Ask anyone who drinks beer and frequents the small bar scene in Adelaide and they’ll most likely mention Pirate Life as their go-to drink of choice. With a name that’s so familiar, it’s hard to believe that the business has only been around for less than two and a half years.
“It started with three people and now we’re at 39 employed staff,” says co-owner Jack Cameron. The original three he refers to are himself, his best friend Jared ‘Red’ Proudfoot and his dad, Michael Cameron – affectionately known as MC – who is currently the Pirate Life CEO. All originally Western Australia-natives, the guys decided to make their way across the Nullarbor to start their own brewing company right in our backyard.
After spending time at BrewDog in Scotland learning the trade, Jack and Red made their return to the west coast to continue their brewing careers, with Jack going to the famous Little Creatures Brewery while Red started up Cheeky Monkey a little further south. So it wasn’t exactly a complete departure from their normal lives when they wanted to start their own brewery.
“The experience the boys had at BrewDog was invaluable,” says MC. “So when we were ready to build the business, we already had two brewers who collectively had 12-14 years of experience behind them and it gave us confidence from a business point of view”.
The whole operation started – and is still based – out of their South Road site but the difference is now they’re stocked in over 1,000 bottle shops and bars as well as five countries around the world. “We’re brewing 24 hours a day, five days a week and we have nine brewers now,” Jack says. “We’re also getting eight new fermenter tanks in before the end of the month”.
“We’re outgrowing this place very quickly,” Red says. “By the end of this year we will be pushing capacity”.
As for how much beer they’re actually brewing, it’s pretty staggering when they break it down into numbers for us and you realise this is all coming out of a tin shed in Hindmarsh. “We’ll knock out about 2.5 million litres this year,” MC says. Jack interjects with, “not enough”.
“In our first year here, we did half a million litres, this year we’ll do two and a half and next year we’ll get up to about 3.4 million litres,” MC continues.
“And we’ll fly from there,” Red says.
Less than two and half years in, the guys are now at the five year mark in their original business plan. “I honestly thought that Red and I would still be on the floor brewing the beers ourselves,” Jack says. On why they think the brand has done so well, the guys are sure it comes down to the quality of their product as well as a strong story and team behind the brand.
“There’s a lot more to the beer industry now, you have to have a clear brand and a good story,” Jack says. “There’s something about the Pirate Life name that resonates with people”.
It seems only natural to then ask, why Pirate Life? “Jack came up with it,” MC says. “When you start a business, you always think the name is really important but we left it for a while”.
“A couple of months later I got a phone call when I was still in bed, it was Jack and he just said two words: ‘Pirate Life’ then hung up”.
After a phone call to Red in the Margaret River, it was decided. “The quote that was in my head was it’s a pirate life for me and from there ‘Pirate Life’ and that was it,” Jack says.
“We also have a great social media presence, people know about it and people are interested in trying it and once they’ve tried it, they tend to like it,” says MC.
“It’s also about employing the right people though,” he continues. “Everyone [here] has the same vision and an exceptional work ethic”.
“If you’ve got the right people working for you and you have the right systems and strategies in place, you can definitely grow a product, and if your product remains quality, which we always try to keep doing, then you can keep going”.
That being said, statistics show that only about six per cent of the beer drinking market is actually drinking craft beers. MC insists that this is the exciting part of it though. “It’s all about getting people who are stuck on the normal beer drinking train to just diversify a little bit, and try some new beers, and understand the hop flavours,” he says. “Once you move away from mainstream, you realise there’s a whole new world in craft beer when it comes to flavour”.
And this was another reason why they wanted to produce out of Adelaide. “Everyone’s got good palettes here,” Jack says. “There’s a lot of good wine, lots of good food and when we started up, the beer scene was just starting to get going”.
“Craft beer is a conversation piece and people get excited about it,” MC offers. “…and it matches better with food”.
As for what’s next on the cards for the brand, they’ve just brewed a new beer, Trans-Pacific Partnership, in collaboration with San Diego-based brewery, Ballast Point, which will be canned next month. Jack and Red are heading across the pond to Ballast Point to brew the beer there and sell it in the States as well.
But even more exciting than that is that there might be a new brewery venue on the horizon. Partly due to space concerns – the new tanks will put them at capacity – and also the desire to open up a front of house offering in the form a restaurant inspired by the set up they have at Little Creatures, the guys are currently looking at spaces down in Port Adelaide. They’re also continuing to grow their export program, with a focus on South East Asia where they already have a strong presence in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Whatever happens though, they’re happy to keep calling Adelaide home. “We will continue to manufacture here and keep adding to the good stories around South Australia, it’s a great place to be.”
89 South Road, Hindmarsh
Pirate Life Brewery is open to the public on Tuesday-Friday, 12pm-6pm and Saturday, 11am-4pm.
You can also catch the guys down at the Beer & BBQ Festival on Friday July 28 and Saturday July 29.
Pirate Life Brewing
Photography by Meaghan Coles.