Q&A: Resourcefulness pays off for backyard brewers

When former naval officer Dave Henderson met events and hospitality professional Shiree Phillips in Sydney they bonded over their love of amber ale. We soke to Shiree about how she and Irishman Dave transformed their passion into a business.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind you deciding to set up your own brewery?

SP: We first stumbled across the idea of brewing when we were living in Darwin during “wet” season – Dave thought it would be good way to pass the time indoors. We quickly realised that Dave was very good at his new hobby, and he brought his new-found passion back to Sydney during a chat with a mate. Together, they started discussing the idea of starting a brewery. When we later moved to my hometown of Mudgee, Dave was looking for a new venture, and we thought that his passion and talent for brewing could translate well into a business.

ISB: And how did you go about getting the enterprise off the ground?

SP: When Dave and his mate had the idea of starting up a business together, they jumped on Gumtree to see what tools and equipment were around. Here they stumbled across a small commercial brewery in Orange, and after only intending to grab a few pieces of equipment, they returned home with everything they needed to set up a microbrewery! They got a second-hand 200-litre system, 10 commercial kegs, and grain all from the same seller, and the whole process was so cost-effective and convenient that we went straight back to Gumtree when we needed a shed to house our new equipment. We ended up finding a used, deconstructed shed on Gumtree, and Dave and I collected it in our ute and brought it back home to start out core beer range.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in turning what began as a hobby project into the enterprise it is today?

SP: When we first launched, we were completely clueless about how to take our homebrew product and scale up recipes and logistics. We didn’t have a lot of contacts in the industry to call upon, which was a little difficult, but luckily we had the initial support of some local pubs and bottle-shops where Dave was a frequent customer. A major challenge for us was convincing our family and friends that we could do it, especially when it came to juggling the business with full time work. We’ve since set up the NSW Gypsy Brewers Group to support other local brewers wanting to break into the industry, and offer advice from people who’ve gone through it before. With uncertainty and juggling day jobs in the back of your mind, buying the bare essentials second-hand can really take the pressure off your wallet.

ISB: What is the USP of your product in what is a very competitive market?

SP: Craft beer is a very saturated market and to stand out, you really need to have an authentic story. For us, it was important to have branding that we can communicate clearly without having to explain it, otherwise it won’t stick with customers. We honed in on Dave’s “Irishness” and the nostalgia that comes from the beer making traditions of Ireland and Australia. We found this branding very liberating because it helped us make clear decisions with everything – from recipe development, product releases, collaborations and sponsorships, to labels and logos.

ISB: What is your vision for the development of the business in the next couple of years?

SP: We’ve recently found a venue to open a production brewery in Mudgee, with a view to expand our product range to include spirits, ciders, sodas and spent grain products. We’re also working with farmers to grow our own barley and hops to produce a very local product, and continuing with our Mudgee Brewing School, where Dave teaches people how to make beer from scratch with grain at home.

ISB: And, finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

SP: Spend money and time on branding and marketing because this is what people are buying. Also, be savvy about where you source equipment. Don’t forget that every penny counts when you’re new to things, so you don’t always have to buy everything brand new. Gumtree was a really valuable resource for us because it helped us find cost-saving second-hand items that are not necessarily on the market by connecting us with locals in our community.