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Crafty Pint

Your Guide to Australian Craft Beer / Friday 1 August 2014

Sip & Savour in Sydney

Crafty Pint / 16.06.14


The teams behind some of Australia’s biggest beer festivals are joining forces to bring Sydneysiders a major event to close out this year’s Sydney Craft Beer Week. Sip & Savour will bring craft beer, entertainment and education to the city’s iconic Carriageworks over the weekend of October 25 and 26. It is a joint venture between the Australian Beer Ambassadors, who run Geelong’s Great Australian Beer Festival, and BEST Australia, which has run the Fremantle, Esk and Melbourne Beerfests in the past 12 months.

According to Michael Ward, from the Australian Beer Ambassadors: “Carriageworks is unbelievable. This event lends itself to the week of celebrations that is Sydney Craft Beer Week. It is a great way to raise awareness and also to close the week.”

Sip & Savour will run over three sessions, two on Saturday and one on Sunday, with the organisers hoping to attract up to 3,000 people to each. They plan to have more than 200 beers and ciders on offer as well as live acoustic music, educational seminars on topics such as beer and food matching, home brewing and starting your own brewery, plus entertainment for families, with a particular family focus on the Sunday.

Australian Beer Ambassadors director Kieran Blood says the event will celebrate “the craftsmanship, artistry and passion” that goes into creating craft beer.

“It will promote and encourage awareness, appreciation and understanding while delivering a cultural experience befitting of the great space,“ he says. "Carriageworks is ideal. The historic and heritage venue is a home, an inspiration for the development of creative work and the perfect location to showcase the very artisan nature behind craft brewing.”

The organisers also hope to introduce a film festival element into the event. The hope is to encourage people to create short films about craft beer that can be shown at Carriageworks throughout Sip & Savour. BEST Australia’s James Harding says the aim is to create “an experience that stimulates more than just taste buds and engages on a sensory and intellectual level.”

Adult tickets will cost $39.50 plus booking fee, which covers entry to each session. Once inside, attendees can then purchase drinks tokens that allows them to sample beers and ciders.

“It is important to engage people on multiple levels,” adds Michael. “We don’t just want to be serving up beer. The people that drink craft beer deserve more.”


The full program for this year’s Sydney Craft Beer Week will be revealed on at July 28. Tickets for Sip & Savour will be on sale next month too.

Session times

Saturday October 25
Session 1: 11.30am to 4.30pm
Session 2: 6pm to 11pm

Sunday October 26
12pm to 6pm Carriageworks is at 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh.

Get Bent

Adrian Moran / 13.06.14


For months now, many Canberrans have driven, walked or ridden agonisingly along the inner Northern suburb streets of hip Braddon, eagerly awaiting the opening of Bentspoke Brewing Co, Canberra’s newest brewery and bar. And on Friday, June 6, their prayers were answered as the tarps unfurled, the grandiose wooden entrance was unbolted and BentSpoke finally becoming a reality.

Hoping to ease themselves into their venture with a “soft” opening on Canberra’s traditionally quiet Queen’s Birthday Weekend, owner Tracy Margrain was somewhat “overwhelmed with the response”. The power of social media, word of mouth, great beer – and the not inconsequential fact that her partner and Bentspoke’s head brewer is an Aussie brewing legend – equated to reports of up to 3,000 litres of beer and cider sold in just the opening three days. Opening with an initial core range of five beers and one cider, Tracy and co-owner Richard Watkins expect the full fleet of 18 taps, many of which will feature seasonable and rotating brews, to be fully operational by the end of the year.

Richard is of course synonymous with quality beer to many beer lovers, especially those who reside in the nation’s capital. He was head brewer at the Wig & Pen Tavern in Canberra for 17 glorious, hop filled years, twice winning the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) Champion Small Australian Brewery trophy in that time, most recently in 2012. But, shortly after that victory and with a lifetime beer experiences from around the world behind them, the couple “felt the time was right” to start up their own place and “create their own beer experience.”

And what an experience it is.

