It was passion that compelled Tim Thomas to start his own brewery in South Nowra and make a play for a slice of the growing craft beer market.
Tim, 37 years old, opened HopDog BeerWorks in 2011 with his wife Therese and their range of beers are now stocked in up to 40 different pubs and bottle-shops across NSW, the ACT and Queensland.
Before working for himself, Tim was employed in the brewing industry for 14 years, including at the iconic Lord Nelson in The Rocks and as head brewer at Five Islands Brewing Company in Wollongong.
“After leaving Five Islands as their head brewer, I did some other work, and I decided to open my own brewery,” he tells Dynamic Business. “This is what I enjoy doing. My wife and I really enjoy good craft beer. It was always difficult to find good beer. So we decided, ‘why don’t we do our own?’ ”
Tim’s beers represent a break from the mainstream with one of his creations, the Zombie Fish Puncher IPA, being inspired by a 2003 Australian horror comedy film titled Undead. It draws on the distinctive flavours and aromas of wasabi, green-tea, seaweed and lingonberries.
Tim says he specializes in full flavoured hoppy ales, which he describes as “out of the norm”. Since the brewery opened in 2011, he has produced close to 40 different kinds of beers.
“I guess you could say it’s beer that’s brewed by a small brewery, beer that’s handcrafted, it’s made in older traditional styles, not made by massive corporations who are soulless and don’t care about the product they are putting out. It’s the real deal, the way beer should be made,” he says.
“For starters, it’s got flavour, it’s got aroma, it’s got real malt, real hops, real yeast, its unique, there’s more to it than simply being yellow, wet and fizzy.”
Tim said part of his inspiration came from the narrow focus in the Australian market on lagers. “It just seems very counter-productive,” he says. “They’re clean, they’re crisp, they’re not adventurous, they’re not made for really enjoying at the end of the day.”
He concedes that starting up his own brewery was a scary step, with the move being completely self-financed without a loan for under $50,000. HopDog BeerWorks began its life as a 200-litre brewery, but has since expanded to an 800 litre operation.
To put that in context, Tim says that 200 litres is enough for about 4 kegs or 500 stubbies worth of beer making him, at that time, one of Australia’s smallest breweries. The expansion to 800 litres took place at the end of 2013.
“We had to go for the bank for that part,” Tim says. “Last Christmas we made the decision to upgrade the brewery, so it was going to see our bank who we were originally with. Naming names, we were with Westpac. They said ‘no’.
“Then we decided to go and see another bank. We went and saw ANZ and they were like, ‘no problem. How much do we want?’ ”
Tim’s flagship beer and biggest seller is an extremely hoppy rye Indian pale ale called ‘Horns Up’.
“We were all about pushing the boundaries with our beer. We tried for quite some time to do a safe beer to get us into local pubs down here in the Shoalhaven. I guess it was too safe or not safe enough. It was possibly our worst selling beer,” he says. “So we decided to get rid of it. Our flagship beer is a rye Indian pale ale that is extremely hoppy.”
Being a smaller operator, Tim’s aim is not to try and crack mainstream liquor chains like Dan Murphy’s. “Our product doesn’t fall into the pigeon hole that other breweries do,” he says. “We’re kind of anti-pop. Our beer is not made for everybody… We’d love to be in a spot where we are in a lot of outlets, especially locally in the Shoalhaven and the Illawarra. We want you to think of us as your local brewery.”
Once the brewery got going, freight costs quickly emerged as a major obstacle for Tim, who eventually opted to conduct his own deliveries for free to cut costs for his stockers and ensure his product was available for customers. He says the boost in sales more than covers the extra expense of conducting deliveries.
“Freight was an issue… We ended up purchasing a transit van and we do all of our deliveries to Sydney and to Canberra ourselves. When our kegs are the same price as breweries in Sydney and we have to tack a delivery price on top, that’s always a deterrent.”
Last year, Tim made a profit of $150,000 and is expecting the business to grow now he has expanded the brewery. Tim and his wife only employ one other person to help out in relation to packaging and conducting deliveries.
His advice to those wishing to make their own way in the world of business is to never take no for an answer. “There is never a right time,” he says. “Go with your heart.”
The long-time local manager at the Durham Castle Arms in Canberra’s inner-south, Adrian Moran, tells Dynamic Business that he often stocks product from HopDog. “The thing with HopDog is it’s supporting a Canberra regional brewery and their beers are always outstanding,” he says.
“You’ll find at least 200 different craft breweries around Australia,” Adrian says. “And more and more we’re seeing that people want choice. People are sick of the standard lagers.
“Australia is really still in its infancy with regards to craft beer. There’s still a long way to go. We saw the market for craft beer opening up at least eight years ago here at the Durham so we latched onto Little Creatures and then brought in beers like HopDog.”