It's well documented that the rise of craft beer and the popularity of hop forward beer styles have led to frequent hop shortages. Globally, the growers of certain New World varieties are unable to keep up with demand. And it's fair to say the situation could be far worse too.
How? Well, if every brewer in the world favoured the sort of hops to volume ratios beloved of KAIJU! brewer Nat Reeves, there wouldn't be a hop shortage. No, we'd be suffering the sort of hop famine that would make the seven-year stretch Joseph and his people suffered in Biblical times look like that day your local cafe ran out of egg and bacon muffins before you made it through the door.
Of all the new wave of brewers that love brewing hop-centric beers, KAIJU! went harder from the start than any other on the local scene: there isn't a beer on their lineup that isn't hopped to the Mikey Burton-drawn eyeballs (or, at least, there wasn't until they had plenty of runs on the board). Sure, they love lots of other things: Japanese movies, monsters, heroes, high alcohol beers, silliness – but they love hops more than anything.
It's an obsession that has stood them in good stead, and not just because many of the more hardcore of Australia's beer-drinking public are hop obsessed too. It helps that they know how to do it rather well. Their Hopped Out Red won an Australian International Beer Awards trophy before the brewing company was a year old, while they've picked up more golds there and at the Craft Beer Awards / Indies since.
As to the "they" that makes up KAIJU!, it's a core trio of Nat, brother Callum and his wife Clara, who started the Golden Axe cider brand together. Initially, they were called Monster Mash and operated as a gypsy brewer out of Cavalier. Then a certain energy drink company came calling and demanded they stop using the name Monster Mash, claiming it was similar to their name (something KAIJU! are now rather happy with), while, by 2015, they were established enough to start building their own premises. As a result, they now brew in Dandenong South, with Exit Brewing as permanent house guests, on a system that keeps on getting expanded and upgraded as the business grows, led by the runaway success of their Krush tropical pale ale.
As eye-catching as their beers is the packaging in which they come. It's the work of the aforementioned Mikey Burton, a New York based artist with whom Clara had always wanted to work in her other life as a game developer. He takes the trio's concepts – all inspired by their love of Japanese monster (kaiju) films and comics – and turns them into some of the best labels you'll find anywhere in the world. There's a developing story too: most labels feature kaiju but some are heroes (who battle kaiju), such as the one that adorned their Robohop golden IPA.
Look closely and you'll find other neat touches: the face and eyes of the monster on the Betelgeuse labels are formed by the constellation Orion where the star of the same name resides; where a beer is an imperial version of another in their range, look for the character from the smaller beer's label being monstered in some way. If it all sounds a bit daft, it is. But isn't fun an essential part of what makes craft beer so appealing?
If you notice one thing missing above, you'd be right: for the best part of a decade they operated without a venue of their own. As the 2010s drew to a close they set about fixing this, finding a warehouse unit in Huntingdale that suited their purposes, only for COVID to push things back somewhat. As of February 2022, however, their venue opened to the public.
It's called the KAIJU! Cantina (as much due to alliteration as any aspirations to be wantonly cantina-like) and while there are bold touches familiar to fans of the brewery – not least the stylised Melbourne cityscape adorning one corner, the hop-heavy mural in another, the 1960s Coaster bus, and the bright orange seating – it's also designed to be the sort of place you're as likely to visit with your family as your beer-chasing mates.
Light floods the joint (in the day, at least, of course) through the new wooden ceiling, shining upon their pilot brewery, tables and benches, booth seating, the odd succulent, and a long bar lined with 16 taps dedicated to their beers and cider. At the rear is the kitchen, where they specialise is really rather yummy pizzas – a mix of Italian classics and less common sights such as the Cheeseburger Pizza – created by a chef with two decades in the game.
It might have taken them close to ten years to welcome guests into a home of their own, but we're pretty sure you'll find it worth the wait.
Team photos and jousting photo above copyright Amy Whitfield