Customers walk in off the street into an industrial yet polished and tidy venue. Behind the bar, the brewing vats shine and glisten in full view of the clientele, giving customers a real feel of how a brewery operates. Patrons on this level have the choice of sitting and mingling with one another on tall wooden stools or relaxing on high seats fashioned from steel kegs. A staircase on this level leads upstairs to a larger, more formal area. There, tables and chairs neatly align with one another in this dining area, together with a smattering of high stools looking out on the bustling Elouera Street, with the Braddon and Civic skyline in the background.

While the initial selection of beers is understandingly limited whilst the team finds its feet, the range of styles is outstanding. India Pale Ale aficionados can indulge in the Crankshaft Orange IPA with its cloudy, apricot hue, made with liberal amounts of US Centennial, Citra, Cascade and Simcoe hops. This beer releases rich pine aromas with strong flavours of orange and citrus; a resounding winner in Tracy’s eyes. While Richard treats his beers like children, unable to decide which he prefers, he has a soft spot for the Braddon Bitter, which he says “has a different character to the other beers.” Using a traditional handpump, the Braddon Bitter consists of a delicate malt backbone and soft mouthfeel and is guaranteed to be a big hit during the Canberra’s brutish winters.


The happy couple

On the other end of the taste spectrum, the Adam’s apple cider appears to have been a roaring success too. With apples crushed onsite by whoever they can get hold of (chefs, dishies – even the brewers themselves), Bentspoke has made a delicious and refreshing, full-flavoured cider. Tracy has also indicated the possibility of putting a second cider on tap due to the popularity of the Adam’s apple.

The food is well matched to the range of beers, with iconic beery favourites like hot chicken wings and ploughman’s lunch as well as hearty tucker such as steaks and sausages. It should also be noted that chef Ben Horus has put together a large array of tasty vegetarian options, with a selection of salads, stews and other healthy and wholesome vegetarian offerings to please the taste buds.

With a number of microbreweries now dotted around ACT as well as an increased number of craft beer venues, it is the hope of many Canberrans that Bentspoke Brewing Co will continue to drive craft beer in Canberra even further. Tracy cites the wide range of breweries and brewpubs in many US states and cities as a sign that regions can flourish with multiple craft beer venues. With several quality craft beer locations now all within a close proximity to one another, it is the hope of all local beer lovers that the city can begin to make a name for itself as a truly quality craft beer locale and leader.

The author of this article, Adrian Moran, has been pouring beers for more than nine years. He is a bartender, bar manager and freelance beer writer who runs a weekly podcast devoted to craft beer. Find him on Twitter or online here.

Photos pilfered from the Bentspoke website and Facebook page.

A Spooning Spectacular

Crafty Pint / 11.06.14


There can be little doubt that the past month saw more collaborations taking place across Australia than at any previous time. With so many international brewers flying into the country for Good Beer Week and various spin-off events, such as Good Beer Wheaty and one-offs in other states, there were plenty of opportunities for them to hook up with like-minded – or not so like-minded – local brewers to leave some tasty treats behind.

The list of those that partook in collaborations – or indulged in a spot of spooning, if you prefer the nomenclature used to describe the process at The Wheaty – is as impressive as it is long. Among those to leave a beery mark on the country were the Yeastie Boys, To Øl, Birra del Borgo, Sixpoint, Stillwater Artisanal, Weihenstephan, Deschutes and Rogue, with their local collaborators including Doctor’s Orders Brewing, Hargreaves Hill, Lobethal Bierhaus, Boatrocker, Bridge Road, Edge Brewing Project, Red Duck, Moon Dog and Mornington Peninsula Brewery.

With many of them due for imminent release, we thought it would be a wise move to round them all up in one place so you know who has been brewing with who, what they have been brewing and roughly when you might be able to get your hands on fruits of their labours.

BrewCult & Magic Rock – Salt Dick
Steve “Hendo” Henderson, BrewCult: “This was the collab beer that Stu from Magic Rock and I brewed during Good Beer Week. It’s essentially a 6 percent IPA with Pilgrim hops from the UK and the new Aussie variety Enigma.

