There can’t be many breweries that have a kids’ corner upstairs: a comfy sofa in front of a television, with books, DVDs and computer games stacked around. But then there can’t be many breweries that are as much of a tight knit family affair as Double Head in Tasmania’s south.
“I can’t even tell you how many nights we’ve spent camped out here,” laughs Amanda Capaci, who, along with husband Ty, opened Double Head in Cambridge last November.
“We had to have somewhere for our kids to sit and entertain themselves while we got everything set up. They’ve spent a lot of hours on this sofa.”
Ty and Amanda have been onsite at Cambridge since April 2015 but didn’t launch until seven months later. Just a few weeks later they were selling their products through a stall at the Taste of Tasmania festival.
“It was a real coup to be awarded a stall at the Taste,” explains Amanda. “We put together a strong application, but we’d only been brewing since November so we were really quizzed hard about whether we knew what to expect, and whether we’d have enough beer to last the festival. It worked out so well though; it just went crazy.”
One of the beers that Double Head launched with at The Taste was Chupa, a South American festival beer brewed with corn, red bell peppers and lime that comes in at 4 percent ABV.
“We brewed that initially to celebrate the local band Chupacabra, who are a young, vibrant group playing South American influenced music,” says Amanda. “We wanted to make a South American festival beer, but definitely not the kind that people would expect; ‘Not a Corona’ is the phrase we had in our heads.
"Originally, we were only going to make it available for the day that Chupacabra were performing at the Taste, but we ended up keeping it on tap and we sold out three days in a row.
"There has been such a clamour for it since then from restaurant owners, and when we have a bottling line we’ll start getting it out there to some of the South American restaurants because it works so well with food. When you eat it with something spicy, the beer really calms down that chilli hit.”
That desire to produce beers that work well with food is something that’s core to the the brewery’s ethos. The Double Head Dunkel – a German dark wheat beer with caramel and hints of banana and clove – was another hit at the Taste festival, and Amanda recommended customers pair it with mature cheeses, game and salamis. Sweet Relief – a smooth, sweet stout with huge aromas of coffee and dark chocolate – sold out several days in a row and gained a reputation as a great dessert beer.
“A lot of people poured the stout over good quality vanilla ice cream and treated it like an affogato,” says Amanda. “It’s a beer you can drink to finish a meal in the same way some people would drink a dessert wine.”
Despite her evident passion, Amanda admits that she wasn’t always so keen on beer, and confesses that it was the simple pleasures of a pale ale that brought her and Ty to a place where they could collaborate on the brewery.
“When Ty and I met, I really wasn’t a beer fan,” she says. "I didn’t see it as a sophisticated drink at all; I thought beer was quite cheap and nasty. In contrast, Ty had been brewing from grain since his teens, and when he lived in shared houses he always had some kind of home brewing setup in the backyard.
"We bought a house together and he tried to start brewing in the kitchen, but I booted him out onto the deck.
"When his home brews started to become more and more popular with our friends, we eventually invested in a big shipping container so he could have a proper setup in there. But even at that stage I still wasn’t really a fan.”
Yet Ty was determined to convert her.
“He said that eventually he’d brew me something I loved," she says, laughing. "So he went out and bought so many stubbies – Australian, American, as many kinds of pale ale as he could get his hands on – and we did blind tastings to work out what I liked and what I didn’t.
"Suddenly it was as though this key had turned in a magic door; this whole taste analysis opened up to me that I’d never known before. I didn’t have any traditional brewing vocabulary, but I was able to describe if flavours were high or low, in the foreground or background, what the dominant notes were, what the nose was…
"All of a sudden I realised how delicious beer could be – how thirst quenching it could be, and how well it could pair with food.”
All the blind tastings left Ty with a good sense of Amanda’s preferences, and he set to work producing a pale ale that would suit her palate. The resulting beer – just 50 litres of it – was a resounding success, and when Ty gave a few bottles away to friends Amanda found herself feeling protective of "her" brew.
“I knew then that something had definitely changed!” she says.
Since then the Capacis have worked together as a partnership, equally invested in the brewery.
“I’m not a brewer, and I don’t pretend to be,” says Amanda. “But we are completely equal business partners, and the things we each bring to Double Head are important. Ty trusts my tastes when we’re working on a new recipe, and he knows if I’m not happy with something then it shouldn’t go out.
"We’re taking our time with some things – like the bottling line – because we don’t want to rush things and then have them be less than perfect. We’re working on the labelling for bottles right now and it’s important to get it right.
"We want our beers to be something you’d be proud to have on your table at a meal. We want them to hold their own if they’re sat beside a bottle of good wine. It’s why when you come to the brewery each of the beers is served in its own glassware. I wish restaurants and pubs would do the same, and use the appropriate glass for different styles of beer because they deserve that respect.”
It’s unlikely that the stylish glassware will be part of the deal when Double Head make an appearance at the Fresh Hop Festival in Launceston later this month, where they'll debut their wet hp witbier Clementine, but Ty and Amanda’s formidable partnership means you can be sure the beer itself will remain a quality product.
You can keep track of Double Head's growth via their Facebook page.
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.