Like many blokes, John O’Brien enjoyed a beer on a hot summer’s evening. That is, until a 1998 diagnosis from his doctor of coeliac disease confirmed why he didn’t feel 100 per cent, and meant that beer was off the menu.
With the only gluten-free (GF) beer available in Australia being spasmodically imported from Europe, the consulting engineer set about trying to make a GF beer himself.
O’Brien had no knowledge of brewing, but turned his innovative skills in electronic and security project engineering to learning the craft of creating beer.
He says initially his beers “weren’t very good”, but careful trial and error gradually resulted in “consistently good GF beer”.
While O’Brien’s original idea had been to brew just for himself, he then began thinking there could be a business opportunity.
Discovering up to 1.5 per cent of Australians are gluten-intolerant convinced him this was the case, and O’Brien went looking for investors.
After a couple of years experimenting, O’Brien began full commercial trials in 2004 with a contract brewer. They sold their first 100 per cent GF beer commercially, O’Brien Pale Ale, in August 2005, and he says “O’Brien Beer was now a reality”.
Since releasing its first product in August 2005, the business has continued to grow year-on-year with double-digit growth, while employee numbers have blossomed to eight.
“We’ve grown our current range to the point where we believe we have the largest product range of 100 per cent GF beers in the world. There is only one other company that I’m aware of that comes anywhere close, and that’s Green’s out of the UK, but they have less than half the styles of 100 per cent GF beer that we have.”