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Serve The People: Building Brands On The Ground

Brian Walker-Catchpole

Senior Consultant - Brand and Communications

Kantar TNS



On December 13th, 2017 Newtowner marked the fifth anniversary of the launch of the flagship Australian Pale Ale, Young Henrys. Feted more like a band than a brewery, 150 friends, fans and family members gathered to celebrate in the beer garden of Newtown’s Courthouse Hotel, home of the last honest schooner in Sydney. Oscar McMahon, one of Young Henry’s founders, described Newtowner as “the beer we wanted everyone in our community to enjoy, whether it was being thrown back at a gig or sipped slowly in a beer garden.”        

From 2011-2016 the broader beer category took a battering. Beer consumption declined each year since 2011 and the fall has only recently started to reverse. Craft beer, while only 9% of the category overall, has consistently bucked this tren], with brands like Young Henrys leading the revival by providing new and interesting beers for increasingly picky drinkers.

As a leading brand in the craft beer category (Newtowner is ranked fourth on the GABS hottest 100 craft beers of 2017, it’s worth considering what Young Henrys has done on the ground to drive this growth (beyond having an excellent product) and especially how it has developed and maintained a reputation for authenticity.

Their strategy of delivering brand experience through events and direct contact with their market is an approach that might be well emulated by other brands looking to differentiate themselves and stand out from the crowd. So, what can be learned from this successful strategy?

1. Be from somewhere in body and spirit

Young Henry’s built a brewery (and more tellingly, a brand) that wholeheartedly extols the values of Newtown. Young Henry’s “hipster larrikin” persona is much more about the mythic past of the area than its currently gentrified present. While the brewery is smack-bang in the middle of the backstreets and dunny lanes, the brand’s pub-rock DIY ethic, scrappy good humour, and democratic creed (their motto is “serve the people”) amplifies and celebrates Newtown’s piss-and-vinegar spirit.

2. Champion the values you truly embody  

Value marketing is all the rage now, with many brands clumsily shoe-horning lofty aspirations with some pretty prosaic product. Young Henry’s sells beer; as such they choose to champion live music. They are consistent in this approach. Their beer cans are designed to look like Marshal stacks, they offer mate’s rates cases to music festival attendees, and they are a ubiquitous presence at music festivals and record launches around the country. And they regularly partner with local bands providing them with the space to play, and beer to drink.

3. Choose your partners wisely 

Young Henrys have an uncanny knack for picking partnerships that are more than the sum of their parts. They intuitively choose (or attract) collaborations which serve to extend and complement their brand position and local-hero values. For example, they’ve partnered with local legends such as You Am I, the Dune Rats and the DZ Deathrays to produce limited edition brews that celebrate and cross-promote musical releases and tours. The result, both the band and the brand get kudos. Most recently they partnered with the Foo Fighters to produce Foo Town lager lending local flavour to the international touring giant while picking up a bit of scale in the process. They also buddied up with Jameson to produce Caskmates, an Irish whiskey finished in Red Ale seasoned barrels; Irish pluck and inner West grit in a barrel.

Back in the beer garden of the Courtyard and celebrating the fifth birthday of Newtowner (which itself had been brewed in celebration of the sesquicentenary of the ‘burb in which it was born) 150 people raised and simultaneously cracked their Newtowner tinnies in an irreverent, but totally fitting toast. No champagne, no speeches, just people keeping it local.