For six months Grant and Jaz Wearin lived the beer lover’s dream; travelling around the West Coast of the USA visiting every brewery they could. But it wasn’t a holiday. Well, it was – but it wasn’t just a holiday. The Aussie couple had a loose idea to open up a brewery of their own back home, so this was effectively R&D.
Says Grant: “The idea had always been simmering away, but then when we were in the States we thought, ‘This can definitely be done’. From the day we got back, which was January 2013, I worked pretty much full time on it – my wife’s still at work – and here we are 18 months later.”
“Here” is Mona Vale, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where the Modus Operandi brewery opened at the end of July. It’s not an area known for beer, but when you pull up to the gates and see tables full of happy drinkers it’s clear that there’s as much thirst for it here as anywhere else. Part of the appeal is in the venue itself, with the brewery, bar and casual dining venue benefiting from the Wearins having taken note of what they liked most about the breweries they visited and trying to incorporate the best elements into their own business.
“We definitely picked and chose,“ says Grant. "We took a lot of inspiration from Portland and Colorado in particular.”
While they may have taken inspiration from those areas, they took something else too: brewer DJ McCready. Having worked at the famed Oskar Blues brewery, DJ’s move to Australia just happened to work out, as he explains in his laid back North Carolina drawl.
“I was planning on coming over here anyway just to do some travelling to Australia and New Zealand and I knew the craft brewing scene was taking off, so thought maybe I might be able to land a job somewhere – or maybe just have a cool holiday.
“But I started talking to one of my buddies at Rogue about it and he called me a few weeks later saying, ‘If you’re serious about it, these guys are opening up a brewery right outside of Sydney and I think it’d be right up your alley – they want to do all these cool different beers.’ And it just worked out, so here I am!”
He’s made his presence felt immediately. Where many new breweries in Australia are the project of a homebrewer-turned-pro and invariably involve a bit of a ‘settling in’ period as they come to terms with the larger equipment, DJ’s experience has meant Modus Operandi has hit the ground running. Indeed, it takes a certain level of gumption to open a brewery with seven beers, including two saisons. The rest of the initial range is made up of a cream ale, pale ale, two IPAs and a porter. As Grant suggests, it’s a deliberately expansive selection designed to make a bit of a statement.
“We knew from our travels that first impressions really last so it was important for us to have a good lineup and be able to say, ‘This is what we’re going to be doing’. We’re going to have more, but seven was really all we could pull off in a couple of months.”
And pulled it off they have, with the first batch of brews proving a hit from top to bottom of the list. Says Grant: “The cream ale’s designed to be highly sessionable – a classic California Common style and our unashamed gateway beer, but it’s got flavour. We actually had a debate about whether Australia was ready for a cream ale. DJ won and he’s still winning because it’s really popular.”
At the other end of the spectrum, if you were to pick one brew that will have hardcore beer lovers hooked, it’s likely to be the Former Tenant, an unashamedly bold, Mosaic hop-fuelled, 7.8 percent US-style IPA.
“Former Tenant has been our biggest selling big beer,“ says Grant, "which I’d call anything over about 6 per cent. I’m super stoked with how it turned out. We’ve had a few beer geeks in here chewing our ear off about it which is nice.”
As well as brewing nous, DJ has brought with him to Australia an acute awareness of beer trends happening in the USA, the country so often cited as being the leader of the pack. To that end, Modus Operandi is set to take the canning revolution up a gear by becoming only the second brewery in the world to offer one litre takeaway cans that are filled directly from the brewery taps (the first was, naturally, his former employer Oskar Blues).
Fill your own cans, you might ask? DJ explains…
“Basically it’s a turn-of-the century food can seamer that, at Oskar Blues, we re-did to fit one litre aluminium cans. We fill off our taps, the can goes into the seamer on the bar, spins them around, puts a lid on them and there’s your ready-to-go packaging.
“We’re still testing it out to make sure it works but at Oskar Blues, where they have the proper testing equipment – whereas I’m just filling them, shaking the shit out of them and leaving them out for a week and seeing if they still taste good – they were saying they were getting almost two months out of them. I think you’re probably getting around the same oxygen content as as 330ml bottle but because it’s such a big vessel the amount of oxygen contact is small in comparison.
“But we’ll still treat it like a growler and tell people it’s not like a regular can of beer – you want to drink it pretty quick so hopefully it won’t be a problem. I mean, when I buy beer I have a hard time getting it home before I open it!”