“So the reason it’s called Salt Dick is that this beer has one foot in England and the other in Australia and it’s wang dangling… Well, you get the idea…”

As for what makes it different: “Firstly, UK Pilgrim hops, traditionally used for bittering, were used for flavour and aroma to impart its herbaceous and cedar like characteristics. Secondly, the Enigma was specially provided by Hop Products Australia [to create] one of the world’s first IPAs to be brewed with Enigma. Finally, Stu and I settled on a simple malt bill of mostly Golden Promise (UK) and mashed it in such a way as to accentuate bitterness and dryness. This is not a malty IPA – it’s all about the hops.”

Hargreaves Hill & Deschutes – International IPA
Kai Damberg, head brewer at Hargreaves: “For our collaboration brew Kris Scholl, technical director of Deschutes Brewery, took time out of his busy Good Beer Week schedule to come out to our brewery on the Wednesday to help us brew up a tasty little batch of IPA.

“The recipe and process were settled over a few weeks of bouncing emails back and forth across the globe prior to the event. To keep the international collaborative vein, we elected to go for a 6 to 6.5 percent IPA with hopburst style hopping profile in the kettle using Aussie hop Vic Secret, a promising new US hop variety called Equinox and some NZ Rakau too just so the Kiwis don’t feel left out. On a base of good old Aussie ale malt we added some Briess US specialty malts: Victory and Caramel Munich.

“Unfortunately for Kris our single-infusion mash tun wasn’t up to his suggestion of a simple three-step mash profile, but we did manage a little mash "sous-vide cookery” with a leg of lamb cooked in the tun during the mash rest.

“The beer is currently finishing cold-conditioning, is a lovely orange colour and has some some rich biscuit malt character. The hopping regime produced an excellent orchard-fresh orange-marmalade flavour and aroma profile and a dry finishing bitterness that integrates exceptionally well with the malt and hops.”

Look out for the beer in kegs in about a fortnight. Some should also go out in 330ml bottles shortly afterwards.

Edge Brewing Project (VIC) & Stillwater Artisanal (US) (pictured above on the brew day at Cavalier)Fingerlime Saison
Adam Betts, Edge: “Went for a saison style beer, as that’s obviously what Stillwater specialise in. I was planning on using fingerlimes in an upcoming brew, as they have beautiful vibrant citrus crystals and aromatic peels.

“As with the Wattleseed Stout (new batch ready next week) I like to use native ingredients, and this will continue to be an ongoing theme in future beers. All fruit/spice additions to Edge beers will be in balance and there to provide undertones to compliment the beers and add an additional layer of complexity. You won’t find any of them to be particular flavour bombs or cloying.

“I’m a fan of super dry saisons, so this one is fermented right out to low gravity, and brewed with pilsner malt, light munich and wheat, lightly hopped with a NZ/Australian mix. It’s all late hopping, so no big bitterness.

“It was great brewing with a master like Brian and working together on the beer! I’m super happy with how it turned out: light and cloudy colour with a flavour profile that’s dry, tart, clean with restrained farmhouse funk and citrus undertones. Very refreshing!”

Out this week – called Angel of Zest

Red Duck (VIC) and Stillwater Artisanal – Cactus Saison
Scott Wilson-Browne (Red Duck): “Provisionally called Cactus, it’s a French farmhouse ale, with added wild lambic yeasts. It’s cactus in the sense that we used a fair bit of prickly pears and agave syrup. It has had a primary fermentation in stainless steel and is now residing in oak barrels, where we think two to three months of ageing will round it out.

“Why did we brew it? Because we could… Well, Brian is quite particular about the styles of beer he brews: artisanal and saison being big key factors, and he wanted to use the collaboration with another small artisanal brewery (that’s us) to do something we would both be excited by, so a French farmhouse saison base. A Red Duck fan mentioned a while ago that he could get some prickly pears, so I said perfect let’s put that in the saison, and got some agave syrup to round off the cactus theme. It’s just what you do for an artisanal collab brew… isn’t it?”

As for release, it “depends on how it turns out. At least three months, but possibly a little longer. I’ve never made this one before so we will wait and see! It will get into a cask for a handpump session at The Local Taphouse St Kilda. A late spring, early summer release is pencilled in, but it might be late summer or…


A cardboard cutout Shane from Sixpoint with the Doc

Doctor’s Orders Brewing & Sixpoint – Operation Paralysis
Darren Robinson, Doctor’s Orders: “First up was a collab with Sixpoint from Brooklyn. We brewed it on May 13 at Rocks Brewing. It is a Quad IPA named Operation Paralysis. It’s being kegged this week with immediate availability.

