Ever feel like you’ve had some of your best ideas while shooting the breeze with loved ones over a glass of something crisp and cool?
Two years ago, back home in Australia, Virginia Buckworth was having a drink with her nephews when conversation turned to the “hard yards” and inequalities people in the LGBTQ+ community have had to face.
“While we were chatting, I said to my nephew, who happens to be a craft brewer in the hills of Adelaide where I live, ‘I wonder if there’s a beer or cider that represents the gay community year-round?’”
Sure, lots of brands will slap a rainbow on their packaging during Pride events. But Buckworth (herself a member of the LGBTQ+ community) was thinking beyond that – what she had in mind was a drink that was created specially to sport that rainbow, anytime, anyplace, to stand proud in pubs and beer fridges alongside everything else on the market.
“We collectively said, a ‘gay ale’,” Buckworth recalls. “Hence the name – Gayle – was born.”
The time is now
This wasn’t an idea she was going to let dry up once the glasses were cleared away, though. Instead, Buckworth set about making it a reality – and just a few months later, Gayle was born.
That might sound incredibly quick – but Buckworth had been determined to move fast. That summer, conversation around LGBTQ+ issues was heightened as Australia counted down to the ‘yes’ vote to finally legalise same sex marriage – and after floating the idea to friends and peers, she was confident that if there was ever a time to go for it, the time was now.
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“I reached out to the board of what is known as Feast: The Adelaide Queer Arts and Cultural Festival – they organise the annual two-week celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, the equivalent of Mardi Gras Sydney, but on a smaller scale,” Buckworth recalls. “I floated the idea of a gay owned beer and cider company being the sponsors and suppliers.”
Despite only having a name at this stage, no logo or product, the orgnaisers embraced the idea – and the turnaround was swift: “Our first batch of Gayle came off the production line on November 6, just in time to launch Gayle at Feast on November 9, which was a resounding success.”
The following February, Gayle became a beer and cider supplier and sponsor for the 40th Mardi Gras Sydney festival. “It’s fair to say this event put Gayle on the map,” Buckworth notes.
Brewing a business
Another year and a half on, and Gayle just celebrated its UK launch. Buckworth hopes to trickle through Europe and crack the US market too.
This hasn’t all been about festival deals and well-timed marketing though. By her own admission, Buckworth’s varied CV “reads a bit like War And Peace” – but she’s always had an entrepreneurial streak and pursued paths that mean a lot to her personally, or reflect her interests.
This includes the LGBTQ+ community (she ran one of Australia’s most iconic gay nightclubs for women in the Eighties) and the drinks field (she also owned a liquor store at one point).
Of course, her nephew, Daniel Wright, was also already in the beer game – a “highly awarded and respected craft brewer” in fact, co-owner of Swell Brewing Co, and he was happy to team up with his aunt.
So while Wright “set about brewing a recipe specifically for Gayle”, Buckworth focused on the business side of things, networking and securing angel funding and seed investment to get things off the ground.
A product to be proud of
From day one, Gayle was all about an idea with purpose and meaning. As Buckworth puts it in her “mission statement”, Gayle is “more than just a gay beer or just an advocate for gay rights.
"Our message reaches far beyond race, sexuality or creed. It’s about embracing diversity, accepting and celebrating everyone’s right to express their individuality.
"It’s one of unity, of family and friends. Our story is a celebration of being human”.
The Pride message and rainbow logo are at the heart of the brand of course – but it’s seeing the drinks find their place in pubs and barbecues all over the world, all year round, that’ll really mean Gayle’s achieved its goal.
So to be a success, it was vital Gayle can hold its own in a competitive market.
The beer is a golden ale with their own unique recipe, which they’re now producing at Brass Castle brewery in a small town called Malton – “they pride themselves on being the foremost brewers of vegan and gluten-free craft beers”, Buckworth notes.
Hoppy and fruity (with predominantly passion fruit aromas), the result is a refreshing, easy-drinking ale (“It’s what we Aussies call a ‘sessionable’ beer”).
For their cider, Buckworth and Wright tapped up the head winemaker at a “well-known winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia called Chapel Hill” and set about sourcing local “Pink Lady apples grown in the hills of Adelaide”. Again, a subtle sweetness makes it a light, fruity drink that slips down a treat when cool.
Fresh from the UK launch, Buckworth is busy, with wheels in motion for the next steps. So far though, the future for her rainbow cans is looking bright.
“It gives me great pride to have taken what was just an idea and turned it into reality by producing LGBTQ+ friendly products that we all can enjoy with family and friends,” she says. “I hope it will [see us] share something so quintessentially simple as a glass together, no matter who we are.”
For more information, visit gaylebev.com.au
- Press Association