January 25 2013 by Crafty Pint
Newcastle punches above its weight when it comes to providing the Australian craft beer world with quality brewers. There’s Shawn Sherlock at Murrayâs, Keith Grice at nearby Potters in the Hunter Valley, and Richard Watkins plying his trade at Canberra’s Wig & Pen to name but three. And now, throwing his hat into the ring, is Lachlan MacBean, who recently released the first beer under the Grainfed Brewing moniker.
Formerly a brewer at Bluetongue and a judge at a number of the region’s major beer awards, Lachlan will be known to many people from his stints behind the bar at Newcastle’s home of craft beer, The Albion Hotel. It was at the Albion on a couple of prior visits that The Crafty Pint first heard of his plans to release his own beer; in fact, on our last trip to Newcastle for the city’s second Craft Beer Week, we became – unwittingly – part of a small task force on a mission to persuade him that the home brewed pilot batch he’d shared with us simply had to be scaled up for a commercial release.
Within days of the festival finishing, he was down at Illawarra Brewing Company doing just that: brewing the first full-length batch of The Sneaky One, the beer he describes as a Newcastle Summer Ale.
Since launched at a number of venues around Newcastle, and due to make a first appearance in Sydney at a forthcoming beer dinner at the Woolpack Hotel, it marks a welcome return to commercial brewing for Lachlan.
“I’ve been home brewing for 20 years and, like anyone who gets into brewing, you want to start your own craft brewery,” he says. “Then I crunched the numbers and realised I couldn’t afford it, but it’s always been the dream to have my own beers out there.
“I was having a good chat with Richard Watkins about the beer that we drank during Craft Beer Week. He said that while we liked it, would the target market? Cloves and banana can be quite a divider, people love it or hate it. So I backed off on the wheat and made the beer more sessionable.”
The result is a beer with a blend of two different yeasts that uses 25 per cent wheat and 75 per cent pilsner malt to create a 4.2 per cent “really drinkable and really sessionable” beer. So far the signs have been good. The beer was launched at the Albion Hotel – something of an open goal given Lachlan is part of the furniture there – but since then has appeared on a number of other taps around the city and, he says, has even had dyed-in-the-wool XXXX Gold drinkers coming back for more.
“We’ve got Murray’s and Potters [around Newcastle] but we don’t have our own beer label actually in the city. We’re a pretty loyal lot, the Newcastle crowd, so if there’s something locally made then people usually get into it. The big test will come as I go outside craft beer pubs, but I’ve already been approached by one guy whose pub sells Superdry and Gold and he reckons it’ll go well.”
As for ongoing interest beyond the novelty of another new brewing company: “People are already asking what the second beer is going to be,” he says. “I’m only in six venues!”
While he might laugh at the suggestion he produce a second beer when only one batch of his first has been released, when we speak he is in the middle of his first homebrew since October – planning a few trial batches to see what might come next. Clearly, a return to the world of commercial brewing after the best part of three years off has been a welcome one.
“It’s fantastic,” he says. “It’s great to be back in a bigger brewery and the guys at Illawarra are great guys to work with – really switched on.
“And it’s great to be back with a product that I can hold up and share with other people and know that it’s mine. There’s nowhere to hide, and you do wonder, ‘What will people think? What will they say? Are they going to tell the truth?’, but from my judging over the last five or six years and my homebrewing I knew it was a good beer when I tasted it at the brewery.
“There is even talk of a collaboration, with some of the guys that I know in the industry asking about it even before the first beer was brewed. Whether they come through or not is another story…”
But with Newcastle Craft Beer Week going from strength to strength, the likes of Dennis Beer Co adding colour to the local brewing landscape and talk of more quality beer bars – possibly even brewpubs – in the city, it’s unlikely he’s going to be short of opportunities.
You can keep tabs with Lachlan and the Grainfed Brewing Company via Facebook and Twitter. We’ve asked if some beer can make it to Melbourne for the Pint of Origin during May’s Good Beer Week too. Fingers crossed.