“Shane (from Sixpoint) was in a motorcycle accident just before he was to come to Oz. We’d collaborated on the recipe and details and so on since January. So we ended up doing the brew day via iMessage with myself in the brewery and Shane in a hospital bed.”

Doctor’s Orders Brewing & Yeastie Boys & Wheaty Brew Corp – Tonic
This was one of multiple Claverton brews created during this year’s Good Beer Wheaty in Adelaide. Darren: “Second up [for him] was a collab with Yeastie Boys and The Wheaty on May 19.

“It is called Tonic. It’s essentially a beer tonic with cinchona bark, juniper berries and orange peel. It is the mixer to accompany your favorite gin. Launch party will be at the Wheaty in July.”

He says the the day was seamless, with Stu McKinlay from the Yeastie Boys adding that this wheat ale was created “Because brewers love G&T!”

Other Good Beer Wheaty brews
Stu was involved in two other brews at The Wheaty. They were:

  • An anchovy smoked porter with Wheaty Brewing Corps, Birra del Borgo and Magic Rock. This follows My Anchovia created at the 2013 festival.

  • An Oat Pale Ale featuring Australian hops. With Wheaty Brewing Corps, To Øl and Sixpoint (although Shane wasn’t there, for reasons outlined above).

Lobethal Bierhaus & Yeastie Boys – Lisa
The Yeastie Boys and Lobethal Bierhaus have been collaborating for a number of years now. Each beer, such as Bruce, has taken the name of one of their pet dogs. As of last year, they had run out of dogs so a new pet was purchased in order that they could brew once more this year. Said dog is called Lisa.

Stu: “The third in our annual ‘dog series’ with Al and Rosie is a Kolsch-style ale with orange zest and fennel (a favourite combo of Al’s from the Lobethal kitchen). Expect a long, cold conditioning and a release in later winter or early spring.”

Boatrocker & To Øl – Berliner Weisse
Matt Houghton (Boatrocker): “We collaborated with Tobias from To Øl from Denmark. The brew was on the Monday of Good Beer Week at our brewery in Braeside. We brewed a five percent Berliner Weisse, aged in freshly emptied chardonnay barrels with the addition of bitter orange.

“Why? We both love sours, and we had access to some amazing barrels, and without wanting to wait years for another type of sour, we wanted something that would have relatively quick turnaround for a sour beer.

“This beer will (should be) available here before Christmas, and also in Denmark around the same time.”

Temple Brewing Company & Weihenstephan – Re-Unifikator
You can read all about the brew day for this beer in our review of the event here. It is the second collaboration between the Brunswick East brewery and the world’s oldest brewery, with Temple head brewer Glenn Harrison telling us: “We brewed a Smoked Amber Wheat because we wanted to brew a fairly traditional German style using Australian Hops (Galaxy and Southern Cross).

“The beer will be released first week of July here at the brewery before kegs will be rolled out at select bars around Australia.

“The taste is really good as you would expect. The run off [on brew day] was fairly long [the brew day stretched well into the night] but that just makes the beer more special and exclusive!”

Bridge Road & To Øl & Birra de Borgo – Black Session IPA
Ben Kraus, Bridge Road: “Session IPA seems to be the flavour of the month coming out at the moment, and there’s plenty of talk (argument) about whether or not it is really a legitimate style. We thought it’d be a good idea to add fuel to the fire and make a black one.

“We also had a shitload of random odds and ends hops at the brewery and gave Tobias and Leo the task of picking from the leftovers during breakfast to come up with a hop regime.

“It’s ready to roll now, and has according to [Bridge Road brewer] Steve ‘the worst beer name ever’ and that is One Sunday Morning Somewhere Three Hours North of Melbourne.”

We reckon that’s a pretty awesome name – reminds the Crafty Towers residents of the KLF’s classic Chill Out album.

Ben: “I’ve also been lucky enough to brew again with To Øl, BDB and Lervig from Norway in Italy. We brewed a revamp of the Reale, practically an imperial version with some extra specialty malts, plus we also picked elderflowers from the roadside and added them to the whirlpool.”