In the meantime, there are several new beers to focus on. A couple of old Lark Distillery barrels sit atop the chiller, one filled with porter and the other likely to house the red IPA. There are some white wine barrels on the way in anticipation of a sour beer program, a Double IPA in the pipeline, a light summer IPA to come with the changing seasons and a Black Coffee Lager ready to go. The latter is a collaboration done with their the business next door, the Coffee Brothers, who brewed and added the coffee to the tank while it was still warm.
Getting their neighbours involved is reflective of what Modus Operandi is already achieving in their new home, namely getting more people interested in beer.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me in the brewery and say, ‘I’ve never thought about how beer was made before’,“ says DJ. "It’s a real ‘Whoa!’ moment for them and it’s really cool to be able to educate people, for example, that certain characters you taste or smell come from a hop. Hopefully folks will just be receptive enough to keep trying the beer.”
With a great venue pouring some great beer, chances are they will be.
On a recent trip to the Great Ocean Road, a post-beach drink at the Wye Beach Hotel threw up some pleasant surprises. On tap was a choice that included Mountain Goat, Prickly Moses, Southern Bay and Forrest Brewery with far more options in the fridge. And if the owners plan to keep supporting their local breweries, they’ll soon be able to add another to the list following the opening of Blackman’s Brewery in Torquay.
The brewery, bar and restaurant that welcomed its first guests through the door earlier this month has been opened by brewer Renn Blackman and his partner Jess Guidice (pictured above) on the town’s Bell Street. Just a short walk from the beach, they have installed the brewery formerly found at True South in Blackrock, where Renn used to be the head brewer, at the rear of a restaurant and bar and are already pouring three of Renn’s beers: a Belgian-style witbier, a hoppy golden ale and a West Coast-style IPA. And in the kitchen they have Mitch from Beersine, the WA chef who specialises in cooking with beer and beer’s ingredients.
“I’d always thought Torquay, Geelong or somewhere on the coast would be amazing for a brewery,” says Renn, who grew up half an hour from the brewery. “It’s a great space to live too and is becoming a lot less seasonal.”
In his six years as a commercial brewer, Renn has covered a lot of ground. His brewing career started out when he trained at Edith Cowan University in WA, with his first professional job at The Monk in Fremantle, supplemented by a spot of keg washing at the Sail & Anchor across the road. Then there were a few months spent at the Old Swan Brewery before he moved to London and worked at Camden Town, becoming one of many Aussies to spend time there. After a spot of travelling, he returned Australia and became head brewer at True South before setting out on his own.
“Me and Jess travelled for six months before coming back to Australia and went to some classic beer towns like Pilsen [birthplace of the pilsner], Bamberg [home to Schlenkerla’s smoked beers] and Cologne [home of Kolsch] and drank lots of beers,” he says. “We went to quite a few breweries; Cantillon was the most amazing, along with Pilsner Urquell. We’re definitely going to do an unfiltered lager as part of our core range because of that experience at Pilsner Urquell and one that Camden used to do.”
The three beers already pouring take their names from his dad and other family members: Bob the witbier, a soft, smooth, fruity and gently spicy number featuring lemon zest, coconut and coriander; Ernie the golden ale, with big tropical hop aromas and plenty of grapefruit hop flavour; and Reginald, the punchy US-inspired IPA that Renn hopes will become the brewery’s flagship beer. All three were brewed when the system was still in place at True South before they moved it down the coast.
Now that the brewery is in place and commissioned, everything will be brewed onsite and, initially at least, the beers will only be available at the venue itself before they look to send some to local craft beer-supporting venues.
“We have more tanks coming so we can smash more beer out for summer,” says Renn. “There have been quite a few local people approach us, like Vue Grand that are into their beers, who are keen to get some.”
As for the decision to bring Mitch over for a couple of months to set up the kitchen and design the menu, apparently it was a case of: “Come and cook awesome food, Mitch. We love you!”
Say Mitch: “We worked together at The Monk and when I came over for Good Beer Week I stayed with him and Jess and whenever they come out to WA they stay with us. They love the food we did at The Monk so I submitted a whole heap of ideas, they chose what they wanted, then I came over and looked to see what was left over from the old place and tried to keep costs down as much as possible [ while setting up the new kitchen].”
Among the beery dishes on the menu are spiced meatballs in a spent grain sauce – “similar to a dish that Renn used to eat a gazillion of at The Monk” – locally made sausages featuring IPA and served with beer mustard, Mitch’s pale ale cheese and his hop honey. As well as designing the menu, Mitch will train up a permanent chef before heading back to WA.
“I have two weeks with the new guy when he arrives,” he says. “He’ll have a nice base to start from and can go wherever he wants. We’ll be over once every three months to do seasonal beer dinners, which will be a lot of fun and will give me the chance to work with someone that knows my food.”
