Wolf of the Willows

When launching a brewery, sometimes staring down the barrel of brewing history at the great names that have come before you can be an intimidating task. How to reach those heights when you’re only just stepping away from brewing in your own back yard?

But Wolf of the Willows founders Scott and Renae McKinnon saw this not as a conundrum, but as an inspiration. Drawing upon the history of Californian brewery Russian River’s infamous double IPA, Pliny the Elder, a seed was planted that would give their new brewing venture a name.

Roman naturalist and military man Pliny the Elder, or Gaius Minor Plinius Caecilius Secundus to give him his full name, has been credited as the first to name the hop vine in his writings, using the term lupus salictarius, or ‘wolf among the willows’, to describe a plant believed to be wild hops. To Scott’s history-loving mind, that proved romantic enough to bestow the name upon the new brewing company.

But brewing had been in the blood long before Pliny the Elder was even a concept in Scott’s mind. His interest in fermentation began with brewing ginger beer with his dad while he was still too young to drink it. That interest was later reinvigorated in his early 20s as he spent a couple of years exploring the ski slopes and craft beer bars of Colorado.

On his return to Australia, home brewing became a regular hobby and his future wife Renae came into the picture. After a few more years of brewing ‘barbecue beers’ for friends and family, going out on their own in the beer industry soon became the next logical step for the pair, especially considering Renae’s background in wine and beverage marketing.

In developing their own vision for Wolf of the Willows, Scott was determined that their beers would be balanced brews from classic styles, with their own signature touch – much like finding a wolf among the willows.

Their first beer was the XPA – or Extra Pale Ale – released in November 2014 (but not until after they had to relabel every single bottle on Melbourne Cup weekend thanks to a labelling issue), and was the clear choice for the first beer to get the bottling treatment, thanks to its popularity among McKinnon barbecue attendees.

That first choice paid off admirably, when the XPA crept its way into the final spot in The Local Taphouse Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers list just a couple of months later, when only half the first release had even been purchased. Not long after, it finished top in a Crafty Pint blind tasting panel of XPAs and session IPAs.

Buoyed by that early vote of confidence, Wolf of the Willows have since added an India Saison (ISA), Johnny Smoke Porter (JSP) and Homage India Pale Ale (IPA) to the bottle lineup.

But the biggest change of all came in late 2015 when the McKinnons secured brewery space with Dereck Hales and Diti Haniotis of Cheltenham brewpub Bad Shepherd. The 50 percent brewery ownership gives them gives them capacity to brew up to 250,000 litres a year. After 12 months of gypsy brewing at various locations, the increased control over the brewing allows the Wolf of the Willows team to experiment with more styles, and refine the beers already released.

The priority for both Scott and Renae is keeping growth steady, while allowing each beer to have time to find its place in the market. And it's a selection of beers that's been getting broader and broader over time; they're released a series of sours under the Acidulus banner and, in spring 2018, launched The Barrel Exchange Program with Lark Distillery that sees the partners release pairs of barrel aged beers and beer aged whiskies.

Kerry McBride

Name
Wolf of the Willows
Address

Unit 2/302-306 Bay Road
Cheltenham
VIC 3192

Phone
For orders, please call Renae on 0409 253 537
Website
Hours

Bad Shepherd Brewpub open:
Wed & Thurs: midday to 11pm
Fri & Sat: midday to midnight
Sunday: midday to 8pm

Tours

Tours by appointment only

Wolf of the Willows Regulars

Wolf of the Willows PILS

Tapped October 19th, 2018
Wolf of the Willows' green tinnie is tagged as an Australian pilsner. With good reason too. It's brewed with all Aussie malts and locally grown Enigma hops too. Yet were you presented with the liquid in a glass and given no prior briefing you could just as easily believe you'd been given a pilsner from the other side of the planet. Indeed, a well travelled brewer we shared a beer with felt it wouldn't be out of place in a North German beer garden, the sort of setting in which you find some damn fine… Read more
Style
Pilsner
ABV
4.5%

Wolf Of The Willows XPA (Cans)

Tapped November 3rd, 2017
Melbourne's Wolf of the Willows was one of the first Australian breweries to release an XPA. Indeed, they launched with the XPA, explaining that for them the style meant: "extra pale in colour with extra hop aroma and flavour". It went on to take top spot in an XPA/session IPA Getting Blind With Crafty tasting soon afterwards too. Since then, as you may well have noticed, plenty of other brewers have released XPAs, some similar in conception, others with different interpretations as to… Read more
Style
XPA
ABV
4.7%
Stockists

