If you were one of the many Australians who, after the enormous controversy surrounding Coopers earlier this year, went searching for a local beer with progressive values, then you likely stumbled across Sparkke Change Beverage Company. The Adelaide-based company has grown from strength to strength, establishing themselves as one of the freshest names in the Australian brewing industry.
With a team comprised of nine fierce women, the beverage company began in 2016 after launching a Pozible campaign that ended up being one of the most successful crowd-funded alcohol campaigns in Australia's history. Sparkke Change offers four different beverages - a pilsner, a hard lemonade, a hard ginger beer, and an apple cider - each one campaigning for a different progressive social issue, with a percentage of proceeds going to a respective organisation.
The "Change The Date" pilsner focuses on Australia Day, supporting the movement by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to shift the event from January 26. The ginger beer is all about immigration and refugees, with the slogan acting as a succinct reminder that even in our national anthem, we proclaim that we have 'Boundless Plains to Share'. The apple cider reads, 'Consent Can't Come After You Do', as a mark of support for sexual consent and the erasure of rape culture; and the hard lemonade carries the slogan 'Nipples are Nipples', making reference to the #FreeTheNipple movement for gender equality on social media.
Now, the team at Sparkke Change has exclusively revealed to SBS that their fifth beverage is being announced today - they'll soon be selling a sparkling white wine that backs marriage equality.
Seeing as the new wine focuses on supporting the Australian LGBTQIA community in their battle for the right to get married, the company is choosing to announce the 'Say I Do!' White Wine Bubbles on May 17 - International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia.
The bubbly white will donate 10 per cent of all direct sales to The Equality Campaign, a group which lobbies for equal marriage rights for all Australians.
Clint McGilvray from The Equality Campaign is thrilled with the partnership, saying in a press statement, "It is great to see Sparkke getting behind marriage equality and showing their support for every Australian being treated equally. Marriage equality will not change anything for the vast majority of Australians but will make a profound difference to the status and dignity of many. All over the country people are asking what they can do to make marriage equality happen. It’s so important for everyone to make their voice heard by getting involved in the campaign for a fair go for every Australian.”
Head winemaker Sarah Lyons, the woman behind the bubbles, told SBS that the issue is something very close to her heart.
"As a queer woman who came out at the age of 14, I can speak from personal experience about what it’s like to grow up feeling marginalised," Lyons says. "It’s fantastic to campaign for the rights of all Australians to marry if they wish to – regardless of their gender or sexuality – and at the same time to produce a great fizz in a can."
The 'fizz' has been made with grapes sourced from a variety of renowned growers in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale. It's described as "stylistically fruit driven, with attention to minerality, fresh acidity, texture and complexity through the addition of some back vintage wine".
It's also one of the first wines available in a can in Australia, and the company says the choice to release the wine in 250ml 'slim' cans encourages responsible drinking; each one contains two restaurant pours, so it can be shared with a friend.
"We are tackling an entrenched male, pale and stale $4 billion dollar a year Aussie beer industry, that in our view, needs new conversations and new more responsible approaches. So we try to take [negative feedback] on the chin."
Responsible drinking is an enormous focus for Sparkke Change, with most of their drinks staying within 'mid-strength' range - the pilsner, for example, has the alcohol by volume (ABV) of 3.5 per cent (as a comparison, a Victoria Bitter has a 4.9 per cent ABV). There's been some criticism of the company for using alcohol to speak about social issues, but the team are adamant that their product encourages and supports drinking responsibly, particularly for young people.
Head Brewer Agi Gajic tells SBS that Sparkke wanted to embrace the notion of "sessionable" beverages, while also acting as an instigator of important conversations in festival and university scenes: "We’re addressing social issues through alcohol; we’re not promoting binge drinking or alcoholism," Gajic explains. "We wanted to create a drink that you could have a few of and still have your wits about you, while not compromising on flavour for those that enjoy a drink but want to stay in control and responsible."