As for the decision to open a brewpub on the Surf Coast, Renn feels the time is right in the region. There have been a number of breweries operating there for some time, the likes of Bellarine Brewing Company and Southern Bay close to Geelong and Forrest Brewery and Prickly Moses slightly further afield. With venues like the aforementioned Vue Grand as well as Frontbeach in Torquay itself and the Odyssey Tavern just up the road embracing craft beer, things were on the up while the opening of Little Creatures in Geelong has taken things to the next level.
“Little Creatures is changing people’s views on what beer is,” says Renn. “Their beer’s great and that venue has gone absolutely bananas since it opened. They’re great for doing what they’ve done.”
He and Jess will be hoping to do the same for Torquay. Their venue was previously the iconic Surfrider restaurant, “a bit of an institution here” according to Renn, that has been “pulled to bits: we redid the bar, polished the floor, basically took six months renovating to get it ready. In fact, we’re still going…”
The latest addition is the beer garden, which will feature long beer hall style tables made out of Western Australian timber built, like much of the venue, by Renn’s dad.
Tasty beers, creative food, a beer garden and the beach a few hundred metres away… what more could you want? How about Brettanomyces fermented chilli sauce? Well, they got that too. See you there!
Blackman’s Brewery is at 26 Bell Street, Torquay and is currently open Fridays from 6pm and weekends from midday. Hours will be extended from next month.
Other than play around with its younger sibling, White Rabbit, when creating the Little Rabbit beer for the 2012 Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, Little Creatures has kept its brewing mitts to itself. Yet a few weeks ago, we heard there were plans for a collaboration with another brewer, one that the staff at the brewery were excited about but keeping close to their chest.
“Who could it be?” we wondered. And when the answer was revealed it was one that made perfect sense: the Challenge was to feature Creatures and Emerson’s, the iconic Dunedin brewery that was bought by Lion in 2012, just a few months after the multinational took 100 percent control of Little World Beverages, owner of Creatures and White Rabbit. The first of two brews took place in Dunedin a couple of weeks ago, when brewers from Freo headed to New Zealand, with the return brew taking place in WA last week, where Max Brearley was on hand to ask what it was all about…
With Richard Emerson heading over The Ditch to brew at Little Creatures in Freo, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a collaboration brew. But Richard and Freo head brewer Russ Gosling are quick to point out that this is a Challenge brew.
“What’s a Challenge brew?” you ask.
Well, in this case, each brewing team threw down a style and hop varietals for the others to have a crack at, for what could become an annual trans-Tasman challenge. No pilot brewing allowed, with the recipe worked out and honed on the day.
While the two breweries are Lion owned, there’s a wealth of differences between their set ups that spice up the challenge, from largely computerised (Creatures) to old school hands on (Emerson). Emerson explains that “it’s a challenge to each other and to the brewers. It’s about what we can learn. We brew in isolation so the opportunity to learn from each other is what this is about.”
The New Zealand leg of the challenge saw Russ and Brett Shore head to Dunedin, where they laid down the challenge of brewing an Australian red IPA using Topaz and Ella hops. It’s not a style Emerson’s had attempted previously, added to which the hop varieties were also a new to them. For Emerson, this is what the challenge is all about. That and the odd game of brew house pool, where the rivalry really came out.
It set the tone for the return challenge.
Russ explains: “It’s a saison that Richard has challenged us with. Traditional and true to style, no going mad with hops [they used just East Kent Goldings and Czech Saaz].
“It’s a style that’s well structured and unforgiving. It’s a technically difficult beer, so it can be very right or very wrong. Of course it’ll be very right!”
Historically the saison is perhaps the perfect seasonal offering to take us from Winter to Spring, which is a good thing as both beers will be out in late October in keg and available at all Single Batch stockists, which can all be found at the Little Creatures website here.
There was one more unexpected challenge too: that of getting Richard back to New Zealand.
“We didn’t want to let him go,” says Creatures marketing manager Ash Cranston. “He was great!”
Max Brearley writes on beer for all manner of publications in Australia and overseas and is one half of Offshoot Creative.
Who wouldn’t want to go to Beerland? Aside from the fact that it just sounds so damn appealing, it’s also conveniently located in the heart of Northbridge, Perth’s nightlife centre…
Northbridge Brewing Company by Beerland (NBC) is the latest WA brewery to open its doors to a thirsty public. It is a project many years in the making, with beer geeks across Perth long wondering when the doors would open. Their question was answered last week as the founders welcomed their first customers to a soft opening.
