It’s not uncommon among Australia’s craft brewers to find those with former careers that have been abandoned in favour of chasing beery dreams. It is uncommon, however, to find one with quite as many strings to their bow as Warwick Little, who founded Little Brewing with wife Kylie in 2007. Try time spent as a paramedic and dabbling with radiography, physics, chemistry and microbiology, as well as several years studying wine science, and you’ve got a pretty colourful past.
Nothing, however, seems to have sparked the same passion as the brewing of beer, much to the delight of Kylie, a former marketer who had developed a taste for English and Belgian ales while living in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s. Serial award winners, their beers under both the Wicked Elf and Mad Abbot labels have found favour with judges and beer lovers alike.
It’s just as well, as in Port Macquarie, where their immaculately maintained brewery is based (complete with the largest collection of brewing accoutrements we’ve ever seen!), big brewery contracts have meant that, until late 2011 when The Town Green Inn took their beer, they couldn’t secure a single tap in any of the town’s hotels. Instead, you’ll find them on tap and bottleshop shelves in the the better beer venues along the east coast from Brisbane to Melbourne – and occasionally further afield, especially since they expanded capacity in 2013. New tanks arrived as well as a large shipment of kegs, allowing the Littles to hunt down more tap points than ever before, assisted by an on-road Elfmobile servicing their East Coast customers.
Having sold everything they owned to get the brewery up and running, the Littles don’t hold back with any of their beers, all of which are typified by bold flavours and plenty of body. As Warwick says: “We brew beers without compromise, yet fervently true to style.” If that isn’t reason enough to hunt one down, we don’t know what is!
Little Brewing Company Beers
Wicked Elf Witbier
Little Brewing’s take on the Belgian witbier style is a mouth-filling, flavoursome beer made with 50/50 wheat and barley malts and a little curacao (bitter orange peel) and coriander. The spicy citrus character is complemented by a light floral hop aroma in what is a truly refreshing beer topped off with a dry, slightly bitter finish.
Wicked Elf Pale Ale
One of the boldest of the many American inspired pale ales on the Aussie market, this is the Little philosophy of no compromise on flavour and ingredients writ large. A meaty, deep amber beer that kicks off with big floral aromas from the use of American Cascade hops and packs plenty of toffee and caramel flavours thanks to generous levels of crystal malt. A reasonably high alcohol content for the style helps beef up the body in a cracking take on the style.
Style: American Pale Ale
Mad Abbot Dubbel
Head brewer Warwick Little is a big fan of Belgian styles and, having experimented early on with a beer entitled Abbey Ale, he later introduced two semi-regular beers based on those that come out of Belgium’s Trappist breweries. This, the Dubbel, is a faithful take on the style and an enjoyably complex number to boot. Bottle conditioned and cellared before release, this dark brown beer offers up all manner of fruity aromas: raisins, plums and spices, plus chocolate and a touch of rum. Those characteristics return in the mouth, along with a hint of toffee in a gently warming ale that’s designed to be sipped and savoured.
Mad Abbott Tripel
The second of Little Brewing’s semi-regular Trappist ale releases, this is a great interpretation of the big, bold Tripel style – and one of The Crafty Pint’s favourite Aussie-brewed Belgian beers. Like its little brother, the Dubbel, it’s bottle conditioned and cellared before release; we say “little brother” as this tips the scales at 9.5%. Not that you’d know, as it’s a golden ale awash with honey, citrus, stonefruit and some gentle spicy aromas. Rich and full in the mouth, those fruits and spices return, along with some sweet alcohol flavours and enough bitterness to ensures it’s refreshing rather than cloying. A cracker with soft cheeses too.
Wicked Elf Pilsner
The Wicked Elf Pilsner from Little Brewing is a beer that, once tasted, you want to taste again. So it was rather unfortunate that for quite some time they were too busy brewing their other beers to find time in their schedule to make some more. Which means it’s equally fortunate that it’s now back. As you’d expect from the Port Macquarie brewery it’s as true to style as you could wish for, the style in this case being a Bohemian Pilsner. That means distinctive, slightly spicy, slightly floral aromas from the use of Saaz hops upfront alongside some sweet, cereal like malt aromas. The European pilsner malt lends the beer a mix of bready, grainy and hay like flavours, with the hops adding some subtle herbal and spicy characters as well as a rounded but not aggressive bitterness.
