, Collingwood, bodriggybrewing.com.au

Felons Brewing, QLD

Set under the Story Bridge on the banks of the Brisbane River, Felons Brewing is the identity of a major new brewpub located within the vast Howard Smith Wharves precinct. Opens November 2018.

5 Boundary Street, Brisbane, felonsbrewingco.com.au

​The Incubator, Vic

Fixation Brewing Company's new Collingwood taproom will give Melburnians the opportunity to try experimental India Pale Ales fresh from the source. Opens Wednesday to Sunday from September 5.

414 Smith Street, Collingwood, fixationbrewing.com.au

Range Brewing, Qld

The latest addition to Brisbane's thriving craft beer scene, Range Brewing offers a rotating line-up of hoppy, dark and sour beers accompanied by sourdough pizzas.

4 Byres Street, Newstead, rangebrewing.com

Stockade Brew Co Barrel Room, NSW

 A stone's throw from Sydney stalwart Batch Brewing Company, Stockade's new taproom doubles as a barrel maturation facility, with 200 barrels of beer lining its attractive interior.

25 Cadogan Street, Marrickville, stockadebrewco.com.au

Valhalla Taproom, Vic

Founded by Torquay-based husband-and-wife team Scott Hunt and Ange Tydd, gypsy outfit Valhalla Brewing is expected to open its own bar in Geelong in November. The 80-capacity venue will pour eight of its own beers alongside those of other independent breweries.

Union Street, Geelong, valhallabrewing.com.au

Willie The Boatman, NSW

Inner-west stalwart Willie the Boatman has slated an October 2018 opening for its new brewery and taproom. It's a much larger site than its current St Peters digs, with expanded opening hours.

Suite 6.01, precinct 75, 75 Mary Street, St Peters, willietheboatman.com

Yulli's Brews, NSW

Vegan food is served all day at Yulli's new Sydney production brewery, alongside a line-up of top-rated beers. Try the Matt Steele American Pale Ale.

75a Burrows Road, Alexandria, yullisbrews.com.au