Wayward Brewery is one of the fastest up-and-coming breweries in Sydney.
I understand why within my first 5 minutes of walking into the venue. The bar is rad and the beer delicious. I start with their flagship brew, the Charmer India Red Ale, so good I actually said to nobody as I took the first sip “Damn, that’s delicious”.
Two weeks prior, I’d hit up the owner, Peter Phillip, or Pete, via email and asked (as I do), whether he’d be willing to give me a bit of his time and so I can learn how to create a successful brewery in only a few years. And he said yes! Legend.
I was first alerted to Wayward when asking for advice on an Aussie Home Brewery forum thread about buying equipment from China. It turns out that Pete’s an expert, having travelled to China to source equipment on three separate occasions. But more than giving me the low down on buying cheap(er) Chinese kit, he gave me an hour of his precious time detailing the entire journey from Gypsy brewing on the side, to where it’s now a thriving, recognisable and respected craft beer.
I like to think Pete’s a bit like me. A tech entrepreneur that understands how to structure and grow a business, now applying his skills to the brewing industry. When he first sat down with his pink soft drink he was a little unassuming, however, that impression quickly changed as we started talking. I could see the wheels in his head turning at light speed and began to feel a bit like a contestant on Shark Tank as he asked polite, probing questions on my story, the concept of Bucketty’s Brewery and my general business plan.
Wayward Brewing started in 2012. Initially, everything was Gypsy brewed at other, friendly (is anyone in this industry not friendly?) facilities/brewery’s. One thing Pete did mention about Gypsy brewing is that it’s almost impossible to make money. Once you’ve brewed, packaged, marketed and distributed your beer, it’s incredibly difficult to generate a profit. “You can’t make a craft beer and just expect people to buy it. There isn’t enough shelf space to stock all the aspiring brews, so success will be dictated by your ability to engage directly with your customers.” Hence their venue.
And what a venue it is!
Apparently, it took a couple of years to find the right spot. But it was worth the wait. They occupy 700m2, right in the heart of Camperdown, a couple of km’s from the centre of Sydney. The space is perfectly split across 2 old warehouses, breaking up the chaotic brewing area with fermenters jammed next to each other and hoses running like bloated anacondas across the floor with the bar area.
The bar area has been created from old concrete wine fermenters with walls coated in wax. Doorways chiselled out between the old fermenters to create interesting rooms with sloping floors, period furniture and ambient lighting. The place just feels cool.
Pete’s quick to tell me that there are over half a million people within a 1km radius. 500,000. (A bit different to Bucketty!) The more I learn about Pete the more I appreciate the thought and planning that has has been invested to ensure it’s success.
I’m then treated to a tour of the equipment and brewery. The smell of malt fills the air as I step over bags of grain and rethink my decision to wear my new Nike’s as water flows everywhere. We squeeze past a pallet of bottles and check out their Inline automated bottling machine. It looks overbearingly complex and a fair bit bigger than others I’ve seen. Pete mentions that packaging is his biggest pain-in-the-ass and a major concern for him. Because “once the bottles leave, I have no idea how they’re treated. If a case is left in the sun, or in a hot car, the beer spoils, and whoever tastes that beer will associate the skunked flavour with Wayward.”
I ask about using cans instead of bottles, to which he responds. “There’s part of the market that still turns their nose up at cans, but nobody turns their nose up at bottles”. Fair point.
Caps (or crowns, as he calls them) are also difficult to coordinate since they need a 3 month lead time and the only option is to have them produced overseas. “Why can’t you use generic caps?” I ask, to which he replies with a confused look “Yeah… we can, but we’re trying to create an experience here”.
He then runs me through the individual cost of each element of his packaging, from bottles, labels, caps (or crowns), cradles and boxes. Out of respect, I’ll keep the numbers confidential, however, it’s more than you might think. Packaging makes a BIG dent in the margin of a 24 bottle case.
The brewhouse is smaller than I expected at 2,000 litres. But what they lack in capacity they make up for in efficiency. On average, they’re brewing twice per day and consistently filling their 12 fermenters. In the past year, Wayward have managed to get over 500,000 litres into the mouths of Australians, and there’s no sign of that slowing down as Pete tells me they’re negotiating to lease the 500m2 warehouse next door.
“Storage is a major issue for us. We have to order bottles as we need them, because we’ve got no storage”. That much is clear as we squeeze out of the bottling room, past the only 2 pallets of empty bottles in the whole place.
A smallish chunk of their brews sell over their bar, with the remaining supply sold wholesale to other bars and bottle shops. “The bar is what makes this place viable. Without it, the business wouldn’t survive”. Their margins selling to retail are around 4x better than wholesale. At this point, he stresses “If I was you, I’d start with a brewpub and grow from there, otherwise you’ll put yourself under financial strain.”
It’s Pete’s opinion that a brewery selling to the wholesale market exclusively would need to generate over 1mil litres per year to make money.
The equipment has been completely sourced from China and with regular additions from the same supplier as their bank of fermenters grows. “Make sure you understand the cost of commissioning the equipment, it’s not just the cost of the stainless steel you need to worry about”. He’s referencing the plumbing, electrical, gas and waste services that accompany the brewery. Pete estimated the cost was double that of the actual equipment. After the cost of the venue fit-out, equipment, commissioning and everything else, he’s apparently in this venture for about a million bucks. And I believe it.
The place is buzzing, there’s an electricity in the air as everyone is hard at work and energised about the task at hand. Be that fitting a hose, stocking a bottling machine or pouring a pint. Groups start to filter in and the bar begins to fill, at 3pm on a Thursday? Don’t these people have jobs?!
Such is the attraction of Wayward Brewing. The beer tastes awesome, the venue is unpretentiously compelling with a re-tellable story and patrons feel a genuine connection with the beer making process as they sit in the wax walled bar.
Pete’s a seriously smart guy, that much is clear. And he knows more than anyone I’ve met about what it takes to start and scale a brewery quickly.
My key takeaways from Wayward Brewing are:
- Focus on the local market, sell beer directly from the venue.
- Find the right supplier and source equipment from China. Welding quality is a big factor.
- Invest in automated packaging machines, you get what you pay for. Inferior machinery will cost money in the long run.
- Gypsy brewing is a waste of time.
- You can brew a shit load of beer with a 2,000 brewhouse.