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When Stone & Wood blindsided the craft beer world by selling to Lion for a reported A$500 million in late 2021, there was one company left standing tallest amid the rubble: Gage Roads ( gageroads.com.au).

The West Australian brewery – the essential component of the Good Drinks brewing group – found itself the biggest independent brewing company in the nation, and all on the dawn of the grand unveiling of its A$10 million, 1,500-seater flagship brewpub in Fremantle’s heritage Victoria Quay in January this year.

But the rise of Good Drinks has not been accidental. After reclaiming a near-25% stake in the business from Woolworths in 2016, the company began rebuilding and diversifying, fashioning a solid range to respond to craft beer’s extraordinary growth. The summer ale smash-hit Single Fin and highly decorated Little Dove pale ale led the way before Good Drinks purchased another WA brewing icon, Matso’s ( matsos.com.au), for A$16 million in 2018.

If it appeared that this acquisition was a textbook case of the whale gobbling up the fish, that was quickly disproven. Good Drinks’ purchase of this libational institution preceded a forensic sales drive with grandiose ambitions to make this cult classic the most successful alcoholic ginger beer in Australia, emulating its ubiquitous presence across WA.

Phil Sexton.

“Anyone who has been to WA and especially to Broome has fond memories of Matso’s,” says Aaron Heary, Good Drinks COO and company spokesperson. “It has that Top End, tropical appeal that you just can’t invent in a marketing agency. It wasn’t uncommon to get people in Darwin or Queensland ordering it through Australia Post. So we decided: let’s bring it to them.”

In 2021, Good Drinks purchased Joe’s Waterhole in the Sunshine Coast tourist town of Eumundi, and have commenced works on constructing a Matso’s brewpub to service both the community and wholesale distribution networks across the eastern states, with a range that includes Matso’s increasingly popular mango beer.

The expansion of the company’s hospitality portfolio into Queensland follows the opening of the Atomic Beer Project (atomic.beer) in Sydney in 2020: a gritty Inner West taproom fashioned to countervail the riverine aesthetic of Gage Roads and sultry tropical zeitgeist of Matso’s. Despite opening in the tumult of the pandemic, Atomic has rapidly become a leading craft beer hub in Sydney, where the freshly tapped Hazy and XPA complement the contemporary hawker style street food.

Valued today at around A$100 million, the ASX-listed company’s story began – like its progenitors Matilda Bay and Little Creatures – amidst the bright tanks at Fremantle’s historic Sail & Anchor Hotel. Sail & Anchor brewer Bill Hoedemaker and his brother John established Gage Roads in 2002, and steadily grew its easy-drinking range before Woolworths acquired a quarter stake in 2009. Soon after, the company scaled up its contract brewing division to service Pinnacle Liquor Group’s in-house brands.

While contract brewing remains a core component of the business today – most notably in brewing and representing Filipino beer label San Miguel in the Australian market – Heary says that as the company’s own growing brands demand more tank space, its contract brewing commitments will be phased out, freeing up a further seven million litres of capacity annually in the short term. 

While the company’s focus in 2022 is on fortifying its hospitality offerings in the wake of the pandemic’s severe disruptions, Good Drinks also recently relocated its national sales office from WA to Sydney – from where it plans to drive Australia-wide brand penetration, which includes Hello Sunshine cider.

A flagship Gage Roads venue to embody the brand experience on the eastern seaboard is likely to follow (think surfboards, sun-lotion and sandpits). 

And while Heary remains tight-lipped on any tangible blueprint, he suggests the logical home of any corporeal Gage presence would be NSW’s Northern Rivers region, complementing the brewery’s salt-speckled image.

“Brewing companies are coming out of a difficult time nationally,” Heary concludes, “but Good Drinks is in a strong position nationally. We have suddenly found ourselves as the biggest independent brewing company in the country, and this is a responsibility we take very seriously. That independent spirit is in our DNA. And it’s bloody great to be able to now share that with the rest of Australia.”