Style: Bohemian Pilsner
Little Brewing Death Between The Tanks
For some time now, the Littles have been teasing us with the suggestion that they’re going to start releasing beers that allow head brewer Warwick to run amok. Every time we spoke to them, we’d bring it up, but teasing it remained. Then, at last month’s Australian Hotel Beer Festival, we met the latest addition to their brewing team, who began a conversation with: “OK, I’ll tell you, but you can’t tell anyone about it just yet.” Thankfully, the threat of death if his secret should pass into the public domain is now passed and the teasing has stopped too as the first of these long-mooted beers has arrived. And it’s a whopper too: a Double IPA weighing in at 113 IBU (a measure of bitterness, with the human palate supposedly unable to distinguish anything too much higher than 100).
It’s packed with a tonne of new world hops – Citra, Cascade, Galaxy, Chinook, Simcoe and Motueka – and delivers the sort of tropical fruit explosion that such a hopstravaganza would suggest; the brewers reckon “pine, citrus, passionfruit and mango aromas lead you into a ‘juicy’ hop flavour with pine resin, citrus and tropical fruit.” Better still is the name: “Death Between The Tanks”, a reference to Warwick’s wife’s fear that one day he’ll keel over at the brewery from overwork and a refusal to take holidays or sick days. It comes with a suitably amusing label that seems to reference both Carrie and The Simpsons Halloween specials and also comes with a message of hope: “Don’t worry though. If the worst happens, this Double IPA is strong and hoppy enough to bring him back.”
Style: Double IPA
Bitterness: 113 IBU
Mad Abbot Christmas Ale
Port Macquarie brewers, the Little Brewing Company, really should have a wider audience for their beers. Year in, year out, they pump out beers under their two labels – Wicked Elf and Mad Abbot – that are of a consistently high quality and, without fail, see them hauling a fresh swag of awards back home from every awards competition they’re entered into. Their Tripel has long been a favourite at Crafty Towers, while we weren’t at all surprised to see their Pale Ale fare well in the last Blind Tasting we did for the site, placing much higher than many far better known beers, yet you don’t hear people talking about Wicked Elf or Mad Abbot beers as often as you do many others. Still, we hear their sales have rocketed in the past year so perhaps that’s a-changing. Anyway, rumination over: time for a new beer. The Christmas Ale was debuted at last month’s GABS festival and sits at the top end, ABV wise, of their Mad Abbot range of Belgian inspired beers, checking in at 11.3 per cent. Described as the “first of a line of ‘seasonal’ vintages brewed for festive occasions:” it’s a dark Belgian style quadrupel, so look out for the likes of rum, fruit cake, plum, cherry, leather and spice. According to brewer Warwick Little, it will reward “careful cellaring up to three to five years” too. That said, the bottles haven’t yet left the brewery so for now you’ll have to hunt down the handful of kegs doing the rounds, but we’ll let you know when the packaged product is out.
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
Wicked Elf Kolsch
Is this the most Germanic beer released in Australia? For its summer release, Port Macquarie’s Little Brewing not only used all German malt and all German hops – they brewed the beer with a half-German brewer. We’re not sure if lederhosen were involved in the brew day, or whether David Hasselhoff was on permanent loop serenading the yeast as it went to work in the tanks, but what we do know is that this Kӧlsch is on the cards to become part of the Wicked Elf permanent range if it finds favour in the coming months. As you’d expect of the style, it’s a light, easy drinker with, according to the brewers, “some style about it”. The kegs are out and about on the East Coast – look out for bottles spreading far and wide in the New Year.
Tipplers Tap, Brisbane
Archive Beer Boutique, Brisbane
Town Green Inn, Port Macquarie
Bottles coming soon…
Wicked Elf Porter
Like their Tassie peers Moo Brew, the Littles of NSW decided to use their invite to brew a new beer for the 2012 GABS festival to create a permanent addition to their range. Well, semi-permanent in the case of the Wicked Elf Porter anyway. Officially tagged as part of their “Cellar Release” range, like the Mad Abbot Dubbel and Tripel, it’s technically a seasonal, which makes the timing of its debut – in time for winter – rather apposite. Brewer Warwick Little tells us he eschewed the use of any roasted malts in the beer, instead cramming it with plenty of chocolate malt amid a grain bill drawn from Australia, Germany and the UK to create a “Robust” style porter that comes into its own the warmer it gets. The label recommends serving at 8C – at Crafty Towers we enjoyed it more at even higher temperatures that allowed the rich malt flavours to really come through, backed up by subtle English hops in a deeply dark beer that will please both the purists and those seeking a hearty winter warmer.
Casa di Vino, Port Melbourne
Camperdown Cellars, Sydney
Oak Barrel, Sydney
Yulli’s, Surrey Hills
Platinum Liquor, Strathfield & Bellevue
Cellarbrations at Lighthouse, Port Macquarie
Style: Robust Porter