What do Alistair Hook, Kjetil Jikiun (above), Luke Nicholas and Richard Emerson have in common? Apart from the fact they’re brewers at Meantime, Nøgne Ø, Epic and Emerson’s respectively, that is.
The answer is that they’re all judges at this year’s Australian International Beer Awards. They are four of the record number of 43 judges drawn from the Australian and international beer worlds who are coming to Melbourne next week to sample and rate almost 1,500 beers in preparation for the AIBA Gala Dinner on May 23, in the middle of Good Beer Week.
They’ll be joining their peers from the likes of Bridge Road, Mountain Goat, Holgate, Hargreaves Hill, Murray’s, Stone & Wood and Feral for a week of intense sensory analysis. And, for the first time in the AIBA’s 21 year history, most of the judges will be taking part in a pair of “Meet The Brewers” events on Wednesday night, at which punters can rock along to the Royston or The Alehouse Project for the chance to rub shoulders and share beers with the people who produce the beers they know and love.
The events are being hosted by the AIBA and Good Beer Week in anticipation of this year’s festival, which runs from May 18 to 26.
“In the past, the judges for these awards have tended to arrive and depart Melbourne like ships passing in the night,” says festival co-founder Miro Bellini.
“But with things changing fast in the beer world and with interest in beer at an all time high it felt like the right time to give beer lovers a chance to meet such a select band of brewers.”
For 2013, the AIBAs have introduced a number of changes, including Champion Beer of Show trophies – for both Australian and International beers. The organisers at the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) have also divided brewery awards into small, medium and large categories to better reflect the rapidly changing industry.
The judging process has altered somewhat too, with all judging taking place in one week: seven panels of six judges will blind taste all the classes; as they say: it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it… As for the panel of judges, they were selected by Brad Rogers, the AIBA Head Judge and Stone & Wood co-founder, along with the RASV from a list of interested applicants from all over the globe.
“This is an opportunity for beer lovers to meet a beer hero,” says the AIBA’s Elissa Barlow of the Meet The Brewers events. “To share a drink and have a yarn with the brewer behind their favourite beers.”
It’s too early to say yet who will be at each venue, but there will be a mix of internationals and homegrown favourites at each. What’s more, there’s no entry fee – just a guarantee of good beer people and interesting beers on tap.
Beer news junkies might recall that midway through last year there was a little bit of press for the Rocks Brewing Company in one of Sydney’s major daily newspapers. And although it was a fairly brief article, it alluded to some very big things for the company. It said, essentially, that Rocks Brewing’s Managing Director, Mark Fethers, was seeking outside investment in order to build a brewery and expand the distribution of the Rocks beer range.
In the 10 or so months since that article was published, it appears things have more or less gone to plan because Rocks Brewing Company is set to take over an 800 square metre site in the suburb of Alexandria and open what will be the latest in Sydney’s ever-growing list of breweries.
Says Mark, “the DA (Development Application) and licensing should be approved by August and there shouldn’t be problems with that at all. DA licensing [for the site] already exists for a 24 hour pokie den and it’s approved for a bar license – though we’re obviously not going to put pokies in there, no way in hell!”.
But despite any existing allowances, the brewery plan has morphed from an initial idea of a tin shed with a brewery open three days a week and pouring beer through a magic box, to actually putting in a full restaurant. As many who have dealt with brewing bureaucracy before will know, there may be a few minor obstacles still to be overcome.
Yet, confidence and excitement are both justifiably high and, pending that August approval, the brewery equipment is scheduled to be shipped in September in anticipation of an October arrival and a November opening. Though, if things do pan out in that order, drinkers may not have to wait that long to start visiting the site. Says Mark, “if we do get in by August, we’ll look to open the bar straight away. That way people can come and watch the brewery getting built – sit and watch and smell and feel it. That’s still a kind of ‘we’ll see what happens’ thing, but it’s an idea.”
