the Scream sat down with Glen Brasington, CEO of Hawke’s Brewing Co to hear about future consolidation, the brand’s new beer and leisure center and Prime Minister Albanian’s visit.
The concept of the Bob Hawke Beer and Leisure Center is clear: packed with Hawke memorabilia and with constant nods to the late 80s PM heyday, the bar is like an ‘elevated RSL’. It even has its own retro country Chinese restaurant, the Lucky Prawn, which serves classic dishes including shrimp toast and sweet and sour pork.
An adjacent pool room remembers The castle, complete with a collection of photos of Ashes and American Cup victories from a bygone era. The venue’s memorabilia was curated in part by Bob Hawke’s daughter, Sue Peters-Hawke. And as Brasington explains, nostalgia is certainly a powerful force.
“We’ve probably been fully booked since we opened,” Brasington says.
“We expected it to decrease, and we’ve factored in a seasonal drop because it’s been wet. But it’s an indoor location, and if it’s gray, we’ll have some of our bigger days.”
prime minister affairs
The Leisure Center opened in April and the launch was delayed from December following the impact of the Omicron strain. A notable early visitor was Anthony Albanese, who represents Grayndler’s home division, and visited the venue both as leader of the opposition and newly minted Prime Minister.
“[Albanese] was a big fan of Bob and was quite candid about modeling herself on him. He came down when we started brewing and when we chatted and jabbed in the middle of the COVID period to encourage people to get vaccinated, he came back down and did a whole bunch of fresh stuff for us,” says Brasington.
After the election, Albanian visited again, and was joined by Hawke’s widow Blanche d’Alpuget, daughter Sue, and granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price.
“They met him in the billiard room and had 20 minutes, Sue, his daughter, was really keen to give some advice on his position, and I think he was genuinely delighted to see Blanche. He did a lot of interviews, poured a few beers – he was great, really great.”
A welcome to the trade
Hawke’s hospitality extends beyond premiers, with the leisure center designed in part to provide retail customers with a holistic experience of what the brand is all about.
“For us, this is just an important marketing tool. Everything is salable and generates income for us through direct sales,” explains Brasington.
“Most weekends, and during the week, a few hundred professionals come by – tasting beer, having lunch.
“Because it’s so hard to compete in the craft segment unless you have these kinds of marketing resources. And everything is also designed to be unique,” continues Brasington.
When creating the venue, Nathan Lennon and David Gibson, founders of the brand, focused on every detail, to the extent that the architect, Bianca Isgro, was taken to see both the Old Parliament House and Bob Hawke’s actual pool room in his house in Northbridge. The billiard room at the location is said to be an exact replica.
The Leisure Center bar goes beyond the usual offerings of brewery cafes and taphouses. There is, of course, a wide range of Hawke beers on tap, including about five ‘one hit wonders’ available locally only – some of which the company uses to test demand for possible expansions to the brand’s range.
The beers are complemented by a full drink offering, including natural wines, a spirits back bar and a small menu of cocktails – which Brasington says are surprisingly popular.
“Many manufacturers, other brewers, can only sell what they make, [because] they have a production license,” Brasington added.
Hawke’s does produce on site, though, and the venue is more than just a bar and restaurant: it’s home to the Hawke’s Brewery itself, with the beer-making equipment above the bar on the top floor.
The brewery has a capacity to produce 1.5 million liters of beer annually, with canning also being carried out in a room next to the bar.
“We have a long-term lease here – 15 years, so investing in the equipment and infrastructure was long-term,” explains Brasington.
Previously, Hawke’s beer was produced through contract brewing, including at Tribe Breweries, one of Australia’s largest craft contract brewers.
“Eventually we got to Tribe, and they were great, but for a few years things went a bit up and down, and we were at the point where we said, to make the company sustainable and control quality, we had to needed surgery of their own,” Brasington says.
“We raised capital, went out and found a cornerstone investor. They came on board who financed the construction of the brewery, and then friends and family and the two founders put their savings into it.
“So I think that was probably the hardest time to make the decision to go for a, you know, a capital-intensive industrial asset with all the complexity,” Brasington continues.
“Up until that point it was two guys in a garage and contract brewing with some distribution.”
According to Brasington, former Lion CEO Rob Murray was instrumental in convincing Lennon and Gibson that location was essential.
“Rob was really good, because he had a lot of experience with Little Creatures, and he was the one who convinced them that this part of the company was important as a marketing tool and a good money generator
“To make [this space] work, then you’ve got something like this,” Brasington says, gesturing toward the restaurant and bar.
“This is the best use of the space, because of the margin you get from selling directly.”
Brewing for the future
An eye-catching element of the brewery is a floor-to-ceiling airtight container, with lettuce growing on the wall in staggered pots. This project is part of a collaboration with UTS, where carbon dioxide from the beer tanks is fed directly into the greenhouse-like structure, testing different crops to see which one absorbs carbon the best.
This is just one element of the brewery’s sustainability efforts, in addition to a large solar panel on the roof.
“We get water from the roof and we have a 100-kilowatt solar system that basically powers everything, so it’s very sustainable. On a normal day, everything you see will come from that,” Brasington says.
“The brewhouse is a Thermakraft system with heat transfer.”
As with other breweries, spent grain is sent to agriculture, creating less waste, while the packaging used by Hawek’s is recyclable. If the company needs to import, Brasington says, they’ll use a carbon-free freight provider.
An important part of Hawke’s Brewing Co is its partnership with Landcare, an organization of great importance to Bob Hawke himself, as Brasington explains.
“We only really exist as a company because of that agreement [with Landcare]Brasington says.
“Bob loved beer, and he loved the idea of being part of a beer company, but I definitely think what convinced him: we are an environmentally conscious, sustainably driven company, and our success as a company would benefit Landcare.
“A percentage of Bob’s profits and all royalties go to Landcare. We have a logo on our package, and we pay a license fee to do that. Our employees also volunteer at [Landcare] events, and we try to integrate it as much as possible,” continues Brasington.
Above the bar is a large sign that reads: ‘Every sip is a quid for Landcare’, with an overview of the money raised below.
Brewery and Category Forecast
Beyond the walls of the venue itself, Hawke’s is a brand that operates in both retail and on-location, and the Scream asked Brasington what his predictions were, both for his brand and for the beer category as a whole.
“I think the next 12 months will be a bit of a consolidation phase for us, because for the past five years we’ve dreamed of a place to showcase the brand, dream of being able to experiment with different beers on tap, and cheap,” says Brassington.
“Success in the next 12 months is nationwide, with the big names and really, really a refinement of our retail offering.
“We are not a specialty beer brand. We don’t want to do a new style or flavor every month or week. We really see the opportunity as a premium national and local independent brand.
“That’s what consumers tell us too, because a lot of the brands they love are now owned by foreign companies, and they want to support local beer and small businesses, but often the quality or consistency isn’t there. There’s that mid-growing that’s really interesting,” continues Brasington.
Finally, the area where Brasington sees the greatest growth potential is in the light beer category.
“The last five years have been a midstream market and I honestly think if the same R&D is applied to the light category, we’re going to get a lot of really good beers around that one to 1.8 percent.”
Hawke’s does not currently offer non-alcoholic beer and does not have the equipment needed to produce one.
“Personally I think there are too many taste compromises to go to zero. I drink them and I understand them well, but I will still like to have a light beer, but there aren’t that many options that fit my taste profile.”
Notably, one of the “One Hit Wonder” beers currently on trial tap is an XPA of 1.5%. Check out this space.