Canny Moovers

December 9, 2015, by Ruth Dawkins

Canny Moovers

It wouldn’t be the Moo Brew way to let a birthday slip by without note. Indeed, the Tasmanian brewery has marked its ten year anniversary with nothing less than an entire "Month of Moo" – events across the state designed to engage both craft beer fanatics and newcomers alike.

As marketing and sales manager Sarah Caddick puts it, they’ve tried to do "something for everyone” to celebrate the milestone. That has meant everything from a cooking classes and tastings with local businesses such as Tassal and Hobart's Hill Street Grocer, a meet the brewer complete with special release beers at Launceston's Saint John, plus menu matching, tap takeovers and specially commissioned cocktails at various Hobart restaurants and venues. On top of that, there was the obligatory birthday party, albeit one that Sarah confesses was "actually just a pub crawl."

If it all sounds a little excessive, it’s worth bearing in mind that Moo Brew is part of the David Walsh empire now centred around MONA and also that a decade as Tasmania’s highest profile craft brewery – and the only one with any significant presence on the mainland – is quite the achievement. Certainly, the brewery has come a long way since it was launched in 2005.

At the time, along with Hazards Ale out of the Wineglass Bay Brewery, it was only the second commercial microbrewery in the state. Today, it’s one of more than a dozen listed on the Tasmanian Beer Trail and part of the newly formed Tasmanian Independent Brewers Association (TIBA), which head brewer Dave Macgill (pictured at top) describes as "a helpful collective voice" and whose very existence is a reminder of how far things have come for small brewers on the isle.

“We’re all very mindful of working well together," says Dave of the decision of the state’s smaller brewers to band together as TIBA. "And we realise that sharing resources benefits everyone.”

When Moo Brew was born ten years ago, it was located on the Moorilla Estate, now best known as the home of MONA, but originally created as the home for the Moorilla Estate winery. David Walsh had been travelling around Europe and found a distinctive bottle shape that he loved. That was enough to spark the idea of a brewery at Moorilla and, when he returned to Tasmania, he got together with Owen “OJ” Johnston, who would become head brewer and then general manager of Moo Brew.

The original brewery (above) was located on top of what was to become the museum; it was housed in an elliptical structure on top of the Ether building with 14 foot high glass ceilings and 360 degree water views. According to Dave, who replaced OJ as head brewer when the latter left to join Hop Products Australia (HPA) in 2013, it was a beautiful but challenging space to work in.

“Everything was round – even the fridge, which made for interesting storage of square cartons,” he says. “The brewery pre-existed the museum, but after MONA opened it became even harder because of the number of visitors who would just wander in when we had all this equipment and processes going on. The brewery and the space just outgrew each other.”

So, in 2010, a second Moo brewery was built at Bridgewater, and since then the original building has been used mainly for storage. It’s likely that it will eventually be taken down entirely to make way for the hotel being planned at MONA.

Despite the move to bigger premises and the change of head brewer, the ethos at Moo remains the same. Like the vast majority of their peers, all their products contain just malt, hops, yeast and water, and come preservative and additive free and unpasteurised. Wherever possible, Moo works with local growers too: they use some hops from other countries when required as well as those grown by HPA at nearby Bushy Park (most notably for their frequently excellent annual harvest beers), but their base malt is mainly Tasmanian, and they’re currently working on a product that will feature 100 percent Tasmanian hops and malt.

The core Moo Brew beers also remain unchanged: Pilsner, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Dark Ale and Belgian ale Belgo, which was the final member of the regular family of five to appear. It's also unavailable this summer, but will return in future.

Seasonal brews include a farmhouse style Saison, the cult classic Seasonal Stout known colloquially as the Velvet Sledgehammer, and the ever-changing Harvest Ale. Australia’s largest hop fields at Bushy Park are less than 40km away from the Moo Brewery, so for the Harvest Ale they use fresh, wet hops harvested from Bushy Park immediately prior to brewing.

