Former Professional Surfer
Photo: Balter Brewing

Balter frontmen Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning laughing at how good their beer tastes. Photo: Balter Brewing

The Inertia

Does your best mate own a brewery? Well, mine does. And yes, it does come with its perks. But this is not about me. It’s a story about some talented and creative people who had a great startup idea and have now seen it through to fruition.

The idea started with a simple conversation between two surfers who wanted to start their own craft brewery. Or as the narrative on their website reads: “Six Aussies and a yank walk into a bar and never come out… Balter is born.”

Stirling Howland is a Co-Founder and Brand Director at Balter Brewing, the fast growing craft brewery that has recently set up camp on the Gold Coast of Australia. He was the man behind the successful Billabong campaigns, including: “I surf because…” and “Life’s better in boardshorts.” He was one of the early pioneers of the WCT webcasts and co-developer of the original heat analyzer. His pedigree and vision is as real and authentic as it comes, and his attention to detail on all things brand and marketing have been on point from day dot. From brand direction right down to the choice of tiles in the men’s room at the Currumbin head office, nothing has been missed.

Aside from Stirling, you might also recognize a few other faces on the founding team list: Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Josh Kerr. These front men – a few of whom have already appeared on national television in Australia, talking surfing and craft beer – have been seen delivering kegs around the Gold Coast’s best watering holes. They’ve  even been pulling a few pints for customers behind the bar. And as we’ve heard, Fanning has taken on the title of Chief Janitor and Parko has assumed the all-important role of Chief Product Tester. Which brings us to arguably the most important element of Balter: the beer.

Is it any good? Well, of course it is. Why? Because the Head Brewer is none other than Scott Hargrave, a multi-award-winning Australian brewer who turned heads at another one of the region’s fine craft breweries, Stone and Wood. This is not Scotty’s first rodeo, and he’s won numerous awards during his time in the game. His most recent was in 2015 for an Australian-style pale ale that unsurprisingly was Balter’s first beer—an XPA to be precise. While there are a few others (golden and brown ales) regularly on tap at Balter’s headquarters, it’s the XPA that has filled cans and wholesalers’ fridges around the traps. On the first weekend the cans were released, I lucked out at the first two bottle shops I tried—sold out in record time.

The truth is, surfer-owned beer companies are nothing new. San Diego’s Saint Archer has experienced incredible growth in their market and were recently acquired by industry giants MillerCoors. Taylor Knox, Laura Enever, Dusty Payne, and Jack Freestone are just a few of the high-profile names originally involved in the California company. And one could build a case that the Balter team are headed in the same direction. But it doesn’t sound like that conversation has even come up amongst the team, and it might never. Right now they are just focused on doing the small things really well and creating beers that put a smile on your face. And by the looks of things, the entire team is having a lot of fun along the way.

It seems the team knows that celebrity status will only take the brewery so far, and that the product and brand need to not only stand on their own two feet, but be remarkable and memorable. There’s a cool sense of something deeper at play with the business, and it comes from the philanthropic thread that runs through many of the individuals involved. Inside its first few months of trading, they were already getting behind causes that are close to their hearts, including the Cure for MND Foundation through events and collaborations with organizations like Brewmanity, as well as in-house fundraisers supporting cystic fibrosis research.

Balter headquarters has an open-door policy. That means you can cruise through for a tour and see how the beer is crafted, admire the giant mural by Frank and Mimi and take a few mates along and enjoy the handpicked food trucks that accompany the weekend ales on tap. Surfers and beer—it’s a good combination. Oh, and in case you were wondering what Balter means, it’s to dance artlessly without particular skill or grace, but usually with enjoyment. Now that’s something I can relate to.

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