You can also read about the Rogue and Moon Dog brew day here

#PoO14 Winners

Crafty Pint / 10.06.14


As part of the biggest Pint of Origin yet, at this year’s Good Beer Week we ran our first PoO Comp. The ten participating venues were invited to put together a prize for punters that visited their venue, while we were offering a Mystery Prize for those that attended five or more PoO venues over the course of the week. With the festival done and dusted for another year, we finally got around to picking the winners from the metaphorical hat at the end of last week.

So thanks to everyone who PoO’d this year – we hear that participating venues enjoyed great weeks again and have some ideas on how to tweak things again for the future. In the meantime, the winners…

  • The Alehouse Project – Jacqueline van Zetten
    Golden Ticket to the Dark Side of Beer, which gets the winner and a friend a pot of every beer tapped over the course of the five-day mini-festival.
  • Brother Burger & The Marvellous Brew – Adam Noble
    Food and drink voucher for up to four people to the value of $120.
  • Village Melbourne – Baz Atkins, Martin Pal and Wayne Finkelde
    Three $100 bar vouchers
  • Royston – Alice Cleghorn
    $50 bar voucher and two invites to the forthcoming opening of Foresters Hall, Collingwood
  • Tramway Hotel – Kate Goodwin
    $100 bar voucher
  • Gertrude Hotel – Yvonne Blahodyr
    $200 bar voucher
  • Rainbow Hotel – Andrew Tierney
    $200 food and drink voucher
  • Two Row – Noel Kelso
    One of each beer on tap for the winner and a friend on the day they collect their prize.

You may notice that there are eight prizes above when there were ten venues. Well, it looks like the Great Northern was too busy getting ready to pour American beer and the GB’s mind was on its imminent move down the road to a new venue as they both forgot and didn’t put up the posters we dropped in. Ah well, next year…

As for The Crafty Pint Mystery PoO Prize, well, what could it be other than a collection of Aussie craft beer. It’s a lineup that features flavours of Champion Small Australian Brewery 3 Ravens, brewer of this year’s Champion Beer, Mash, plus Feral and Boatrocker. And the prize, which goes to one of the people who hit up at least five PoO venues, is on its way to… Sarah Trevarthen!

A huge thanks to all the venues that took part in Pint of Origin this year and who offered prizes for our merry revellers. And of course to all those merry revellers who made their way around the pubs sampling the best of Australia and beyond.

Don’t forget there are Good Beer Week surveys online for both punters and host venues right now. There’s a Golden Ticket – worth a ticket to one event each day at the 2015 Good Beer Week – for one lucky punter who completes the survey and $500 credit for one lucky venue when they come to register for the festival in October.

From Cider To Rider

Crafty Pint / 06.06.14


There are clear advantages to having a home brewery in a garage that faces onto the street. For one, there’s the opportunity for a spot of people watching while the boil does its thing. What’s more, if your beer is any good, it’s a great way to make new friends. And so it proved for Andrew “Shandy” Gargan when he was living in the Melbourne suburb of Elwood. Over time, more and more people spotted him brewing, popped in for a chat and, ultimately, his garage became the regular Friday night hangout for local mums and dads.

If the story ended there, you could be forgiven for wondering why it is on The Crafty Pint. Thankfully for Shandy it didn’t. One of his regular guests was Gus Kelly, part of the family behind the Kellybrook Winery and Kelly Brothers cider in the Yarra Valley. He rather enjoyed the beers and one evening suggested they were so good they should be bottled.

No doubt countless home brewers have enjoyed similar conversations with enthusiastic mates. But not every enthusiastic mate is already well established in the alcoholic beverages industry and has access to a brewery, warehouse, bottling line, keg washer and distribution. So, over time, what may have begun as a fanciful conversation took shape and, earlier this year, three of Shandy’s recipes left his garage and travelled with him to a factory unit in Moorabbin where Gus was already packaging Kelly Brothers cider and had been storing the brewery that once resided at Coldstream Brewery in the Yarra Valley before its owners decided to head down the contract route.