If that does come to pass, what bar patrons will witness should be rather impressive and unique on these shores. According to Mark, the brewery is “a mash filter system which can pump out up to 30,000 litres a day if we want it to. It’s a 2,000 litre system but it can actually brew 15 times in a day, though it probably never will.
“If we actually brewed 10 times a day, 7 days a week, that brewery could brew over 7 million litres a year. That’s crazy! The economies of scale are crazy, but they also make sense for the investment. It’s 30% more efficient than most breweries and it’s going to be the only one of its kind in Australia.
“There’s a lot of stainless steel involved – it’s going to be very pretty.”
As if a new brewery wasn’t enough, there were some other big milestones for the company in March. Harts Pub, the current spiritual home of Rocks Brewing and one of Sydney’s most beloved and reliable destinations for craft beer, celebrated its third birthday (appropriately releasing a Celebration Ale) and Rocks’ flagship Hangman Pale Ale went into bottles for the first time.
When we questioned Mark about the former and whether the new brewery and bar might reduce the desire to hold onto the pub, he was quick to provide reassurance: “Harts is kicking along and doing great. The beers are good and we’ll be holding onto it for as long as we can”. The decision to pursue bottling provides flexibility in distribution; important when considering things like the proliferation of small bars in Sydney which tend to welcome craft beer but don’t always do draught beer. Says Mark, “[bottling] gives us the option of getting our beer into places that don’t do taps. So when someone says “do you do packaged beer?”, now we can say “yes, we do”.”
Then there’s the television show: ‘How To Build A Brewery’. The premise is pretty much what you might expect from the title and involves, as Mark says, a cameraman “basically following us around as we plan, design and build a brewery”. It’s evidently been green-lighted by the Discovery Channel and the cameraman is on board and due to start filming in the next month.
So, in an ideal world, by next summer we’ll be able to sit in the brand new Rocks Brewery, drinking beer made fresh on site and watching a television series about how it all got done.
A few months ago, The Crafty Pint caught up with two guys who were in the initial stages of embarking on what they hoped would become a beer-themed TV show for Channel 31. Dan Hanna and Mark Iscaro had just started filming the first scenes for the pilot of Craft Beer Crusaders. Today, they’ve finished filming a number of episodes, have signed a deal with the community television channel and will start screening their first 13 episodes on April 30.
With so much filming – and so much progress – having been made since we first joined them for a beer at 2 Brothers, we thought we should catch up with them again to find out how they’ve got to where they are and what viewers can expect when the show rolls around. You can read our Q&A with them and check out a couple of 60-second teasers below too
Have you only been to breweries? Mark: We have been to The Alehouse Project and are looking to film at Odyssey tavern as well as a dinner/beer event at Rose Diner and potentially a beer bread bake off at MoVida Bakery. There are a few other things happening that we are keeping under wraps at the moment. Suffice to say we will be filming at GABS this year on the Friday afternoon/evening session.
How has the production side of things gone?Mark: It’s been a bit of a learning curve. The more we film the better we are getting at working out what we need at each venue we visit. We are also getting better at the editing side of things. Dan and I have brought in a guy who films business videos and edits them as a living – Mark Ramet of Small Business Videos – he is now a partner in the program. We’ve recently set up a new business for the production side of things called Froth ‘n’ Bubble Productions.
What did the people at Channel 31 have to say about the program? Mark: They were very impressed and are looking forward to airing the show. Here’s some of their response:
“The program was exceptionally filmed, produced and edited. I applaud you in your commitment to the pilot episode. The opening credits are slick, fun and create an uplifting vibe to introduce the program. There is hardly anything to fault in the program and we are confident that this program will be a ratings-hit on the station!
“The pilot has a strong narrative that takes us on a educational and entertaining journey and the chemistry between the two hosts is apparent and engaging.”
