For a brewery that released 12,000 cans of the same hazy IPA late last year, but assigned each their own unique name and label via self-made computer generated algorithms, you can’t exactly call Adelaide’s Little Bang Brewing Co. old school.
But two of their latest releases – a vermouth and an American brown ale – certainly can be classed by such terms by today’s perceived standards. Yet for co-founder Ryan Davidson they go some way in representing the Stepney brewery’s evolution as they broaden their appeal by operating not just across craft beer’s spectrum but fermentation in general.
“I do think (releasing a vermouth and a brown ale) is a very strong sentiment we have at our place, that while it is nice to be popular, and give people what they want in terms of NEIPAs, oat creams, hazy pales and yada yada, chasing that hype train exclusively leaves you quite vulnerable,” Ryan told Beer & Brewer.
“I know, just from history and experience, that just purely focusing on that flighty end of the market and hanging your hat on that completely you’re not really expressing yourselves. You’re mainly expressing what your market research has told you. You’re not expressing what you do and what feels right to you.”
For Little Bang, the beers were obviously the first expression of themselves, but then wine followed not long after before their range of gins were released. Now they welcome a vermouth to their portfolio – and again it’s a release that arrives as a natural extension of their evolution.
The idea to produce wine (with Ansel Ashby of Gatch Wines) began at their old taproom on Union Street when it became apparent it had become more than just a place for beer nerds – it was becoming a genuine alternative to an everyday pub for their locals. The gins, made with Prohibition Liquor Co, arrived for much the same reasons.
“I think people are finding it more and more special to go to a place where they can see something made and where they can touch and feel the whole process there and then whilst looking the people that made it directly in the eye. There’s a certain level of integrity and trust in that which is becoming rare.
“So we really tried to expand the taproom’s offerings to include everyone and that’s been a huge driving force for us ever since. There has been a lovely realisation that what we’re doing is not just our own particular demographic but it has this much broader appeal and that’s I think the most rewarding part for us now. We’re always looking to take that same craft beer ethos of inviting everyone to the party to try something different but in a way that’s always rewarding.”
‘Don’t just give them what they want’
Like Little Bang does with their three gin varieties, the vermouth is created with a point of difference in mind – even though introducing it to a craft beer audience is a point of difference in itself.
Instead of using inferior wine it fortifies high end shiraz to result in a vermouth that Ryan said expresses a “gorgeous plump fruit character” as its freshness, not often seen in the style, becomes its point of difference.
“I guess the approach we’ve taken is wherever possible ask people to take a little risk and try something a little bit different,” he said. “Don’t just give them what they want. Don’t just lay out something in a traditional fashion. Don’t just do the market research and put on five lagers and four pales and be done with it. Don’t just have a shiraz and a sauv blanc and be done with it. Ask them to come across a little way, ask them to invest in it just a little bit. And then instantly reward them with something nice and maybe a little bit of a nugget of knowledge about it that they didn’t know before which is, you know, mentally stimulating as well.”
‘Don’t just release the latest fidget spinner’
Adelaide-based concept artist and illustrator Brendan Deboy, who also designed the can art for Little Bang’s Galactopus Barley Wine, created the artwork for The Brown Falcon American Brown Ale years ago, back when Ryan and fellow co-founder Fil Kemp were working as developers in the computer games industry.
“But the timing was just never quite right to let it see the light of day,” Ryan said. “It’s a difficult world for brown ales and it really has to be just spot-on perfect. Browns don’t have that hype-full, instantaneousness sell themselves sex appeal. But I think if you land them at just the right time, and you make them fun, they can do well. But also, why not do a brown? We’ve got an established customer base now so we know it’ll at least get some traction.
Don’t just release the latest fidget spinner. If you’ve got half a dozen tanks, don’t make them all fidget spinners.”
Meanwhile, Little Bang have announced their Little Banger Super Session Ale is now available in fully printed cans and from April 11 they will kick off a brand new monthly music and market event at their taproom.
2nd Hand Sundays (on the second Sunday of every month) will bring together a selection of local DJs who’ll spin vinyl from the 60s to the 90s and a rotation of local stallholders to showcase their second-hand treasures and reinventions.
The Little Bang Brewing Co. are at 25 Henry Street, Stepney in SA