COVER STORY

Own­ing a brew­ery – it’s a clas­sic Aussie dream. But even pro surfer Mick Fan­ning didn’t pre­dict that an idea be­tween mates would be­come a na­tional suc­cess story. ANOOSKA TUCKER-EVANS talks to the tal­ented brewer

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents -

Pro surfer Mick Fan­ning is mak­ing waves with his beer brand Bal­ter.

Mick Fan­ning is ar­guably Aus­tralia’s great­est male surfer, worth mil­lions in en­dorse­ments and prize money, and an Aussie le­gend with an Or­der of Aus­tralia to his name.

So how did a surfer who ad­mits he used to drink XXXX and Tooheys be­come the owner of one of the most re­spected Aus­tralian beer brands?

At the Gold Coast brew­ery, Bal­ter – which Fan­ning co-owns with fel­low pro surfers Bede Dur­bidge, Josh Kerr and Joel Parkin­son, as well as mar­ket­ing guru Stir­ling How­land, head brewer Scott Hargrave, and Ant Mac­don­ald and Sean Ro­nan – you are most likely to find the 36-year-old with a broom in his hand.

“We walk into the brew­ery and the four of us [surfers] are prob­a­bly the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor there,” Fan­ning says mod­estly. “If we get told to clean some­thing or they need a hand with some­thing, we’re the first ones to put up our hands and help out.”

It’s this type of ego-free en­vi­ron­ment Fan­ning cred­its to the brand’s suc­cess.

Bal­ter Brew­ing Co is less than two years old and is al­ready avail­able at 700 venues and re­tail out­lets across Aus­tralia. The group has had to nearly dou­ble its brew­ing fa­cil­ity in Cur­rumbin on the Gold Coast just to meet de­mand for its range of four beers.

It’s suc­cess Fan­ning never pre­dicted when Dur­bidge ap­proached him with the idea be­fore a trip to Hawaii in 2015.

“We’re just as sur­prised as ev­ery­one else really,” Fan­ning says. “I guess it comes down to Scotty, our brewer, who is just an in­cred­i­ble mas­ter of his art.”

Se­cur­ing ex-stone & Wood brewer “Scotty” Hargrave was a huge coup for the surf­ing quar­tet, but it wasn’t easy. “He was scep­ti­cal when we first started. He looked at us go­ing, ‘Oh God, here we go, they’re just a bunch of guys with some money try­ing to live the dream,’” Fan­ning says.

And al­most with good rea­son. “I was sort of at a point in my life where I felt I had ex­tra time to cre­ate some­thing like that. And I thought we buy enough beer off other peo­ple, why not make some our­selves,” he says with a laugh. But once the idea was so­lid­i­fied, Fan­ning in­sists he and the oth­ers were 100 per cent com­mit­ted.

“We were read­ing a lot, go­ing through all the num­bers, help­ing out with mar­ket­ing, try­ing to fig­ure out which peo­ple to em­ploy – we were really hands-on,” he says. Nat­u­rally that has meant a lot of re­search for the pre­vi­ously un­ad­ven­tur­ous drinker.

“It wasn’t un­til I started think­ing about hav­ing a brew­ery that I thought maybe I’d try some­thing new,” he says. “I took my dad into the brew­ery and he was like, ‘I don’t really like that beer [Bal­ter’s sig­na­ture XPA],’ and I was like, ‘Oh cool, no wor­ries, maybe try this one.’ And he ac­tu­ally really likes the darker ales that we do. So we un­der­stand that peo­ple don’t like change, and we un­der­stand that peo­ple have dif­fer­ent palates and that’s fine. We’re just try­ing to put some­thing else out there in case you do want to try some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

And there are plenty who are lin­ing up to try their some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Not only has the beer found fans with the gen­eral pub­lic, at the Aus­tralian In­ter­na­tional Beer Awards Bal­ter’s first brew, the XPA, took out the Best In­ter­na­tional Pale Ale gong, while the brew­ery claimed Cham­pion Medium Brew­ery and Best New­comer at the pres­ti­gious awards. Its other brews – the Alt Brown, IPA and Pil­sner – also went home with a slew of gold and sil­ver medals tied to their tinnies.

Mike Ben­nie, de­li­cious. drinks writer, be­lieves Bal­ter of­fers that much-loved Aus­tralian qual­ity of ‘ses­sion­abil­ity’.

“They’ve done a very good job in creat­ing beers that each have dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ties that ad­here to the style of beer that it says on the out­side of the can, but also a very high drink­a­bil­ity,” Ben­nie says.

How­ever, Fan­ning is keenly aware that the surfers’ fame has helped in get­ting the beer recog­nised so early on. “I guess to be really hon­est, it was prob­a­bly eas­ier for us than oth­ers to get the name out there and the prod­uct out there just be­cause we do have pro­files within Aus­tralia,” he says.

“In say­ing that, our whole thing from day dot was that we can put our name to all these dif­fer­ent things, but if we’re not proud of them then peo­ple are go­ing to see through that.

“From day one our big­gest thing was to make sure we had a really good beer so peo­ple ac­tu­ally came back for the beer and not for any­thing we did.”

And so far, that’s work­ing. So well, in fact, the group has al­ready had a num­ber of of­fers to take the brand in­ter­na­tional.

“We’ve def­i­nitely had in­ter­est from dif­fer­ent peo­ple over­seas but the lo­gis­tics are pretty hard,” Fan­ning says. “But first and fore­most we just want to get on top of things in Aus­tralia.”

And while all is go­ing well at Bal­ter, Fan­ning says the re­tire­ment nest egg still has quite a bit of grow­ing to do be­fore he’ll be hang­ing up the surf­board.

“We haven’t seen a cent out of Bal­ter yet – we just keep putting it back into the com­pany and mak­ing sure that it’s all grow­ing,” he says.

He won’t be tak­ing to the taps as a bar­tender at the brew­ery to sup­ple­ment his in­come any time soon, either. “It is fun, but when you’re such a novice like me it gets a lit­tle stress­ful,” he ad­mits.

WAVE OF SUC­CESS Pro surfer Mick Fan­ning leads a dou­ble life as a beer brewer.

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