See latest extended clip at bottom of article
Plans for the future? Dan: The plan is for to show to be wildly successful, and convince everyone in Victoria to drink better beer. Or do a season two, whichever comes first. The ultimate goal is to take it global, but let’s worry about Victoria for now.
Mark: Our plans for the future are rather grand. We would love to film other states, of course, and do a similar thing where we get the public to vote for beers from each brewery. However, we would also love to do a series in the US, Italy and the UK. Dan also has a grand idea of us going to the one brewery in Northern Korea as perhaps a two-hour CBC special.
Where have you had the most fun filming and which beers have tickled your palate the most? Dan: For me, the most surprising beer was from Hickinbotham. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from a winery doing beer, but I was blown away by the quality. The Hix Summer Ale was perfect that hot afternoon! We’ve all been blown away by the cooperation and support from everyone we’ve visited. From opening their brewhouses on their days off and changing brewing schedules to suit filming, it seems the craft brewers of Victoria are the most accommodating people on earth! We haven’t had a bad day filming; it’s been a blast.
Mark: We had the most fun in my opinion filming the episode that covered the Yarra Valley and the Peninsula. The reason for this was that we filmed all six venues in one day and there were some great bloopers that came from that day’s filming as well as some interesting discussions held in the car as we travelled some 400km in the day to complete the filming.
The one that tickled my palate the most was the filming we did at True South where Mauro, the head chef, put together five meals to go with five beers.. The food was amazing and after filming finished we were spoilt with more beer and food and left the venue rather full and a bit drunk. They were amazing hosts.
The other venue I enjoyed immensely was Temple and being able to sit with Ron and Renata and talk beer with them both. Ron is a passionate man and it was good to sit and listen to his thoughts on the world of craft beer and where he sees Temple heading in the future.
The series will air every Tuesday night for 13 weeks starting on April 30 at 9pm. Find it on Analog Channel 31 and Digital Channel 44
People have tried various means of educating people about beer. You’ll find tasting notes on the bars of breweries, menus with suggested food and beer pairings, posters outlining the various beer families, tasting wheels and labels with images of hops and malts to indicate what to expect. There are multiple beer appreciation and educational courses taking place across the country at any one time, some for ladies only, and no festival worth its salt in Oz these days comes without some form of stage designed to spruik the ins and outs of the brewing process or how to pair your favourite beer with cheese.
Up until now, however, there has been a dearth of methods that result in the residents of Crafty Towers feeling like eight-year-olds. Thankfully, the situation has been resolved as today sees the launch of a new Trumps-like card game from Murray’s.
Head to their brewery at Port Stephens or Murray’s At Manly and you’ll find the beers accompanied by colourful cards that give each one a score for ABV, bitterness, colour, malt and yeast, as well as suggestions as to what foods they pair with and a price indicator. The idea is that they’re a simple way for newcomers to the beers to know what to expect – or a means by which those wanting to relive their youth can head down Memory Lane.
“The bottom line for us is that it’s an educational tool,” says brewery founder Murray Howe. “What I want it to do is teach people in a fun way a little bit more about craft beer. One of the biggest challenges in venues is having knowledgeable bar people on your team.
“We looked at this and thought, ‘How can we put more information in the hands of your average punter? The Trump game came up. There’s a group of diverse people within Murray’s as you can see from the brand itself. We think outside the square quite a bit and wanted to get away from the boring beer list, which can be gobbledygook to a lot of people.
“I’ve already got the beer geeks covered. They know who we are and we engage with them already. But the reason we went to Manly was to introduce craft beer to your average Joe and the cards will help us to convey the breadth of what craft beer can be – and do it in a not too serious manner.”
The cards have been designed by long term design collaborator Tim Forrest and feature the beer’s label, a related (tangentially at least) image and a description of the beer. They’ve been created for all Murray’s beers, including the Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep. This is the beer The Crafty Pint conceived and brewed in a tiny batch with the brewery to enter in a Media Brew competition at New Zealand’s Beervana festival last year.