“In the beginning, every homebrewer gets very excited about becoming a commercial brewer,” says Shandy (above left with Gus), who many people will know as the acerbic Scot who hosts Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse St Kilda. “I did when I started out 10 years ago but very quickly realised from meeting other brewers just how difficult and expensive it is. With a young family at home, the notion was very quickly shelved.

“I had hardly thought about it at all after that initial excitement and was really happy just brewing away in a shed and having great beer to share with friends. Then Gus came and said we should do this. The first time might have been in jest but at some point two years ago I got a text message from him saying ‘I’ve got an idea. Are you in?’

“My girlfriend was out and I had a bottle of whisky and home brew in the house…”

Thus, what was to become Riders Brew Co was born. The first brew went through earlier this year, the first three beers were launched at this year’s Kellybrook Cider Festival, and now batches six and seven are in the tanks ready to head out around Melbourne.

“Even before I started the cider, I always intended doing beer as well,” says Gus. “It’s not so easy to break the mould stylistically with cider yet with beer you can just go nuts.”

His father began making wine in 1967 while, along with brother Phil, he has been releasing cider since 2007.

“We actually registered the name for the cider in 1993/94 and did the first batch but Phil was making wine and I was too busy working.”

With the cider business going great guns, helped by the success of Coldstream Cider that they also produce, the opportunity to self-fund his brewing dream arose. He had a warehouse with a bottling line, keg washer and most of a working brewery plus a good mate who’s beer he loved. All that was needed was a few more tanks, Shandy’s willingness and a name.

“I was thinking of what linked me, Phil and Shandy and it was riding,” says Gus. “I surf, mountain bike and snowboard. Shandy skates and mountain bikes. Phil loves mountain bikes and riding horses.

“Phil and I play in bands and Shandy was a DJ, all of which often get paid in riders too.”

Shandy adds: “And then there’s the approach we have. As Bill Hicks said, ‘Life’s just a ride.’ We found more more reasons why it works – we have to ride the controls on that brewery to get it to work.”

The first three releases continue to play on the theme. They are Easy Rider – a golden/summer ale, XPA – a 5.8 percent hoppy American pale ale – and Loose Trucks – a porter.

“A golden ale, APA and porter?” you might ask. “What is this – 2007?”

To which we would reply: “Try them then come back to us.”


Loose Trucks, Easy Rider, XPA, XPA, Easy Rider

Loose Trucks, which takes its name from skateboarding terminology, is probably the most straightforward of the three beers, a 5.5 percent porter made with all English malts that packs a seriously creamy chocolate aroma yet remains light, clean and dry enough on the palate to be truly sessionable. The Easy Rider – designed so that Gus and his band had a beer they could knock back throughout practice sessions in the band room above the brewery – belies any notion of being a tame golden ale. Instead, this lightly filtered ale smacks you round the chops with its huge grapefruit aromas, courtesy of nothing but Citra, and has a rounded malt and wheat malt backbone that carries the hops nicely. If you’ve tried Nail’s Golden Nail, you’ll get the idea.

Pick of the bunch, however, is the XPA, a combination of rich, toffee like English malts and heaps of punchy American hops: Centennial, Mosaic and Amarillo. Called XPA for Extra Pale Ale, it’s an attempt to plug the gap between what American pale ales have tended to become an Australia – 4.5 to 5 percent beers that are weaker than the American originals they were inspired by – and local IPAs that are heading ever upwards in alcohol content. In fact, we suggested it could still be called an APA, but standing for Actual Pale Ale.

All three have been brewed in Shandy’s garage (and now shed) for the past two or three years and are still being tweaked, while he is chomping at the bit to bring more recipes from home to warehouse.

For now, the brewery that inhabits the warehouse is a little rough around the edges. Brewing beer on it is a very manual job, with a multitude of hoses and pipes and a kettle that looks disarmingly similar to the spaceship that took Wallace and Gromit to the moon. But, says Gus: “I truly believe that whole idea of knowing your craft before you try to automate. It’s like being able to navigate a tall ship with a compass, a sextant and the stars.”

With a policy that also involves never skimping on quality ingredients (much to Shandy’s delight) and setting keg prices with lower margins than many, he admits the Riders' way is one that will “take the most time but won’t make the most money.