Commanding the 12 hectolitre brewhouse at NBC’s heart is Ken Arrowsmith, who was coaxed out of brewing retirement after just over four years spent running his own business. His love of beer goes back many years; in fact, he was involved in brewing Redback in its early days and speaks highly of Phil Sexton of Matilda Bay and Little Creatures fame. From there, his career takes in an impressive list of roles with larger breweries, including Swan and Toohey’s. You may well have “met” him too as it’s his caricature that features on cans of Emu Bitter.
“It sounded like too much fun not to get involved,” Ken says of his return to brewing at NBC. “I’ve always been interested in science and brewing and it’s just a wonderful industry to be involved in.”
The new, state-of-the-art brewhouse features a reverse osmosis water system, up to eight fermentation tanks upstairs, and serving vessels that will send the beer straight from the tanks to the drinker’s glass. The brewery fits snugly into its custom brewpub surroundings, while the building is textually interesting: a combination of exposed red brick, neon signage and industrial additions.
The impressive two-storey brewpub
Being a part of the community is literally built into the two-storey venue, complete with rooftop Skydeck, with parts of the bar taken from historic Perth buildings such as the old Ford factory and Perry Lakes stadium. It’s clear the NBC team hopes to become a part of the greater Northbridge community and is proud to be supporting other local businesses like Torres Butchers.
It’s a brewpub for the beer curious and newcomer as much as the beer geek. The initial Beerland range provides accessible craft beer while the bottle menu includes offerings from the likes of Sierra Nevada, Two Birds and 4 Pines to broaden the drinking experience.
In creating the core range, Ken brewed up to 30 prototypes before launching with a wheat, pale ale, lager and mild.
“Given our location we wanted a core range that was easily accessible,” he explains.
The Beerland Wheat is a Bavarian style beer, with unmistakable banana and spice on the nose and a soft, fruity and lightly spiced palate. The Beerland Pale Ale is fresh and crisp, using Galaxy hops and then dry hopped with Cascade. For anyone who likes a clean lager, the Beerland Lager carries a good dose of spice from the use of Saaz hops and a solid all German malt body.
The final core beer in the Beerland range is the Mild, not available at the time of writing but set to run through the brewhouse soon. Ken is promising a darker beer with more malt character and plenty of complexity. He also has plenty planned for one-off special brews, the first of which will make its way into production in the coming few months.
Glistening stainless steel
Visitors can line up a few of his wares to sample with a tasting tray, sign up for a Brew Master tasting package or dive in deep with what’s described as “a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a Brewer for a Day with Ken”.
“We’ve long recognised Western Australia as the home of the craft beer revolution in Australia and we were thrilled when Ken agreed to head up our brewery,“ says Beerland brewing director Michael Rasheed. "NBC aims to deliver a relaxed hospitality experience where exceptionally well-made beer is the focus.”
Since starting out as an assistant chemist at The Swan Brewery, Ken reflects positively on his career to date: “It has been filled with constant challenge and change,” he says.
But as much as the beer industry has evolved since our palates were introduced to Redback, he says it is still all about the beer.
“Make a good beer,“ he says. "Sell it to people who enjoy it.”
And who can argue with that?
NBC is adjacent to the Northbridge Piazza, on the corner of James and Lake Street in Northbridge. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, offering a full menu with various dining options throughout the day and night.
“So what?” you may ask, with good reason. “They must brew heaps of the stuff every week.”
And you’d be right. Except this pale ale wasn’t the familiar green-labeled Coopers Pale and the batch wasn’t their usual 85,000 litres, but a mere 1200 litres. What’s more, instead of using just Pride of Ringwood, the rather old school hop used in Coopers Pale, it featured that variety plus Cascade (for bittering) as well as Galaxy and French variety Triskel for flavour and aroma. Perhaps most crucially of all, it was brewed with a unique crop of barley. And, last but not least, it was the first time in its 152 year history that the largest Australian-owned brewery has ever collaborated with another brewer.
Their partner in this experimental brew was Alistair Turnbull (above right admiring the malt in the mash tun on brew day) from Lobethal Bierhaus, who had first met Tim Cooper (above left) at a beer industry conference before he’d even open the doors to his venue in the Adelaide Hills. And he wasn’t the only partner in the venture, as the original instigators of this unique brew were the people at the Botanic Gardens of South Australia.
They had grown some Navigator barley as part of an ongoing mission to highlight the connection between nature, agriculture and what we consume, and had approached Coopers to sponsor the project. Given the amount of barley being produced, it “wouldn’t touch the sides” of Coopers' brewery, according to brewery operations manager Nick Sterenberg, so they approached their friend in the Hills and the first collaboration in 152 years of unbroken brewing was born.