There it took top spot with the competition’s first ever perfect score. And you know what its appearance on a card means? The beer – a Smoked Imperial Belgian Mussel and Oyster Stout – will be brewed on a commercial scale for this winter!
As for the game itself, it appears in venues from today, with the cards having been revealed one by one on Facebook over the past few days. There will be some limited edition games available in metal cases, while there are plans to release it online too. Murray believes some people will play the game, but above all hopes they help make head brewer Shawn Sherlock’s beers less scary to craft beer newcomers.
“I’m not being funny or contrite, but if you walk into Murray’s at Manly today there’s pretty much the finest tap list in Australia,” says Murray. “But it’s confronting for your average person and for someone behind the bar who is not a big geek. The cards will be put down on the table. The guys will say this is what we have on tap today. Some people will play the game, other people will just look through to see what’s on tap.
“I see it in venues that I’ve been to around the world where the staff aren’t on top of everything. Particularly in bigger venues with a lot of taps. It’s very difficult to get someone with great customer service who knows the difference between Spartacus and Punk Monk. This makes it easier for us and people visiting.
“People will steal the cards but I’ve gone ahead with this in the full knowledge that they will be knocked off – I’d knock it off! It just shows that they’re desirable – and I’d rather that than people taking my glassware…”
How To Play
The cards promise to be as eye-catching as Shawn’s beers, as is the retro-futuristic surf shack that is the Manly venue and as are the various labels and flyers produced by Murray’s over the years.
“I’ve had two designers since the start, both of them close friends,” says Murray. “From day one I’ve always spent money where most people wouldn’t spend it. Great design was one of those things. I invested a lot of money and effort and tears trying to tell the story of Murray’s and design is one element. I’ve been fortunate to have the money to do that as many small breweries haven’t, but when we are trying to compete with so many different beers in the world, it’s important to stand out.”
They’ll be looking to compete on an even wider scale soon with a new brewery being installed right now.
“[That’s] the focus for us this year,” says Murray. “The new brewery means that we’ll be able to produce more of the specialty stuff.
“We’re not trying to build a company on one beer. We know that the way we’re doing it is the hard way but also the fun way. I want to be sending kegs of Spartacus to Melbourne in large amounts.”
The logo design for the Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep was created by Andy Shaw, who also designed the logo and poster for the Good Beer Week Pint of Origin.
Towards the end of last year, The Crafty Pint’s founder received an email from the guys responsible for the US Brewers Association Export Development Program. Those who attended Good Beer Week last year may well have bumped into them at one of a number of events or sampled some of the American craft beers they brought over for the week.
The email was an invitation to travel to Washington DC to speak to American brewers at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference, as part of the Export Development Program series of seminars. It was an invitation that was as unexpected as exciting, offering the opportunity to spread the word about the thriving craft beer scene here in Australia in the world’s largest craft beer market.
Following the success of the likes of Brooklyn Brewery, Sierra Nevada, Rogue and Moylan’s, the team at the US BA is keen for someone to talk not only about the Australian scene but also the opportunities for American brewers Down Under. This latter element of their request caused some raised eyebrows in the local industry, where there are some legitimate concerns about the impact a rising tide of quality imports could have on homegrown growth.
Considering The Crafty Pint spends pretty much its entire waking life promoting Australian craft beer, it’s a concern we don’t take lightly. However, we also have no financial or vested interest in whether American craft beers do or don’t come to Australia so are pretty sure we can give a balanced and honest view of the market and such opportunities as they exist. And so, having consulted with various people throughout the beer industry – Australian and American brewers, importers, distributors, drinkers, reps, brewers association members – we jump on a plane bound for Washington DC today, ready to host a seminar and present some certificates to winners from last year’s Australian International Beer Awards on behalf of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria later in the week.