Find the beer via the WOTW Beer Locator

Wolf of the Willows "Homage" IPA

Tapped April 27th, 2016
Given their fondness for giving beers a three letter name, it was surely only a matter of time before Wolf the Willows released an IPA (or an ESB, perhaps). And this has now come to pass, with the beer subtitled "Homage" joining their XPA, ISA (India Saison) and JSP (Johnny Smoked Porter). Why "Homage"? Because it's a nod to the West Coast style of IPA that Scott and Renae love, that has laid waste to American drinkers' palates (and thus much of the country's hop industry) and… Read more
Style
West Coast IPA
ABV
6.2%
Bitterness
66 IBU
Stockists

Available year round wherever Wolf of the Willows is stocked

Wolf of the Willows JSP

In the earliest days of the porter – and the brown ales from which it was born in London in the 18th century – there would be occasions when the beers would be smoky. The cheapest form of brown malt available at the time was smoked so, while many brewers avoided it and used "cleaner", more expensive malts, there were smoked porters. It's a style within a style that has gained some popularity since American craft brewers brought the porter back from near extinction. For Wolf of the Willows'… Read more
Style
Smoked Porter
ABV
5.2%

Wolf of the Willows ISA

For their second release, Scott and Renae of Wolf of the Willows opted to play around with a historic beer style. They took a saison, a style becoming increasingly popular in Australia, and gave it a contemporary twist in the form of a heap of hops. They come in the tri-nation form of Mosaic and Citra (both US), Ella (Aus) and Nelson Sauvin (NZ) and create a tropical hit atop the spiciness provided by the Belgian yeast as well as the rye malt. Yes, it's not just the use of lashings of New World hops… Read more
Style
Hoppy Saison
ABV
5.2%

Wolf of the Willows XPA

As ways to announce yourself to the beer world, they don't come much better than Wolf of the Willows' XPA. Their first release appeared in bottles in 2014 with some of the most stylish packaging yet seen from an Aussie brewery, and what was inside was just as impressive, quickly building a buzz around town as a beer to hunt down. XPA stands for Extra Pale Ale and, in the case here, that means an American style pale ale that's "extra pale in colour with extra hop aroma and flavour". It delivers… Read more
Style
American Pale Ale
ABV
4.7%

Wolf of the Willows Specials

Wolf Of The Willows Pacific Sour

Tapped November 30th, 2018
At the sours blind tasting we held as part of WA Beer Week in 2018, it was fascinating to see where different attendees' preferences lay, from those who enjoyed those of a hoppy and low acidity bent to those who were all over the fruit and others that were looking for the funk. And, with this new "tropical sour", the Wolf Of The Willows team almost appear to be attempting to cover all bases, melding the yeast they feature in their Acidulus range with pineapple, guava and mango juices as… Read more
Style
Tropical Fruit Sour
ABV
4.2%
Stockists

Hitting taps across Victoria and out in 355ml cans too

Wolf of the Willows & Lark Distillery Imperial JSP

Tapped October 10th, 2018
In a world in which the release of barrel aged beers seems to be a weekly occurrence, The Barrel Exchange Project is a meeting of malts with a difference. The collaboration between Wolf of the Willows and Lark Distillery saw the Wolf brewers head to Tasmania to select six Lark barrels to be shipped across Bass Strait. Once they arrived in Cheltenham, within seven days the freshly emptied barrels were filled with an imperial version of the brewery's JSP and left to mature. When the beer was ready,… Read more
Style
Whisky Barrel Aged Imperial Smoked Porter
ABV
11.2%

Wolf Of The Willows & Ale Of A Time Southern Brut IPA

Tapped June 23rd, 2018
They've been busy, um, wolves down at their Bayside brewery in recent weeks. This is the third new can we've had from Wolf Of The Willows in a month, all featuring artwork by their illustrator buddies BySequence and Studio Worldwide, and the second of them to involve collaborators. This time around, Southern Brut was conceived in conjunction with Ale Of A Time and the Patreon supporters of their podcast. It's one of the first (although certainly far from the last) of a new style of IPA to be brewed… Read more
Style
Brut IPA
ABV
6.2%
Stockists

Catch the collaborators for its launch here

Other stockists to follow

Wolf Of The Willows The Woodsman Amber Ale

Tapped June 13th, 2018
In this day and age, when most beers are supercharged versions of what they would have been in the past (and by past we mean any time up to the last decade), it can be easy to forget how things used to be. How beers like amber ales used to be, as the name would suggest, predominantly about the malts that lend them their colour and, thus, name. For the most part, led by the craft beer revolution in the States, the supercharging has come by the way of hops – more and more of them – to the point… Read more
Style
Amber Ale
ABV
4.5%
Stockists

Bad Shepherd Brewpub

You can also find the beer here

Wolf Of The Willows & Patient Wolf Tom Collins Sour

Tapped May 27th, 2018
The worlds of beer and gin have found much common ground in recent years, and not just because the latter industry is enjoying the sort of time in the spotlight increasingly enjoyed by craft brewers. Whether it's been Young Henrys using hops in its Noble Cut Gin or Hargreaves Hill teaming up with Four Pillars for the excellent annual Gin Barrel Gose, there's been plenty of crossover. And now Wolf Of The Willows is getting in on the game in partnership with Patient Wolf, a Brunswick based distiller. The… Read more
Style
Spiced Sour Ale
ABV
5.7%
Stockists