“We grew this barley in the Botanic Garden to bring home to people the connection between agriculture and what we all eat and drink,” explains Nick.
“Last year, the Botanic Garden grew wheat and used that to make some artisanal pasta. This year, they grew barley and asked us to sponsor it and we said we should try to turn it into beer.
“The quantity was so small that it wouldn’t touch the sides of our brewery. We know and love Alistair and we thought, ‘Coopers has never done a collaboration brew with anybody in 152 years, if we are going to work with another brewer, let it be Alistair and let’s have a bit of fun.’'
The barley – a variety developed by the University of Adelaide – was malted by Joe White before being transported to Lobethal, where Al and a couple of brewers from Coopers used it to create a pale ale more in the New World tradition of the one Lobethal brews year round.
Dr Tim Cooper said: “The amount of barley available was too small for us to process through our brewery, so we looked for alternatives and our friends at the Lobethal Bierhaus had the right equipment for the job.
“We approached them about collaborating with us on the project and Alistair Turnbull, the owner
and brewer of the Lobethal Bierhaus, was happy to help."
He certainly was, describing the people he has come to know at Coopers over the past eight years as part of a business that “really does behave like a family”.
“They’ve done things for me in the past – water samples and so on – and are lovely blokes,” says Al. “I met Tim Cooper at an IBD conference in 2006 before I opened Lobethal. We had registered as Adelaide Hills Craft Brewing and that must have caught Tim’s eye as he came up and introduced himself to us. We didn’t even have the brewery yet, but he was a total gentleman.”
As for this week’s venture, he says: “In the process [of the barley growing project] Nick Sterenberg rang me and said they wanted to do a brew with this barley but the amount was too small. I thought, ‘#$%^ing hell! Collaborate with Coopers!’
“I’d always had this false illusion that one day I’d brew a 100,000 litre batch of my double-hopped IPA at Coopers and spread it all over Australia…”
While that may remain a pipe dream, being chosen as Coopers' first brewing partner is no mean feat and follows his multiple collaborations with the Yeastie Boys and The Wheaty – not bad for someone whose father warned him off becoming “a drunk’s labourer” and who spent 20 years in the world of banking before following his brewing dream.
The beer, called Botanic Ale, will be available in keg and bottle from October 29 at Lobethal Bierhaus and the bar at the Adelaide Botanic Garden, with proceeds going to the Botanic Gardens, whose director Stephen Forbes (above centre), said: “Our visitors watched the barley crop grow, experiencing agriculture in the heart of the city, and through the production of Botanic Ale are able to make the link between cultivating a crop and creating a great product."
But will it lead to further collaborations by Coopers?
“There’s no plans to do any more collaborations,” says Nick. “We’ve always been a friend to the craft brewers and microbreweries – those who are the more genuine ones. We are all fellow brewers and we all want to help them prosper.
“[As we said to Alistair] he only has to keep it up for another 145 years to be as big as us.”
The organisers of the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) have announced a new format for next year’s competition as well as confirming the identity of the Head Judge for 2015 and 2016. Judging will take place in the three days immediately leading up to Good Beer Week allowing the judges, many of whom travel to Melbourne from overseas, to stay on for the festival and attend the Gala Dinner. Previously, judging took place several weeks before the festival.
And, having stepped into the Head Judge role in an interim manner in 2014, Little Creatures head brewer Warren Pawsey has been confirmed in the role for the next two years.
“It was a great privilege to lead a team of talented judges with a diverse mix of backgrounds and a wealth of experience for the first time this year,“ he says. "When the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria approached me to continue my role as Head Judge I was thrilled to accept. The awards are incredibly important to the global brewing industry and a wonderful opportunity for brewers of all sizes to mix with the best in the business.”
Warren has more than 27 years of experience in the beer and brewing industry and has been a judge at the World Beer Cup, the Great American Beer Festival and the New Zealand Beer Awards.
“Warren’s extensive experience and global knowledge has made him a valuable part of our dedicated team and we are thrilled that he has agreed to stay on as Head Judge,” says
RASV CEO Mark O’Sullivan. “Many thanks also go to our previous Head Judge, Brad Rogers. It’s been a privilege to have such a passionate and prolific judge in our midst.”
In response to industry feedback, the AIBA will hold its judging period from May 13 to 15, in the lead up to the 2015 Good Beer Week, which runs from May 16 to 24. The awards are conducted by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) in partnership with Federation University Australia.
The key dates for anyone wishing to enter their beer for the awards are:
Entries Open: January 27
Entries Close: March 6
Judging: May 13 to 15
Awards Presentation: May 21
Registrations for venues wishing to take part in Good Beer Week 2015 open on October 1.