When preparing the presentation we popped a number of the aforementioned interviewees on camera for a short film on the state of the Australian craft beer industry, which we’ll put in the new TV section of the site later in the week once the seminar has been delivered. And, while we’re there, we’ll endeavour to do as much research as possible; feel free to suggest any beers, breweries, bars and so on at the bottom of this page that we should be checking out in the DC or New York areas (ah yes, we figured it would be remiss to head all that way and not spend a few days in New York too…).
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology (and the growing band of Crafty contributors), there’s little stopping us from keeping you up-to-date with the latest goings-on here in Oz while we’re away. However, anyone wishing to get in touch with stories, queries or ideas would be well placed to copy email@example.com into any emails to the site and to remember that events should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll endeavour to post as many updates as we can from the States too, most likely to the Crafty Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts as on here.
When we spoke to Corey Crooks he was amidst a marathon session with a heat gun and scraper, peeling what he reckons was “about 200 layers of paint” off some enormous wooden columns at an old grain store in Newcastle East.
Becoming a tradie perhaps isn’t the career change you’d expect from the man who was, for several years, the licensee at The Albion Hotel and a driving force in turning it into one of Australia’s most respected craft beer pubs. That’s because it isn’t a career change; his stint as a tradie is a temporary but necessary part of constructing his and Newcastle’s latest craft beer venture: The Grain Store. The good news for Corey and local beer enthusiasts is that it shouldn’t be much longer until he can swap the power drill for a pint.
“We plan to be open in about a month,“ says Corey, "but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
If you’re a fan of local beer, it’ll be worth any wait. The new bar will feature nothing but independent Australian beer, all poured fresh from a bank of 20 taps: no bottles, no corporates, no imports.
There will be the odd exception but not many, not often and all must still fit within the bracket of being an independent producer.
Says Corey: “We’ll only do overseas beer on special occasions, like US stuff for the Superbowl.“ There’s also likely to be some leniency for beer brethren from New Zealand, the so-called ‘7th state’. “But,” Corey suggests – perhaps only half in jest, “in return we’d also like to see more Aussie craft beer in New Zealand too.
“Other than that, our day-to-day beer will be Australian. The ‘everyday lager’ will probably be from Stone & Wood, a house IPA would be from the likes of HopDog Beerworks or Bridge Road. Coopers will be the most mainstream you’ll find here. But we’ll still have every style, every day. In the middle of summer you’ll still be able to get a stout.”
Considering the impending independent slant, the building’s origin provides a rather ironic twist; it was apparently constructed in 1885 by Toohey’s as a place to house grain and store beer. “Unfortunately for them,” says Corey, “that’s likely to be the only association they’ll have with the place now."
The age of the building invariably means it’s needed a bit of love to get it up to scratch but, despite only officially getting the keys two weeks ago, things are happening very quickly. The cool room is expected to be built by the end of this week, the new stainless steel bench is coming, booths are being constructed and the outdoor space is already more spacious after the overgrown foliage was ripped out. Once the new furniture and pizza oven arrives the place will be well on it’s way to being ready to receive guests.
The kitchen, run by Corey’s wife Kristy, will offer a much simpler range than her former charge of the Bistro Albion. Where that was a restaurant, The Grain Store will focus more on casual dining, with all day pizzas and shared plates. “We’re basically looking to do food that complements the beer,” says Corey.
In a way, that sums up the Grain Store. It’ll be the first place of its kind in Newcastle to be built from the ground up specifically with craft beer in mind, rather than a progressive change or repurposing. As Corey says: “Everything here will be about craft beer: the food menu – everything. I think it’s really exciting for Newcastle.”
It’s hard to argue. What’s more, the promise of another great craft beer venue for Newcastle stakes another claim for the Hunter region as being one of the go-to destinations for good beer in Australia.
The Grain Store will open on the corner of Scott and Telford Streets in Newcastle East. Keep up with the journey from bar construction to beer consumption on Twitter.
Keep up to date with all the latest craft beer action in New South Wales with Nick O on Twitter.