It's been a big few months for one of the Australian beer world's most gregarious chaps. Already, 2015 has seen Steve "Hendo" Henderson, under his BrewCult moniker, debut a new look for his beers, rework his beer range, take the People's Choice title at GABS and take the first steps on the road towards having his own brewery.
It seemed like as good a time as any to ask him to feature in our Brew & A hot seat. But, with so much going on, as well as presenting his answers to the Q & A we had a chat to him about the past few months and what lies ahead.
"A lot more people know about BrewCult now," he says of the GABS win. There, his Milk & Two Sugars sweet coffee stout, which featured 3,000 shots of espresso and 120 litres of cold drip coffee produced for him by Axil Coffee, proved most popular with drinkers.
"The biggest impact has been in Melbourne. There were a lot of people that knew of BrewCult but Melbourne was actually one of its smallest markets, with Sydney and Brisbane taking more beer.
"But since GABS, a lot of venues want to connect with the brand and not with Hendo and that's kind of cool. I want the brand to be about drinking awesome beer."
As for the new look brand, he says there was something of an unwanted epiphany when he was at an Ale Stars session at The Local Taphouse. The gathered attendees – all of whom have decent knowledge of beer given their Ale Star status – were shown a series of brewing company logos with the names removed and asked if they could say which was which. Shorn of the word "BrewCult", no one could.
Thus, Hendo, designer Matt Brick and online resource 99 Designs combined to come up with some new options, which were shown to a panel of beer people at the Alehouse Project.
"I came to the realisation that I had done 15 or 16 beers with great personalities in two years but had no brand identity," he says. "The only people that knew about it were hardcore beer geeks. I love the hardcore beer geeks but [their number] is very limited and you hit a glass ceiling."
The choice of the panel was unanimous for Jimmy, the chirpy, spiral-eyed guy that now adorns BrewCult's gear.
"We were confused [that they chose him]," says Hendo. "But they said they wanted to be just like him, to be part of a cult as a positive experience."
Thus, while it's all tongue-in-cheek – the name Jimmy even comes with a nod to Jim Jones – it has given Hendo the chance to make BrewCult more than just Hendo and also define what it is the brewing company stands for; as stated on his bottles now:
Drink this beer fresh.
Look after your hops.
Never cellar a hoppy beer.
Store this beer somewhere cold and dark.
It's in keeping with the "fresh is best" events he's run around the country and was part of the reason behind taking greater control of distribution of his beers in recent months.
"It's about pushing the message of fresh beer," says Hendo. "Educate people in the cult to demand fresh beer and educate venues too."
It's an important message, one pushed by many other brewers too, yet one that is challenging in such a large and scattered country in which education about beer's fragile nature remains low. With a new brewery coming in Point Cook, southwest of Melbourne, and with it heaps more hop forward BrewCult beer, no doubt Hendo will be hoping it starts to sink in soon.
In the meantime, a beer that isn't so reliant upon freshness – the aforementioned Milk & Two Sugars – is coming back. Hendo persuaded the team at Axil Coffee to create more shots and litres with the beer due for release very soon. As for the hoppy beers, the new core range (pictured above) featured the Spoiler Alert pale lager, Reset Robot midstrength pale ale, Hop Zone session IPA and Thanks Captain Obvious IPA.
You can read Hendo's answers to our Brew & A here.