And other stockists here

Wolf Of The Willows Acidulus III

Tapped March 5th, 2018
Wolf Of The Willows' love of language continues into the third beer in their Acidulus series. The beer's star ingredients are newly developed hop varieties out of Germany – Herkules, Hüll Melon and Hallertau Blanc – so, with the beer soured with lactobacillus, it's been tagged a "Neu Hallertauer Sauer". What's more, even the collaborative aspect of the beer – it was brewed with input from Berlin based, Aussie-American brewing couple Cristal Peck and Richie Hodges – is described… Read more
Style
New England Sour
ABV
5.7%
Stockists

Find the beer here

Wolf Of The Willows Acidulus II

Tapped December 1st, 2017
Given they were one of the earliest adopters of the now ubiquitous XPA title for one of their beers (their first, no less), we shouldn't be surprised to find Wolf of the Willows potentially angering traditionalists by being one of the first locals* to bring another new "style" to the Aussie beer scene. This time it's the subtitle given to the returning Acidulus II: New England Sour. So what does it mean? Firstly, it continues their fondness for a dead language: Wolf of the Willows is derived… Read more
Style
New England Sour
ABV
5.7%
Stockists

You can find Acidulus II here

Wolf of the Willows Raisin' Kilts

Tapped June 7th, 2017
Scottish culture can be divisive. Mrs Pint's family still like to say she got married to a man wearing a skirt. And, while the arrival of bagpipes on a couple of occasions during King Creosote's most recent album sets hearts a-racing at Crafty Towers, there are many who just hear a droning annoyance whenever they are squeezed into life. Still, one thing we imagine most of our readers can agree upon is that a well made Scotch ale is a treat, especially as we head into the colder months. And there… Read more
Style
Barrel Aged Scotch Ale
ABV
7.2%
Stockists

Bad Shepherd Brewpub

Wolf of the Willows & Bloodhound Wolf Blood 2017

Tapped March 24th, 2017
There are red IPAs. And then there's Wolf of the Willows' Wolf Blood. The beer originally brewed as a collaboration with Brisbane's fine Bloodhound Bar for its Hopfields event in 2016 returns a year later, this time bottled too so more people can get their hands on it. So, why did we open this piece as we did? Well, brewer Scott McKinnon has done so marvellous a job combining specialty malts that the beer pours such a bright red we went rushing straight to the notes sent by the Wolves to check they… Read more
Style
Red IPA
ABV
7.1%
Bitterness
66 IBU
Stockists

In good beer outlets in Melbourne and Brisbane

And a small number of venues in NSW, SA and WA

Wolf of the Willows Acidulus I

Tapped December 6th, 2016
If you know Melbourne based Wolf of the Willows from their core range of beers, you only know part of the story. Over their two years as a commercial operation, they've broadened their palette via various keg-only releases, from relatively straight-down-the-line hops and malt led affairs to more esoteric drops, such as the Paradisi fruit saison. And now, given this beer comes with the suffix I, it appears there's a new line on the way that will allow Scott and Renae to explore the world of acid a… Read more
Style
Sour Blonde
ABV
5.1%
Stockists

Bad Shepherd Brewpub

Saccharomyces

The Oxford Tap House

More stockists...

Wolf of the Willows Stray Wolf

Tapped July 13th, 2016
Stray Wolf is a coming together of two of the newer operations doing good things for beer in Melbourne. On the one hand you've got Wolf of the Willows, the former brewing gypsies who are now housemates at Bad Shepherd. On the other is Stray Neighbour, the top notch Preston restaurant with a fine line in craft beer on tap. They're not only doing good things for beer either; with this collaboration they're doing good things with beer as a percentage of profits is going to a couple of dog shelters.… Read more
Style
Red Ale
ABV
5.0%
Bitterness
34 IBU
Stockists

On tap in Victoria and Queensland

Wolf Of The Willows & Bloodhound Bar Wolf Blood

Tapped March 17th, 2016
Now happily ensconced at the brewery they share with Bad Shepherd in Cheltenham, we can expect to see more beer and beers from Wolf of the Willows, including one-offs such as this. Scott and Renae McKinnon has collaborated with the team at Bloodhound Bar in Brisbane for the Hopfields event it's hosting as part of Brewsvegas. Wolf Blood is one of the collaborations to be launched on the night and is a punchy West Coast style red IPA. The brewers tell us it's all about "hops, hops and more hops… Read more
Style
Red IPA
ABV
7.1%
Stockists

More stockists to follow

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