Thinking about stocking your local beers and gins? The locavore booze movement has been embraced by both customers and restaurateurs, especially since the lockdowns. By Meg Crawford
When it comes to artisan alcohol, we’re spoiled for choice. Particularly over the last decade, there’s been a proliferation of small-batch makers supplying a first curious, then devoted clientele. Initially, it was craft beer, followed by the gin explosion, but other spirits and drinks continue to hit the market. All of which begs the question—is it worth putting them behind the bar?
The answer from both the maker and venue perspective is a categoric yes. In fact, if anything, the pandemic, while temporarily grinding hospitality to a halt, has swung the market ever more in favour of locavore booze.
Take for instance, the Mornington Peninsula’s iconic Portsea Hotel, which made the decision during lockdown to weight the bar heavily in favour of local liquor henceforth. “We had a lot of time to reflect on our products,” says venue manager, Mathew Veenhof. “I feel like we realised just how important being local down here is—it’s a really beautiful community and people love helping each other out. That’s why we curated a list to showcase, say, Mornington Peninsula wine.”
Further, Veenhof’s convinced locally-produced drinks convert to sales. “When people are coming from the city or interstate, they want to drink local,” he says. “It’s what I do when I go travelling—I like to enjoy where I am and the beverages and the produce that come from that specific location.”
The decision has been borne out since reopening post lockdown. “People are loving it,” Veenhof notes. “I feel like people are even more willing now to choose those over something outside of Victoria or overseas. I think the only thing we have now from overseas is French champagne. About 90 per cent of our wine list is Victorian.”
One such local supplier is JimmyRum, presently the only dedicated craft rum distillery in Victoria, also located on the Mornington Peninsula.
JimmyRum founder, James McPherson, has also observed a swell in local support in response to the pandemic. “It’s coming in several forms—it could be a bar that just wants to support local produce all the way through to someone from around the corner who wants to walk in and experience the local beer, wine and spirits,” he reflects.
That said, JimmyRum itself has been a dyed-in-the-wool local supporter from day dot, selling only local beers, wines and spirits in its bar. “I want people to see local,” McPherson explains. “We have so many people walking in who didn’t know we were here, so if I can help some of my other local artisanal manufacturers to be seen and sell more, like Bass & Flinders Gin, Balcombe Gin or Chief’s Son Whisky, I’ll do it.”
Co-owner and founder of Victoria’s Moon Dog Brewery, Karl Van Buuren, attributes their ever increasing popularity to the fact that people are more deeply connected than ever to the story and personality of the beers they’re knocking back.
“We’ve been a local Melbourne brewery for 10 years now and ever since we first started, we’ve developed a very passionate local following,” he says. “People love knowing that we started small in a garage. They love the story of a couple of guys having a crack.
“For so long beer was made by faceless corporations. The craft beer brewers came along and said, ‘We’re going to put our personality into this product, who we are and where we’re from and the ingredients that we use’. You can come to our breweries and see us work in the background and the passion we have for the product. That really resonates with people. People want to support their local community and businesses.”
Co-founder of Gippsland’s Loch Brewery & Distillery—which produces gin and whisky, as well as beer—Craig Johnson emphasises the role of growing consumer curiosity in the local-led phenomenon. “People are now very conscious of where produce is made, who makes it, why and how it’s a particular way. Which is why we’ve been so careful with the experience at our cellar door.
“When people come here, they’re meeting the manufacturers, not just brand ambassadors. You’re talking to the actual brewers and distillers. That involvement with the maker means you can ask questions. If you look at the last five, 10 years, consumers are very interested in that and switching more and more to products where they can get that information.”
For venues perhaps contemplating expanding the local drinks’ list, Veenhof has an insider tip. “Go out and meet the suppliers,” he advises.
“I went out during COVID and got in contact with a lot of the wine suppliers down here and asked how they were going, if they needed any help and if there was anything I could do to help once we reopened. Building good relationships is key.”