It started as a chance meeting at a homebrew store. Joshua Murnane visited Grain and Grape in Yarraville and asked for advice on brewing sour beer. He was introduced to staff member Michael Leslie and three hours later (according to Josh but much less according to Michael), he was still getting a lesson.
The duo became good friends and, in 2014, decided they should stop talking and start planning. Five years later, in 2019, they opened Black Arts Brewers and Blenders in Williamstown.
The beers are brewed offsite then aged at the Williamstown location in a mixture of 225 litre barrels, 300 litre hogsheads, and 500 litre puncheons; in the years before launch, Josh spent untold hours searching online for barrel dealers and now they have a steady supply of formats from which to choose.
And, while they may not have unveiled them to the public until 2019, the duo had been brewing and ageing their beers since 2016, giving them three years of stock to blend at launch. Displaying admirable restraint, they wanted to wait to ensure the beer was ready before blending and bottle conditioning, and this patience is something the pair will wear with pride. All bottles show the average age of beer that’s inside to make it clear to consumers that what they have in their hands isn't the result of a quick souring process, but an extended period of ageing.
Launching with a Golden Wild Ale and a Red Wild Ale, the plan is to keep three core beers (with a darker version to come) while showcasing smaller runs of single barrel, dry-hopped versions, and fruited versions. Flavour profiles lean to the less sour and acidic side of wild ales, instead focusing on more refined drinkability. To achieve this, they have used a large number of different yeast and bacteria cultures, gathered from their own homebrew experiments, commercial cultures, and lambic dregs. They will continue refining and mixing the favourites down, and adding wild and koelschip cultures to their toolbag too.
The tasting room is not the easiest place to find, tucked into an industrial pocket in Melbourne’s west. If you look out from its roller door you'll find the Mobil Altona Refinery looming in the near distance – so near, in fact, the taproom is restricted to only 15 patrons at a time. Why? To make things easy in case of evacuation, of course.
Instead of a hindrance, they see that as a positive. It’s only open once a month, and both founders can be on hand to pour beer and geek out with those interested. Given they’ve been geeking out together about wild and sour beer since 2014, it’s about time they let everyone else join the conversation.