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Local brewers band together for festival

Small beer makers are banding together in Canberra to put on their own festival with at least one saying he was sick of competing against the big companies at so-called craft beer showcases.

Others just want to take advantage of the unique venue for the festival - in the Australian National Botanic Gardens - and try to reach a broader audience for their product.

Mick Strickland from the Stricklands Beer Group, which makes the 1842 beer sold in Canberra, said he wanted to organise the Small Brewers Beer Festival because he was tired of the big beer companies taking over craft beer festivals with "their so-called 'boutique' beer brands' ".

"We just wanted a festival that gave the smaller players in the beer industry a level playing field," he said.

"People have no idea how extremely competitive and ruthless the beer business can be, it really is war. And the big breweries don't take any prisoners. So instead of competing with them directly at other beer festivals we thought we would hold our own and just not invite them”

Twenty brewers and small beer companies will take part in the festival at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra on March 9.


More than 60 beers are expected to be on offer on the day, along with Australian ciders and cold climate wines.

Christoph Zierholz, from the Zierholz Brewery in Fyshwick, said he personally wanted to be part of the Small Brewers Beer Festival not because he had an issue with bigger producers or rival festivals but because he thought the setting of the gardens would more likely bring in a wide range of people, who might also want to try cider or wine.

"Just to have us there doing our thing to a local audience, not just beer lovers, I thought, 'Yeah, we'll give that a go'," he said.

"I also think it's better when the setting is a bit more intimate."

Mr Zierholz said the festival was also a good chance to talk to the beer makers and other producers. He hoped it could expand into attracting other local producers making items such as cheese.

Mr Strickland said the 1842 beer was made under contract by a small family-owned company just south of Sydney. It was hoping to open a brewery in Canberra within the next 12 months once it reached the appropriate volume.

The company currently sold about 40 kegs a week via 24 taps in venues.

The big companies by contract dominate the available taps in bars and clubs.

Mr Zierholz, who also has a venue at the University of Canberra, has grown his business from a one-man operation to an outfit employing 20 people. It had 15 taps.

Neither company sells bottles but Zierholz's sells five-litre kegs.

Mr Zierholz said many people who tried a well-done craft beer often never went back to the big brands. Canberra's high-quality water was one of their secret weapons, he said.

"Once you've converted them to the dark side, if you like, it's very hard going back. It's like buying nicer wines and better food, it's very hard to go back," he said.

Mr Strickland said before the festival opened to the public, it would have a special showcase for bar, restaurant and bottle shop owners to try the products. It was hoped the smaller producers might be able to secure some distribution deals.

"It's great that people come along and love your beer on the day but if next week they can't find your beer in any bar, it's almost pointless," he said.

* The Small Brewers Beer Festival starts at 11am on March 9. Tickets cost $38, which includes 10 free beer samples. Tickets are available on the website or can be purchased at the gate on the day.

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