As distinctive as the beers themselves are, it’s perhaps the Moo labels that adorn the unique bottles (pictured below) that make the brand so recognisable. Artist John Kelly was commissioned to create the designs, each of which uses elements of the Australian Arts Council logo, featuring a kangaroo and a sun. Despite the AAC insisting that their logo must not be altered in any way, Kelly has taken elements of it and embedded them in a different artistic context. Individually and collectively, the designs are intended as a subversive and striking representation of the artist’s struggle with the corporatisation of art.

Head brewer Dave sees the pairing as one that works well.

“John Kelly’s way of producing art – taking these existing elements and playing with them – ties in well with the Moo philosophy for brewing. Rather than trying to be the most original or crazy thing out there, we take a traditional style and put a very personal spin on it through our use of ingredients.

“John is currently putting together a book about his partnership with Moo, and we continue to work with him very closely.”

The original Kelly paintings – owned by David Walsh but all currently on loan – are on display around Australia in venues that stock Moo. In Hobart you can see one at T42, which, along with Lark Distillery, was the first place to have Moo on Tap.

Although the brewery’s owner has apparently only visited the Bridgewater site once since it opened, Dave remains very aware of the advantages that come from Moo Brew’s links with MONA, and says he's keen to continue strengthening that relationship. MONA is both the brewery's biggest client and its cellar door, providing Moo with exposure to national and international visitors in a way that most breweries can only dream of.

It also allows them to work with the chefs at MONA’s Heavy Metal Kitchen on events like Party in the Lane (pictured below), which took place in May 2015 and brought together art, performance, food and beer to engage the community and make the most of an under-utilised space in central Hobart. It’s such events that Dave cites among the highlights of his time at Moo.

Looking ahead, it’s clear that Dave hopes Moo Brew can continue growing. He was involved in a very hands-on way in the construction of the Bridgewater premises and describes them as being "built to grow into." Two new tanks were installed this month, and he mentions the potential to enter the Chinese market, where the Tasmanian brand is very strong; the challenge of such an expansion, he says, is as much about the logistics and red tape around exporting an unpasteurised product as it is about upping production on the site.

As such, much of the focus for the next 12 months will be on a new canning line. Although Dave almost jumps off his chair with excitement talking about the flexibility and potential of being able to distribute their products in cans, all Moo Brew can confirm at this stage is that it will be a "totally brand new style."

They’re tightlipped as to what exactly that means. But The Crafty Pint has been promised an exclusive story on the new canned product when it launches, so watch this space…

**UPDATE (19/12)** The 440ml cans featuring Single Hop are now out. You can check out the beer listing here, while the backstory to the beer is as follows:

For the launch of Single Hop on December 18, the brewery teamed up with MONA’s Heavy Metal Kitchen at the opening of new Hobart venue The Whaler. The event was the culmination of 18 months of work bringing both the canning line and the beer itself from conception to can.

“I approached David Walsh at our AGM,” says Dave Macgill. “He said to me, ‘I hear you want to work on a Moo product in a can? Great. So do I.’ So we applied for a Business Incentive Grant, one of the conditions of which was that whatever we did had to create two extra jobs at the brewery. The canning line enables us to do that.”

Dave chose to work with Wild Goose in Colorado to get the line built and installed, and two of their technicians arrived with the equipment in early December.

“We worked an eighteen hour day to get things up and running," he says, "and then in that first week we produced 917 cartons.”

The striking silvery-white can features artwork by John Kelly rendered in black and red, with four-packs held together by PakTech carriers made from 96% recycled plastic.

Says Dave: “We sponsored the Tasmanian Southwest Marine Debris cleanup earlier this year. I was lucky enough to go on the trip myself back in March, and it’s horrendous seeing the environmental impacts of plastic. It was a really sad experience but it made me determined that our own packaging should be as low-impact as possible. That seems particularly important living somewhere like Tasmania.”

About the author: Ruth Dawkins is a writer who comes from a tiny island in the north of Scotland. Two years ago she moved to Tasmania, where the cold winters, beautiful light and generous measures of whisky make her feel very much at home. She tweets and blogs as DorkyMum.

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