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Australian Craft Beer Breweries – History and Growth

Craft Beer may be a new term for beer from small, boutique breweries, however there have been craft beer breweries in Australia since 1984.

In the first of a new series, we look at the history and growth of craft beer in Australia using data from a number of sources, especially our own Brewery List, to provide some background on where craft beer has come from, and where it may be going.

This first part looks at the distinct waves of craft beer brewery openings since the first in 1984.

There have been four distinct waves of Australian craft beer:

  • The Pioneers from 1984 to 2000
  • The Developers from 2001 to 2004
  • The New Wave from 2005 to 2013
  • The Gold Rush from 2014 onwards

The Pioneers from 1984 to 2000

The modern era of craft beer breweries started with the opening of the Sail & Anchor Pub Brewery in Fremantle in 1984. This was one of the few new breweries that had opened since 1940.  There were still a small number of independent breweries operating, most notably Coopers in Adelaide, who are still brewing.

Following the Sail & Anchor, there was a steady rate of new brewery openings averaging five per year until 2000. There was an unusual spike of 14 openings in 1988, however none of them are still open today.

Over the seventeen year period a total of 86 breweries opened, whilst 37 closed. A failure rate of 43%.

Most of the early start ups have since closed, with only 18 of the 86 still open including two of the early ones – the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney, and the Port Dock Hotel in Adelaide.  Both opened in 1986.

Of those that opened in this period, a few have grown to produce beer available on a regional level.  These include Matso’s Broome Brewery, Mountain Goat Beer (recently bought by Asahi), and Holgate Brewhouse.

The Developers from 2001 to 2004

In 2001, the rate of annual brewery openings doubled.  Across the four year period an average of 9 breweries opened each year.

With 36 opening and 10 closing, the failure rate of 28% was a significant decrease on the failure rate of the pioneer craft beer breweries.

Almost half of these breweries are still open today, and include Feral Brewing Company, 3 Ravens, Colonial Brewing Co, and Redoak Boutique Beer Café.   This period also saw the first openings of the James Squire brewpubs.  Whilst one of them is still open, The Crafty Squire (formally the Portland Hotel) in Melbourne, the other has since become the Red Tape Brewing Company in Sydney.

The New Wave from 2005 to 2013

In 2005, the rate of brewery openings saw a dramatic increase when 22 new breweries opened.

This level of openings was maintained until 2013, with the rate of openings over the nine year period averaging 26 per year. Triple the previous wave’s rate of openings.

A total of 222 opened and only 21 closed.  This indicates a failure rate of only 9%.  So whilst the number of new breweries opening was tripling, the rate of failure was dropping by one third.

Of all of those that opened in this period, most are still open.  Only 11 have actually closed, and ceased producing beer, with the remainder either moving location, or changing their name.

This period saw the opening of those breweries which are now the bigger producers with regional, national, and even international distribution.  These include Stone & Wood, 4 Pines Brewing Co, Mornington Peninsula Brewery, The Australian Brewery, Burleigh Brewing Co, and Gage Roads Brewing Co.  All of which have gone through significant expansion and increase in capacity in the past few years.

The Gold Rush from 2014 onwards

In 2014, the rate of openings again increased, this time more than doubling the previous rate.  The average rate of openings is now 68 per year.

This rate of opening equates to a new craft beer brewery opening every 6 days.

Until today, there have been a total of 194 openings since 2014, whilst only 7 have closed in this short period. A failure rate of just 4%.


Looking at the number of openings and closures since the first in 1984, there are some clear patterns.

The key points are:

  • There has been a total of 553 craft beer breweries open since 1984.
  • The rate of openings has seen huge jumps with each new wave.
  • The rate of failures has dramatically fallen from an industry standard of 43% to under 4%.
  • The average length of time of a brewery operating, of those that opened and had closed between 1984 and 2016, is 6 years.
  • The rate of openings has seen continuous growth for over 30 years.

The Future

The big question is whether the fourth Gold Rush wave will continue, and if it does, for how long.  This is an issue we will cover in the next instalment of this series.


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