No such thing as 'boys jobs'
Gajic previously worked at popular Sydney brewery Young Henrys and is now one of approximately three women brewers in Australia. It's a heavily male-dominated field, but Gajic says that while the numbers for female representation are bleak, her experiences in the brewing industry have been very positive overall.
"Sometimes you get the odd dumb-dumb at a beer event or similar who assumes you work behind the bar when actually, you probably know more about brewing than he does," Gajic laughs. "But mostly my experience has been really positive. Most of the males I have worked with have been really supportive, nurturing and fair.
"The amount of females working in the industry is really dismal, which is terribly unfortunate as females make pretty excellent brewers. I don’t really know why this is, if it is because females are intimidated by the perceived ‘boys club’ mentality, or because they think that they might not be physically able... personally I’ve not felt like there was a lot that my male co-workers could do that I couldn’t."
Head winemaker Lyons agrees, telling SBS, "I would say to all young women, understand that there are no 'boys' jobs. Men are raised in a society that tells them that they can do anything, so they often have the confidence to do anything. Women can do all the same things; it's just that society doesn't raise us in a way that allows us to think that. So go do whatever you wish to do and build a community around you that supports you in doing so."
Making change with dollars and sense
Gender equality and social equity are major values at the heart of Sparkke Change, so the engagement with social issues doesn't end with slogans on cans. The group donates 10 per cent of direct sales from every single can to a connected organisation - sales of the refugee-focussed ginger beer goes to Mums4Refugees, and the hard lemonade campaigning for gender equality donates to the 'her words' podcast. Funds are currently being accrued from sales of the 'Consent Can't Come After You Do' apple cider and the 'Change The Date' pilsner while the company invites proposals from organisations, in order to find groups that align with the company's philanthropic mission.
The amount of females working in the industry is really dismal, which is terribly unfortunate as females make pretty excellent brewers.
The choice of issues was a major, throughly considered decision in the initial stages of the company's creation. Communications team member Jamie Burcirde tells SBS that there were "so many social issues that [the Sparkke Change team] wanted to draw attention to", but after brainstorming, the group whittled it down to the five we now see on Sparkke's cans.
"We asked ourselves, 'what do we want to see changed?' The social issues of gender equality, Australia Day respect, refugee policies and asylum seekers [in] detention, sexual consent and marriage equality came up very quickly and stayed at the top of our list," said Burcirde. "Each cause has a thoroughly researched position paper backing it up. We want to spark conversation from an informed position, so before we finally agree on a cause/issue, we have to review the facts."
SBS are also told that other social issues are being considered regularly, and that the public will "see environmental issues appearing on can messages within the next four to six months".
Plus, holding true to their strong belief in community action and open discourse, Sparkke will also be launching a 'Can Collaboration Project' on their new website later this year. It will allow followers to recommend local artists and musicians the company can collaborate with, suggest issues to focus on, and submit designs for Sparkke Change cans which will be shared in a public gallery.
Upon visiting Sparkke Change's website, you're greeted with a playful, bright campaign video for the company, which goes on to explain that the progressive values at the centre of Sparkke's ethos are often seen as controversial, but Burcirde says the team have learned how to manage the negative feedback on social media.
"There are definitely trolls and haters – and sometimes we’re a bit taken aback. But most of the time there are genuine people expressing support or putting forth differing views. We encourage this debate, as our goal is to educate our audiences and ignite conversation about these social issues.
"We know that we won't always resonate with everyone, and we know we won't always be right. But we are transparent - and we are tackling an entrenched male, pale and stale $4 billion dollar a year Aussie beer industry, that in our view, needs new conversations and new, more responsible approaches. So we try to take it on the chin."
But primarily, the feedback for Sparkke's beverages, values, and mission has been glowingly positive. With the announcement of their new sparkling white wine to support the Aussie LGBTQIA community in their fight for marriage equality, Sparkke is evidently becoming a progressive - and delicious - force to be reckoned with.
Sparkke Change Beverage Co. will be announcing their newest addition to their beverage family today on their Facebook page, and packs of the 'Say I Do!' White Wine Bubbles will be available to preorder via Pozible.