“Do not look at anything in Australia”: How embracing an unorthodox brand propelled KAIJU! to Australian craft brewing fame

KAIJU!

KAIJU! co-founders Nat and Callum Reeves. Photo: Amy Whitfield.

KAIJU! Beer bosses Nat and Callum Reeves will produce their millionth litre of beer this year, but while their rise to the forefront of Australia’s craft brewing scene has taken the industry by storm, their success stems from a fairly counterintuitive realisation about modern beer enthusiasts.

That being, it’s not actually about the beer. Or, at least, not as much as urban young professionals think it is.

Originally founded back in 2013 under the name Monster Mash, the Reeves brother’s craft beer business has won a dozen awards over the last seven years, underpinning a run that’s placed its most popular brew — a tropical pale ale called KAIJU! Krush — in major bottleshops such as BWS and Dan Murphy’s across the country.

The pale ale is responsible for more than half of KAIJU!’s sales — some 3.5 million cans of the beer were sold last year — with sales growing 35% year-on-year as the brothers look to extend their reach further into more live venues and festivals.

A style of their own

It hasn’t been easy. The number of craft brewers, virtual and otherwise, has exploded in recent years, and there are now more than 700 such breweries vying for shelf space.

But the Reeves brothers have managed to set themselves apart from the crowd by honing in not just on what’s inside the can, but also what’s outside.

“The artwork on our cans has been a huge part of our success,” Callum Reeves tells SmartCompany.

Designed by New York-based Mikey Burton, KAIJU!’s labels stick out like a sore thumb on Australian bottleshop shelves, and that’s just how the founders like it.

Photo: Amy Whitfield.

Adopting a brand aesthetic that’s all about being different Callum Reeves explains the motivation for KAIJU!’s idiosyncratic style was born from competitive necessity.

“When we started out, we were brewing probably the hoppiest beers in Australia,” Callum Reeves tells SmartCompany.

“But it was only six months to a year before three to four other breweries we’re doing a similar thing.”

Realising they had to pull another lever to attract new customers, Burton was given a simple brief.

“All Australian beer logos looked like they could have been a footy team,” Reeves says, lamenting the oval-orthodoxy that’s emerged in Aussie beer marketing.

“We said: ‘Do not look at anything in Australia.'”

What Burton came up with was the now-famous beached pineapple throwing up a peace sign.

New horizons

It was the subsequent success of KAIJU! and brewers such as Pirate Life — which also adopted unorthodox branding — that helped chart a new growth vertical in the local craft brewing industry, which has been tagged with perceptions about beer snobbery and hops since its inception.

That isn’t to say the brewing isn’t crucial, but if you think about it, customers aren’t drinking anything until they pay for it.

In other words, come for the stoned-looking pineapple, stay for the tropical twist.

Krush is KAIJU!’s most popular brew, but the Reeves brothers also sell a range of other alcoholic beverages, including Golden Axe Cider, Metamorphosis IPA and Paradise Pils, sourcing hops from the United States, Europe and Australia and New Zealand.

The portfolio of products is expected to grow, although Reeves is keeping those plans close to his chest as KAIJU! looks to extend its reach into more bars and live venues across the country.

The brothers are part of a bigger trend that’s wrestling control of Australia’s bar taps from big brewery contracts, which often lock independent pubs and clubs into deals that prevent them from stocking craft.

These days, having a broad selection of beer on tap has become a competitive advantage in some areas, and an imperative in others.

“Once you’ve got a craft brewery in town people will get a taste for it,” Reeves says.

But more immediate plans will see KAIJU! get its own home — a pub dedicated to its growing product range where brand loyalists can gather for an authentic KAIJU! experience.

The rationale is multi-faceted: while having their own pub is great for building the KAIJU! brand, selling their own beer is also great for cashflow.

After all, there’s no 120-day payment terms with punters.

“We are one of the only, if not the only brewery at our scale that doesn’t have a brew/pub type of arrangement in Australia,” Reeves says.

“You can really develop great relationships with your customers.”

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