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Sunny days ahead at Bach

Bach Brewing has just celebrated their fifth birthday and it’s been a coming of age in terms of achievements.

Their Billfish APA won the trophy for best Pale Ale at both the Australian International Beer Awards and the New Zealand Beer Awards in 2018; at the latter, Bach also took out the newly-introduced Champion Exhibitor trophy – with five of their six entries picking up medals.

“I was blown away and thrilled about the award in Australia,” says Bach founder Craig Cooper. “That was amazing – and to win it in New Zealand was even more thrilling. It was a real validation of the beer as we’ve worked hard on making it the best it can be.

“It’s been tweaked since it was launched – we’ve refined it. Most of that refinement is adjusting it to my own personal taste – we changed the hops a little bit, putting in more New Zealand hops.” (For the geeks, the beer is made with Marris Otter malt and the hop bill includes Galaxy, Riwaka, Citra and Mosaic.)

Cooper reckons Billfish winning two trophies almost eclipsed the Champion Exhibitor trophy but that’s something he takes with open arms.

Cooper admitted the brewery only entered six beers – rather than their entire range – but it wasn’t because he thought he could win the trophy.

“I wasn’t aware of that particular trophy until we won it. It came as a very pleasant surprise. Three or four years ago both Liberty and Bach won medals in every category they entered and that was something that was noted on the night but neither got champion brewery. That might have been the instigator for this award – to reward consistency and those who do well across the categories.

“We only entered six beers because we decided to focus on beers we thought were silver to gold medal chances. Again, it’s a validation of what we’re trying to do – that Bach is consistent and you don’t get a bad beer – and that’s the feedback we’re getting in the market place, at festivals and on Untappd.”

While Bach is just five years old, Cooper is a veteran of the industry – having been part of the much lauded Limburg Brewery with Chris O’Leary (now at Emerson’s) in the early part of this century. Limburg sadly went into liquidation and Cooper is quick to point out the difference between then and now.

“It’s pretty straight forward – back in the Limburg days there were very few craft brewers and even fewer outlets that understood and sold craft beer. There was virtually no one doing craft on premise – they were tied down to Lion or DB and they thought craft was too expensive and didn’t want to sell it.

“The off-premise channel was almost non-existent so there weren’t many places to sell your beer.

“Wind forward to Bach launching in 2013 and there’s more liquor and grocery outlets selling craft beer – that channel is a lot more open. Bars have opened somewhat, but it’s still very tight – I reckon we’ve got about 200 breweries trying to get into fewer than 200 free houses.

“People say `gee is the market getting cluttered’ and it’s fair to say the channels are not growing as fast as the number of brewers but we still need that diversity to challenge and compete with the big brewers. For 10 years the market has continued to grow and back when we started up there might have been 130 breweries and there would have been those who thought that was a lot.

“But great breweries, great beers, great brands – they all bring more and more people in. it’s stimulating the interest of beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike.”

Cooper is convinced there’s still huge untapped market out there – with the bulk of New Zealand beer drinkers still stuck in a mainstream tunnel. “I say to people what’s your favourite meal and if they say bangers and mash, I ask them if they’d like to eat that every night. Of course not, they say. Then why do you drink the same beer every day?”

While the market has changed substantially since Cooper first came on at Limburg, he thinks it’s equally in flux now.

“Wow, a lot has happened in the past five years. The market has changed dramatically. It’s a very dynamic market – which is big part of the appeal for me. The beer is dynamic, packaging is really dynamic.”

In that regard, the biggest personal change for Cooper is making the shift from glass to cans. Right now, his beer is in 330ml cans but it will soon migrate to 440ml cans. Plus, it’s in six packs when it always used to be single bottles. The 440ml range includes the just released Raspberry Sour, which is a delightfully refreshing 3.8 per cent kettle sour — and the first of it’s type brewed at Steam Brewing.

Cooper has also released a hazy IPA in a 440ml and redirected his exceptional if under-appreciated Witsunday (made with lemongrass and bursting with summer flavours) to that format.

“I’ve become a massive can fan – three years ago I was a skeptic and argued against the so-called wisdom of cans.”

Cooper admitted he was old school in his thinking – identifying cans with mainstream beer, with lower quality and with a slightly metallic taste.

He’s straight up about his moment of enlightenment.

“It was Garage Project – those mad scientists are the leaders of the innovation. You couldn’t have wished for a better company to lead a new packaging format – they’ve given it authenticity and meaning and they’ve spearheaded it.”

Cooper now believes there will a time when his entire range is can only – but for now the flagship Kingtide IPA and the popular Driftwood Pale Ale will stay in 500ml bottles as well as cans. And Cooper’s not too much of a snob to insist the beer be poured into the glass first

“I used to be put off by the idea of drinking straight out cans but it’s OK, especially in outdoor environment – the taste is good and it’s not a negative experience.”

For a brand that sings summer in its branding, the future looks sunny.

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