Before craft beer really had its “boom”, there were very few giving it the time of day in terms of media time. That’s why Matt Kirkegaard founded Brews News, now Australia’s most trusted news source for the beer industry. Since starting Brews News 2010, Matt has provided industry wide coverage and a platform for independent producers. He has also gone on to become one of Australia’s most recognised independent beer educators, writers and advocates. We were lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Matt about his deep dive into the world of beer, as well as the industry’s past, present and future.
Matt in a Snapshot
What was the turning point where you really started getting into beer?
When I realised that you weren’t limited to the beer that your dad drank, and that being adventurous was very rewarding. Beers – all beers – have an incredible story that tells the tale of the community and culture that gave rise to them. I think wine tells the story of where the grape was grown, beer tells the story of where it is consumed.
Where in the world has your passion for beer taken you?
I am incredibly lucky that just about every country has a brewery and a culture aground drinking beer, so my passion has taken me to drink beer at the world’s oldest brewery in Germany, seeing the first keg tapped at Oktoberfest, the biggest craft beer festival in the world in the United States and in Estaminets in France.
If you had to pick a beer for each season, what would they be?
Hmmm, if I absolutely had to….Saison for Spring, Pilsner for Summer, Bock for Autumn and Dubbel for Winter.
What is it about a pint of beer that seems to bring people together?
Beer at its heart is inclusive and unpretentious. It lends itself to be talked over rather than about. The moderate alcohol in beer also lends itself to the longer ‘session’ while still being responsible…so you can have a proper catch up.
Most underrated style of beer?
Pilsner! In the world of beer, a classic pilsner is a little too full-on for mainstream lager drinkers, but not bold and punchy enough for dedicated craft beer drinkers…it deserves much more love.
The Story So Far
What led you to writing about beer and starting Brews News, a beer industry publication?
While wine was extensively covered, there were very few people writing seriously about beer itself and the beer industry. The creative and business tensions between the emerging craft brewers and the traditional mainstream industry fascinated me. As a writer and beer lover I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t telling these stories. Fortunately it was the beginning of blogs as well, so my desire to write and and the ability to self-publish and build an audience coincided. That timing has helped Brews News grow from a blog with aspirations to a serious industry journal covering the industry.
What impact did you set out to achieve for the industry with Brews News?
In a changing media landscape where journalism and PR have been vertically integrated, I wanted to peel back some of the PR hype and have an unvarnished look at the industry and what the news and trends actually mean. That’s a challenging business model in a world where advertisers don’t see a difference between advertising and editorial…but readers do. I think if it has an had an impact it’s that those who get the value of our independent approach support us.
What do you think have been the biggest game changes in the beer industry over the past decade or so?
The number of breweries competing in a market that isn’t growing quite as quickly, particularly in popular locations. That’s put a lot of pressure on business models and the beers that brewers are making. On one hand, it’s great for consumers who are spoiled for choice, but it’s tough on the breweries.
What are the biggest challenges independent breweries face?
Every aspect of the brewing, packaging and distribution process is harder and more expensive for small breweries. Their survival depends on consumers seeing enough value in the intangibles of small, local and independent – and the long term value to an innovative and dynamic small brewing industry – to pay the price difference for a value that they can’t necessarily taste in the glass.
Why do you think the craft beer industry has been so successful in engaging the new generation of consumers?
The passion of the brewers coincided with the values of the consumer on many levels. I think many of the people drinking in brewpubs are there less for the beer than the venue represents the traditional ‘local’. The culture of beer is also more attraction, it’s more about flavour than effect.
What role has packaging played in this success, and how do you think beer packaging will evolve in the future?
The rise of cans has been a huge change in the industry. They were once associated with cheaper, mass-market lagers, but have now become important packaging. It has also opened up design to be much more interesting an innovative. While cans have opened up some opportunities for beer to go to places that glass wasn’t practical, it is also a little harder for beer to occupy more formal spaces, like restaurants because of the lingering aesthetics preferences.
How are breweries using technology to connect with their customers?
Like every industry, social media has allowed a much more direct relationship and communication with consumers. It allows breweries to build engaged communities without the need for intermediaries. We have seen a big shift to direct sales as well, especially during COVID, which technology has facilitated as well.
Who are some breweries in the space that are currently making a splash?
With a massive duopoly in retails and the competition stifling impact of tap contacts, small breweries are increasing looking to expand their own hospitality operations and becoming multi venue entities. Like taprooms, this is a really exciting prospect for the consumer.
What do you think the beverage industry should be focusing on in the next few years?
Telling unique stories. There is a tendency for businesses to all go the same way when something seems to be working in the market, but that tends to reward the bigger and better resourced businesses. Telling a story that truly aligns with a business and a brand really resonates with consumers on an instinctive level. It feels right to them and provides a unique attraction for a business that others can’t imitate.