The pandemic won’t stand in the way of new beer

01 October, 2020 by Brydie Allen

For Australia’s drinks producers, especially the smaller ones, the pandemic has caused massive impacts to business and it’s something that remains an even bigger factor in Victoria.

But even in these tough times, producers in Victoria have continued to do what they do best – make top quality beverages. It’s certainly been the case for Boatrocker Brewers and Distillers, where James Renwick said the amount of new beers they release has actually increased during the pandemic. 

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“A lot of places have upped the ante on how many releases they’re sending out… The beer market has really adopted this ‘I need to have the newest beer first’ mentality, and so that sort of model has been ramped up by a lot of breweries, pumping out new beer after new beer after new beer. And they’re all incredible – it’s pretty crazy how many new beers must have come out this year, it’s insane,” Renwick said. 

“Because our keg sales have basically dropped to zero, that’s where a lot of our core range would be moving through. So, without having that quantity of product getting consumed, we needed to replace that with something… coming out with new beers as opposed to just our standard beers has been the best way that we can get the most out of our labour.”

Those new releases, which Renwick puts at around three per month, this week included their 2020 Ramjet release – an Imperial Stout aged in whisky barrels. 

The Ramjet range began in 2013 when Boatrocker’s brewers teamed up with the local Starward distillery. Boatrocker filled some of Starward’s barrels with the stout, while the barrels were still wet from holding their whisky. Renwick recalls the first batch was aged for between nine and 12 months, going on to become a huge success for Boatrocker. 

“That was the first big barrel aged Imperial Stout that Boatrocker had done, and pretty much any brewery in Australia had done, and it just exploded [in popularity],” Renwick said. 

“It was a game changer and it really stood us apart from the crowd. So every year since we’ve been doing it and putting it into different barrels. They’ve always been Starward barrels, but they might be ex red wine barrels that Starward put their whiskey in, or an ex bourbon barrel that they had just used.

“Each year it’s a different iteration. It’s the same base beer every year, but you get the different variations based on what the barrel produces – different little bits of magic throughout.”

Over the years, Ramjet has become something like a football card or pokemon phenomenon, with Boatrocker consumers wanting to collect them all – some even cellar them. So it was important to Boatrocker to still be able to release their 2020 vintage in the midst of a pandemic and lockdown restrictions. 

Although the launch of 2020’s Ramjet is different to other years, which would usually come with an event at the Boatrocker barrel room, it shows the tenacity and agility of Australia’s craft beer producers. 

Renwick said: “It goes to show how far technology has come, like imagine if this happened 20 years ago before the internet was big. Businesses would not be able to survive, but because of online shopping and all different streams of revenue that we’ve been able to pivot towards to stay flexible, it’s been pretty incredible that we, and most of the industry have been able to get by.”

Renwick also noted how the team felt terrible seeing the struggles of the on-premise industry in Victoria, but said it was heartwarming to see how people in other states have gotten behind the venues, as well as the producers, that are hurting in Victoria. 

“When Victoria first closed down we were like, ‘everyone is going to see us as lepers and no one’s gonna want to deal with us, they’re gonna be staying as far away from Victorian beer or anything as possible.’ But actually it’s been the complete opposite,” Renwick said. 

“Bars are doing Victorian tap takeovers and that sort of thing – it’s incredible – and it goes to show the depth of our community spirit. 

“I think that we can still try to help each other in this situation like earlier in the year with the New South Wales and Victorian fires. Everyone rallied behind that, because that was a specific cause in a specific location. But because this is all enveloping and everyone’s in it in their own way, I didn’t think that there would be the same sort of camaraderie that would still go ahead. I was proved wrong.”