It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Helios Brewing has something to do with the sun.
Their logo is a glass of beer from which is emanating the light of the sun. Inside the brewery is a wall mural of the Greek sun god Helios riding a chariot in the sky, holding said glass of beer and the light of the sun. The brewery’s slogan gives a slightly more clear hint to the relationship with the sun: “Craft beer brewed with the power of the Aussie sun.”
There’s a burgeoning movement in the Australian craft beer scene for breweries to be more environmentally sustainable. It’s leading to more companies installing solar panels, donating spent grain to farmers, looking for ways to improve water efficiency and more.
But, at Helios Brewing, environmental sustainability isn’t an afterthought – it’s built into its very DNA. Founders Scott Shomer, Jayne Rutter and Tony Rutter are all career environmental scientists, and this joint background became foundational for Helios.
The design of the brewery came down to Scott, who met with manufacturers to discuss the customisation of equipment.
“When it came time to design a brewery, which is normally very energy, gas and water intensive, and produces a lot of waste, I said, ‘How can I make this super efficient? How can we use less water, use less electricity? How much electricity can we generate ourselves?’.”
These questions led to a myriad of clever solutions in their hardware and processes: a solar thermal system made up of 90 evacuated tubes on the roof provides 90°C-plus water, meaning no power is needed to heat the water at the beginning of the brewing process for the mash. This alone reduces the power required for each batch of beer by about 30 percent.
Then there are the 59 335w solar panels, which produce enough power under the Brisbane sun that Helios is able to export 40 percent of it back to the grid – but only after using as much of the surplus as possible to cool water in the cold liquor tank for greater efficiency in the heat exchange process later.
“In essence, the hot liquor tank and the cold liquor tank are batteries,” says Scott. “They’re storing excess energy from the PV system in the form of hot water and cold water 'batteries'. It’s nothing too earth shattering, but nobody else is doing it.”
But it doesn’t end with the solar power. There’s also the insane amount of insulation installed on their glycol system, keeping the precious cold safe from the Queensland heat. Then there’s the innovative ways they re-use clean water, hot water and cleaning solutions. And the wastewater treatment vessel they installed under the parking lot, not to mention the outlet they've located to compost their yeast to keep it out of the wastewater. (And yes, they give their spent grain to farmers, too.)
In short? Helios is a Lean Green Brewing Machine.
Now, if that were all they had going for them, we might give them some polite applause and go drink beer somewhere else. So it’s a good thing they brought in Charlie Hodgson to make seriously good beer.
After spending six years at Gage Roads and a further six at Mash Brewing, where he won Champion Australian Beer for the Copy Cat American IPA, Charlie made the move from WA to Brisbane to be head brewer. He describes himself as a malt-forward brewer, something you don’t hear too often in the current hop-heavy climate…
“Without malt, hops don’t have a pedestal,” he says. “They sit out there on their own. You can end up with a singular-dimensional beer that just doesn’t carry balance and structure.
“Layering your malts is something really cool. It’s about building that platform for your hops to sit up on. If you don’t give [malts] the due credit they’re worth, you’ll end up with a beer that’s lacking balance and complexity.”
Each of Helios’ three-dimensional, balanced, complex beers is depicted as a god or monster from Greek mythology. Some are obvious – Midas is the golden ale, Hades is the bittersweet chocolate stout, Zeus is the big ol’ double IPA with the two thunderbolts, Medusa is a wicked black IPA – while some of the special releases may test your rudimentary knowledge of ancient Greek mythology.
Heading to the brewery bar at Yeerongpilly is the best way to try these brews of the gods. You can go with a tasting paddle and offerings from whichever food truck is around, or get a growler filled from one of the eight taps.
And, of course, it doesn’t take much to get the owners or brewer chatting about their beers and sustainable practices, or to show you around. That’s the joy of the local brewery, right? Along with Slipstream down the road and Ballistic in Salisbury, Helios brings that joy to the area by the truckload.
“We get a lot of locals coming here, saying there’s been nothing here for aeons. They love having us as a threesome. A ménage à trois of breweries,” smirks Charlie.