The first time we encountered Joel Drysdale, he was walking up the path to Crafty Towers bearing a four-pack of Moo Brew Imperial Stout bottles. As introductions go, it's up there. Later, we crossed paths regularly in his guise as "The Beer Dude" for Tooborac Hotel & Brewery, charged with getting the regional Victorian brewery's beers out and about. And now there's Beer Joel Mk III.
This time, he's doing things for himself. Well, himself and his family. And he's doing it as Venom Brewing, the business he launched in 2015 with a golden ale and a brand that, quite deliberately, was designed with "Love it or hate it" in mind.
As Joel explains of the venom-dripping cobra that forms his company logo: "Whatever you think of it, you're going to notice it."
And people certainly did, with plenty falling into both love and hate camps. However, having eye-catching packaging is only going to get you so far; in an ever busier marketplace people might pick up your beer but, if it's not up to scratch, they're not going to return. Thankfully, the launch beer – the aforementioned Golden Ale designed by Joel's mate Euan Bayliss and brewed at Hawkers – is comfortably one of the best beers of the style you'll find in Australia and helped Venom hit the ground running.
But behind the name and artwork, designed by Brunswick tattooist Hal from Green Lotus, where does Venom come from? As a business, it's a family venture with Joel's wife Janna, dad John and stepmum Heather involved in various ways. Indeed, it's a story involving John that led to the name: he was bitten by a snake in his Mansfield garden one afternoon and, as he waited for his wife to arrive back home, cracked a beer from the fridge.
"When I heard this, I was furious," says Joel. "If my dad was going to die of snakebite, there was no way I’d let him go down drinking a macro brewed lager! So, to combat this, we brewed Venom Golden Ale – just in case Johnny stands on another snake..."
As for Joel himself, we like to describe him as having the sort of face that suggests he's truly ecstatic to be alive every second of every day. And, having grown up around the booze industry, he's got a sharp eye for opportunity too. In a past Crafty Pint newsletter, we mentioned that respected former Temple and Homestead brewer Ron Feruglio was stepping away from brewing to focus on consulting. Within hours, Joel had asked for his contact details. A few weeks later, he announced Venom's second beer would be a black IPA designed with Ron, previously responsible for cult favourites Midnight IPA and Black Swan.
A Pale Ale and Refreshing Ale have followed although, perhaps more importantly, Venom has a home too. Joel and his team took over the Country Club Hotel in Yea, refurbished it and opened it to the public on June 5, 2017. So, while the beers are still contract brewed, you'll find them all on tap here.
So, if ever Joel wants to appear on the path to Crafty Towers clutching a four-pack of that, we'd be more than happy to welcome him inside.