“That’s the whole nature of a labour of love,” he says. “It’s why we make champagne. It’s a long-term plan; we just want to grow organically.”

To find out more or to order beer, contact Shandy and Gus via email at "

Sounding La Sirene

Crafty Pint / 03.06.14


For the second year running, the crowds that rocked up over three days to this year’s Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular during Good Beer Week proved themselves to be a sweet-toothed bunch. Last year, it was Queensland’s Bacchus Brewing that took out the People’s Choice title for its Raspberry and White Chocolate Pilsner, while last month the title went to Melbourne’s La Sirène for Praline, with the beer finishing comfortably ahead of the remainder of the 100-plus strong field.

The timing was just as sweet for the brewery’s co-founder Costa Nikias as, two-and-a-half years after we tasted their first batch of Saison (sampled while standing at the back of Costa’s car in a Collingwood side street), La Sirène is planning to seriously step things up. The Belgian beer obsessives have been rather laid back in their approach to releasing beer since launching at the end of 2011 but, with a steadily expanding brewery now installed in Alphington, expect to see much more of their beer far more regularly and widely.

“We took over the brewery site in January last year,” says Costa (above, admiring his winning beer). “It was just a shell, a factory that was originally used to build tanks and trucks – a heavy machinery warehouse. Then, about six months ago, I felt that we weren’t challenging ourselves to reach our potential and that we should focus on making sure that people can get our beers regularly.”

For those new to the La Sirène story, Costa started out as a wine maker, including time spent at the iconic Bass Phillip winery in East Gippsland where he developed his passion for and understanding of organic wine making and the use of barrels, before becoming a brewery consultant. He has since travelled the world installing brewing systems, including one recently set up at the Clifton Hill Brewpub for whom he also developed a range of beers.

In 2011, he launched La Sirène with James Brown, whom he had met when studying winemaking and with whom he shared a passion for Belgian beers. They sourced a unique yeast strain from a French village and from there began creating Belgian-inspired ales, all beautifully packaged in champagne style bottles.

Today, the yeast strain is a hybrid of the original import and another commercial variety and the brewery is under the stewardship of Costa and wife Eva. The plan is to place greater focus on La Sirène, taking it to new levels in terms of output – something that will be music to the ears of beer lovers who have already sampled their wares.


The growing La Sirene range

Among the beers they will be able to get their hands on is the Praline, a decadent blend of chocolate, vanilla and toasted nuts that is based on a Belgian stout and manages to be relatively light on the palate and dry at the finish despite a recipe list that includes Mexican cocoa, organic Indonesian vanilla and local hazelnuts. It’s a combination that proved a winning one at GABS, much to Costa’s delight.

“It’s humbling. I’m rapt,” he says. “It’s great to get that sort of feedback. It shows that our level of creativity is what people want.

“We had done some trial batches and got it to where we thought it was a nice blend. It’s quite a luxuriant beer but not sickly sweet and is the darkest beer that we’ve ever done; in fact, it was the first dark beer we’ve ever done and has set the bar quite high for us now.”

As for choosing what style of beer to brew, he says the intention was to create something suitable for winter and also to combine two of his favourite things: Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate. What’s more, “you will never catch us doing an IPA,” he says.

Following its win, the Praline has been brewed again and is likely to become part of La Sirène’s ever-expanding core range, which is set to feature its straight Saison and Wild Saison plus the returning Farmhouse Red and a new Saison de Miel brewed with honey from the Bellarine Peninsula.

Further down the line, there will be some seriously limited releases too. The brewery has a small but steadily growing collection of barrels inside of which a number of experimental brews are developing. Thanks to his winemaking background, Costa has an in depth knowledge of cooperages and which local wineries obtain their barrels from the finest French coopers. And, such is his passion for working with oak, 50 more barrels are already on order while he is eyeing up a second warehouse adjacent to the current one, ready to expand the La Sirène operation.

Having spent the past few years almost constantly on the road fitting breweries and consulting for others, it seems that the decision to stay at home a little longer – not to mention the recent win at GABS – is creating considerable excitement for the future.

“I’ve been at the brewery full time for the past month,” he says. “And I don’t want to leave!”

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