Season 1, Episode 27

Your Mates Brewing

Benjamin Starr interviews one of the entrepreneurial, founding owners of Your Mates Brewing Company, Christen McGarry. During this interesting and informative interview, Christen shares his story of how Your Mates Brewing started from an idea on the couch to an innovative microbrewery, his brush with TV fame and the learning curve needed to run a successful business.  

Hosts & Guests

Benjamin Starr

Christen McGarry

Links

Undara

Read the transcript

Ben: Well here we are driving our own adventure and we’re on the road again. Today we are at Your Mates Brewing Company. How are you?

Christen:  I’m good.

Ben: What’s your name mate?

Christen: My names Christen McGarry, and I guess I’ll explain what I do here. I’m the head brewer and one of the founding owners.

Ben: Do you have to like drinking beer to be able to brew it?

Christen: Yes, although we drink a lot less than we did before we started the company, which is I think part of our running a small business, but I like to say that we drink less, but we enjoy it a whole lot more.

Ben: It’s quite interesting, I remember a friend of mine started work at Arnott’s and he said when you start work there you can eat as many biscuits as you want and he said after the first week you’ll never touch another one.

Christen: Yeah well, I mean, tasting is part of the job as head brewer.  We run a really kind of strict quality control program and the most powerful tool we have is not the PH metre, it’s not the dissolved oxygen metre, it’s our palette.

Ben: Now, when we are looking at palates in Australia, this is all a relative new trend or this brewing. I mean we do homebrewing, there is a big market for home brewing. I imagine lots of explosions at home and experimentation with yeast, but what is the fascination with all this break away from the traditional beer companies into micro industries?

Christen: I think it’s not just the brewing industry that we are seeing this in. I think we are seeing it across food, coffee, beverage, all kinds of businesses, where people are really interested to see where the money’s going. There’re no longer kind of interested in sending their money off to a big conglomerate multinational that you know, that money may be going to overseas shareholders. They want to know the people; they want to see the people and know that there is passion and love going into those products.

Ben: So how important is it for you running a company like this to be best friends with all the little micro industries that you need to make what you’re making here?

Christen: Definitely, it’s a community and not only the industries that we’re selling to and buying from, the other craft brewers here on the Sunshine Coast have built a craft beer scene here and a craft beer community here. We’re all friends and we all catch up once a month and have a social at each other’s breweries. And what we’re doing is we’re kind of educating people about the beauty of and the amazing quality of craft beer, because we’re still only a very very small fraction of the entire beer    market.  We’re still only about five percent, and so we’re fighting the good fight together.

Ben: Now looking around here you’ve invested a lot of money in this amazing setup, what does it sort of cost to tool up to get the production that you’re starting to get.

Christen: Yeah, we were pretty naive going in.

Ben: That’s probably a good thing though?

Christen: Yes, it was just the two of us up until about nearly a year ago. We brought on investment, we actually went on the Shark Tank last year, with first and I think only brewery to go on the Shark Tank. While we didn’t get a deal with Sharks, we were able to get the exposure and gather the investment that it took to open this place up. Roughly it’s cost us about a million bucks to set this place up. That’s a lot of money for a couple of guys who started this as a dream in our shed about four or five years ago. We started the company contract brewing, though.  So, that was a low risk way for us to enter the market and work out if we really had anything that was of value at all or if it was just  a kind of couple mates kicking around an idea on a couch and  having a few too many beers.

Ben: What did you study to get into this? Did you go to university, what was your background?

Christen: My background was a primary school teacher and Matt’s background was a project manager and he’d been working in construction for about a year. The basis of the whole project was the fact that we were no longer enjoying working for someone else and we wanted to get up in the morning and jump out of bed because we’re going to work rather than groan and try to hit the snooze button another five or ten times.

Ben: The younger generation coming into say a business like this, working for you, is it easy to manage them or is it still a big skill set that you need to have on board to be able to manage staff?

Christen: Definitely, it’s something that we are still learning every day and I think we will be learning it every day for a long time. As I said, twelve months ago, it was Matt, myself and one sales team member, doing every single job in the business, and you know that was moving almost a hundred thousand litres of beer a year. We’ve only upped our production very fractionally since investing in this place, but we now have a team of almost ten full-time and another fifteen to twenty casual staff members who work in the front of house here. So yeah, that shift from doing all the leg work ourselves into management is, is one that we’re kind of battling with every day, but because we have done every single job in the business from cleaning, lifting, we’re never asking anyone in the business to do something that we wouldn’t do ourselves.

