Stoic by Name Stoic By Nature

The Kiama Bugle, 22 March, 2024

Ever feel like the last remnants of productivity and creativity in Australia are being demolished by a government determined to destroy every sign of local character and initiative? 

If you’re into craft beer, that’s exactly what you’re feeling as one major brewer after another has gone into administration in recent months. 

If any country on Earth was defined by its beer culture, that was Australia. But the once thriving craft beer industry which has emerged over the last 20 years, producing some of the world’s finest ales, is now in crisis. 

Like thousands of other small businesses the entire sector is facing a government-created crisis. Australia has recently passed Japan to have the second highest taxed beer in the world, only exceeded by Finland. And the alcohol excise goes up twice a year.

During the Covid era a number of industries, including brewers, were allowed to postpone their taxes. But now the Tax Office is calling, and has according to critics within the industry, been completely relentless. In effect, it is the Tax Office itself which is destroying the craft beer industry; and no one in politics seems to care less.

Earlier this month Western Australia’s award-winning brewery Golden West called in the administrators. As did Deeds Brewing in Victoria, both blaming tax debts accrued during Covid and the refusal of the Australian Tax Office to allow them to negotiate their way out of debt. Combined with escalating costs and a cost of living crisis which has dampened consumer demand, it has been a toxic brew.

Last month Victorian based Hawkers, one of the largest and most highly regarded operations in the country, also went into voluntary administration. Hawkers founder and managing director Mazen Hajjar said in the statement: “Post Covid has been a challenging period with bigger players increasingly restricting access to taps and shelf space, combined with broader economic pressures, including increased input costs and taxes.”

Hawkers attempted to negotiate with the ATO to pay off their debt over a three year period. They were given seven days to pay, and forced into administration. 

Popular outfit Big Shed Brewing from South Australia also went into administration last month, blaming the ongoing impacts of Covid lockdowns and high interest rates.

One of the few craft producers to rise above the froth, not just to survive is Gerringong’s own Stoic Brewery, a father and son operation which has built itself up over the past six years to its current status, providing over 200 outlets from Newcastle to Wagga and down to Canberra with their much sought after product.

Their stylish brewery in Gerringong also provides the perfect place to relax and imbibe. But despite all the hard work and the clear affection if not outright love they have poured into their operation, they also see the problems afflicting their industry as deriving directly from government policy. 

The duo both worked as “sparkies” and were enthusiastic members of a local craft beer club when the inspiration came upon them. Let’s change our lives. Being a brewer can’t be any harder than what we already do. 

“It was love of craft beer, and a career change,” son Andrew Prosser says. “Ït’s probably harder, but more fun.” 

Fast forward to the present both he and his father Steve are convinced the government just wants rid of the small players. As conspiratorial as it may sound, where’s the evidence to the contrary? 

“It is crazy,” Andrew says. “They just want everyone working harder. Energy costs have doubled. The people we supply, little businesses, they are going under and taking the debt with them. 

“What is affecting us is inflation, interest rates, staff costs, they just put up super one percent. All the costs of doing business and producing have gone up. Spending down, costs up. Insurance has gone from $13,000 to $23,000 in one year. We have to wear all this inflation. 

“Instead of going out to dinner people are buying sausages and a four pack and inviting a mate around. People just don’t have the money. Their mortgages have gone up, their incomes haven’t. 

“A bunch of little things is causing a big problem. They need to give small business a tax break.”

His father Steve Prosser, 61, said current multiple crises impacting on businesses and thereby the country as a whole was having a profound emotional impact, following as it has on fire, floods and the Covid years.

“When Covid hit, it whacked a lot of people,” he said. “The Covid babies, as we call them, have been left with a lot of anxiety. We were hounded by licensing police. We get really good reviews, but the staff we had during Covid have all gone, they have moved out of hospitality. I don’t blame them. Their rents and mortgages have all gone up. They don’t see a career in hospitality anymore. 

“I think it is going to be a long time before business owners fully recover. 

“The government doesn’t acknowledge the problem. They could do something. They could give us tax breaks.”

But despite the difficulties small businesses across the country are facing, the Prossers remain optimistic, and incredibly proud of the state of the art operation they have built.  

Aptly named, the Stoic Brewery adheres by the words of one of the greatest Stoic philosophers of all time, the last of the Good Emperors as Marcus Aurelius was known: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

And raise a glass: perhaps of Smoked Porter, or a New Zealand Indian Pale Ale, or their most popular tipple of all, Pale Ale. 

Stoic by name, stoic by nature. 

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