TIDES TO TINNIES
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
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.