Ben: I’m interested to know; you went on Shark Tank. That would have been interesting just going on TV that’s another experience. What’s it like standing in front of people, pitching an idea when you know there’re worth so much money, is it the money that you’re after or is it the recognition?

Christen: Well we always knew that going on Shark Tank wouldn’t hurt, a bit of exposure on national TV. Even if we didn’t get anything from the Sharks, but there always was that concern that we would look like idiots up there on TV. I think, luckily, we knew the business back to front and that’s what the Sharks were kind of, they pull you down if you don’t know your numbers and we knew our numbers back the front. We’ve got new mates in Glen and Steve who have offered us mentorship since the program, but it was very, very nerve wracking going in front of them.  We’d pitch to different investors before then and it’s….

Ben: I imagine you’d feel like, well shit after you walked out. I mean it’s almost like you have        bared your soul, this was a great idea on the couch now I’m telling people this is what I want to do, and then they’re probably sitting there going like you’re one of a thousand that are doing this.

Christen: Yeah, you know what’s the thing that makes you special I guess, and it is a very crowded market, but you know we haven’t slowed down since we started. Our constant problem is that we haven’t been able to make enough beer.

Ben: What about, so you did the show and then how did how did you find an investor for your business?  Did they come to you, was it a lot more easier from the TV show?

Christen: I think it must have been a bit easier from the TV show, but we had a couple of people who were already interested before the show went to air and we put everything on hold because we knew it was going to be the best chance we had. Those first couple of guys that jumped on board were the hardest because it really was just an idea when they jumped on. Although we’d been contract brewing for a while and had a like a pretty proven track record, it’s still a big jump to put the capital into the bricks and mortar and then the risks just increase tenfold.

Ben: It’s amazing isn’t it? So how many lines of beers do you make because I’m intrigued. I never realised after doing all these interviews up north, there are so many variants beer as in XXXX that’s what we think it is. Beer isn’t a Toohey’s but that’s what we’ve been conditioned to learning over time with sponsorship and stuff like that. So how many varieties do you make?

Christen: So we have on tap at the brewery, we have twelve different beers on tap at any time, but our core range that we wholesale which are all the beers that we put names to, so part of our branding we like to personify our beers. We like to make them relatable, so we’ve got Larry, which is our flagship pale ale, you know ninety five percent of our volume is Larry. People just can’t get enough of him, but then we also have Macca which is a mid-strength larger, we have Sally which is our IPAsm and we have Donnie which is our smoky dark ale. Those are the guys that go out to all the different venues and then in the tap room, we like to have a bit of fun and experiment. You know we’ve got a Mandarin Saison at the moment, we’ve got a Kai Coffee nitro stout which we brewed in collaboration with the coffee roasters that are across the road, Kai Coffee. So collaborating on beers, we are doing a beer with Matt Kolinski for an event that we’ve got coming up in November its a  charity event for men’s health. So yeah, we like to have fun, we’re not afraid to put different flavours into the beer and see what happens.

Ben: So, when you go to make beer looking at all these, what, they call them vats don’t they?  When you look at all these big vats, I mean how does it work, I mean, do you, is it a science? Do you have to throw X amount of stuff in here and then X amount of stuff in there and then hope that it all works or is there a recipe?

Christen: Partly science and partly your creative juices and what you decide to go with, but the reality is it’s mostly cleaning and sanitation. That’s the most important part of a brewery, any brewer will tell you it’s ninety percent cleaning and then ten percent brewing because yeast is a microbe.   It’s a bacteria and it’s alive, it’s really easy to get infections and things like that if you’re not using really clean brewing practices.

Ben: And it’s amazing we drink it.

Christen: Exactly yeah, it’s got to be clean.

Ben: People coming up here for a holiday would go to all these various places, Noosa is not far away. Tell them where to find you on the map and a couple of things that they should do while they are up here visiting.

Christen: Obviously Rivershore Resort up in Bli Bli, the glamping resort here have been one of our most loyal customers from day one and they’ve got our beers on tap there. It’s a great experience. You can go down to Caloundra Drift Bar or you can go up to Noosa and Moto and a few other places around there. Yeah, Larry is all about the place, you won’t miss him if you come here on the Sunshine Coast and you look for good beer.

Ben: There you go, so if you feel like a beer on your way up the coast or down, pop into Your Mates Brewing. You’ll meet an ex-teacher; he might even do you some curriculum development for you. Thanks very much for your time.

Christen: No problem mate, thank you.

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