Without snorting a big fat line of nostalgia, I wish we had beer brands like Young Henrys when I was first introduced to beer. The majority of my memories around beer exist solely in the confines of high school parties. Vague recollections of warm, stale VBs served in coffee cups and downed to the sounds of 50 cent and Nokia 3315 ringtones. Followed up by some sort of shot, probably something like Sambuca. We were young and golden and immortal, beer was never really a drink that was considered.
Today when I think about beer, and craft beer in particular, I think culture. I think a refreshing injection of personality, I think good times and local music, I think community. I think good people like Dan Hampton, co-owner of Young Henrys.
While the craft beer phenomenon continues to rise to new heights in Australia, Young Henrys seems to have become a real sub-culture within itself. They’ve amassed a throbbing appreciation for their craft offering while building a flurry of salivating fans. If I was in marketing I might say something cliche like “They’re the backstreet boys of beer” but I won’t paint them with such a lazy brush.
Lucky for me, Dan let me come over and annoy him at the brewery in Newtown. He explains what Young Henrys are actually all about and how their golden goose success may just be down to them absolutely fucking winging it, mate.
More than just big beards
Dan Hampton has a big beard and likes to match his flannelette with dark denim, but that’s not the only reason he’s so good at beer stuff. Dan is one of those familiar sorts of people. The kind of guy with an artful grin that would nod at you when you pass him in the street, not because he knows you, but just because he’s a rather gregarious fellow.
To me, Dan seems to embody that welcoming, playful sentiment Young Henrys have about them, but I guess everyone that works there does, that’s why they work there.
One step inside their Newtown brewery and you’ll see what I mean, an air of camaraderie so thick you could lick it. Dan, who after five years of being a cop decided he was much more suited to pushing beers than pulling guns, says Young Henrys is all about doing the stuff they’ve got a good gut feeling about.
“When Young Henrys first started I just really felt a strong connection with the brand and their values. I saw they were cool guys and my kind of people. Since coming on board and now being an owner, the feelings aren’t too dissimilar from that. The brand works because we invest a lot of our time and effort into the community, we care about what people want because we want the same thing.”
Right place, right time
Dan refers to the success of Young Henrys as ‘The Perfect Storm’, which in business terms means “a shitload of hot luck”.
“It was the perfect time for craft beer. Where the market was at was a good thing, where we are physically at being in Newtown, was a good thing. Oscar went to Newtown high, so we had instant roots.
“We sort of came in through the small bar scene which basically changed the pubs mentality. They hit a mad slump when the bar scene went gangbusters and so they looked at the bars, saw a whole bunch of them had Young Henrys on tap, and were probably like “Who the fuck’s Young Henrys” then we started receiving calls to put us on. Coming from Little Creatures I know how hard it is to get a tap. That’s your billboard.”
We’re not self-righteous idiots
People buy other people, meaning they invest their time, energy and money into people not products. It’s all about telling a story, being relatable and apparently drinking beer with lots and lots of fun-time legends all of the time. A tough life at best.
While people might say they fluked it at Young Henrys, actually I think they even say that themselves, I’m betting there’s a crazy amount of brains behind the scenes.. And after talking to Dan, I know they know what’s up.
“If you want something to be authentic it just has to be. If you sit around with a bunch of people and try and create authenticity it simply is not. The simplicity of a bunch of guys getting together and doing things our way and we do make conscious efforts to do stuff our way, is the whole deal. We do have a lot of fun – the reason we do Young Henrys is to have fun.
“Though, while we try do not do things everyone else does, we’re also not self righteous idiots that think we know everything, sometimes there’s a reason people do certain things. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Staying local as you grow
Like anything, a brand seems cooler when it’s underground, more people want in because it seems exclusive or local or ‘boutique’. And so as Young Henrys begin to grow quite steadily now, how do they maintain that sense of locality?
“We’re doing really well in Sydney. The current challenge is to not take our eyes off Sydney or change our approach, but to start building on communities of our people in other states.. It might be on a slightly bigger scale but keep doing what you do. We got there because we supported our community, local bands and artists and stuff. It’s nice when Sydney people tell us they see our beers everywhere in another state. I suppose it just means, they like the same places we do, which is great”.
What’s around the corner for craft beer in Australia?
“Traditionally we’ve seen beer companies start, grow, and then get bought out by the big guys. I don’t think that’s the way it’s going to continue. In America now you’ve got some craft beer companies producing a shitload of beer while remaining true to what they believe in.
“Unfortunately in Australia we have this whole tall poppy syndrome thing that says once you’re big you get discounted from the conversation. But, I don’t think that’s going to happen as much moving forward. Companies like Stone & Wood are a great local success. They’re showing that you can get bigger and build a bigger brewery and still stay true to everything you believe in. We definitely look up to them as leaders in the craft industry.
“I then also see some of those craft breweries over in America, the big ones, my guess is they’ll come over and team up with the bigger independents here. So instead of it all being about Lion and Fosters, I reckon that independents could team up and rival them. But who bloody knows.”
Be original, mates
“Don’t try and just start another Young Henrys, create a brand that reflects what you’re passionate about and be true to yourself. We’re a reflection of our people. Get people around you, you trust, people you know are going to be working hard and are also good at what they do. Do it as a reflection of who you are and what you believe in. That shits sustainable, because at the end of the day you fail by trying to copy someone else.
With that relatively effective statement, I’m definitely calling bluff on the whole ‘running blind, accidental golden goose thing’. The team at Young Henrys certainly know what they’re doing. And just in case you’re interested, gender and ability to grow facial hair varies widely amongst the Young Henrys family, but I’m almost certain matching flannies are mandatory.