When you've decided to dedicate your life to making beer, the chances are you're an interesting sort, particularly if you've decided to do that in the fledgling realm of craft beer. It's why we launched our Brew & A series: to find out more about the characters responsible for bringing you the beers you know and love. It's just a shame that brewers are all so busy it can take a while to coax answers from them so the features don't run as often as we'd like...
Thankfully – somehow – amid everything that has gone into opening Hobart Brewing Company's impressive "Red Shed" venue on the Tasmanian capital's waterfront, head brewer Scott Overdorf (above left) has managed to find the time to do just that.
As someone who started out brewing in one of the heartlands of the most developed craft beer scene in the world before coming to Australia, including time spent on America's first ever craft canning line, he has stories and insights that few local brewers possess.
And here, with answers taking in Scotland, Colorado, Prague, Germany, the romance of beer and a Thai Boxing World Champion, they are...
Scott Overdorf – Hobart Brewing Company
Why are you a brewer?
I am consumed by beer. I love the history and the lore of beer, breweries and the people behind them.
There is also the science of making beer. And that is an endless journey of learning and knowledge.
Then there is the process of making beer: the mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering that supports brewing of wort and ending with a packaged product to enjoy with friends (or the quiet company of oneself) for consumer consumption.
Add to all of that all of the personalities of everyone involved in the industry from the suppliers, the pubs, those selling beer, those writing about beer, those promoting beer and, last but not least, all those brewers around the world who make beer. That is a collective group of generally amazing people in a worldwide industry.
I am a brewer because everyday when I wake up I actually look forward to going to work because, well, I am consumed by everything beer. Just ask my wife.
What would you be if you weren't a brewer?
I started along the path of becoming a brewer later in life than most, so I have already had all those other jobs from dirt bag raft guiding and spending all my free time in the outdoors to pseudo careers wearing suits and ties. And now I cannot imagine being anything other than a brewer for the rest of my working life.
However, if I were not brewing for a living, I picture myself in retirement reverting back to my early post uni dirt bag days (now that the house is nearly paid off) and spending time out on the waters around Tasmania with my wife Kate, sailing and paddling and just plain exploring. And my original homebrew kit would be set up in the corner waiting for the gas burner to be fired up.
What was your epiphany beer?
I am old enough that my legal drinking age predates the earliest American microbreweries starting production in the late 1970s (read pre-Sierra Nevada). Having said that, my beer epiphany didn’t happen until 1988 in Prague.
At the time I was a 20-something, Budweiser-drinking American living in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a small ski town in the Bavarian Alps south of Munich. I spent three glorious years of life-changing imbibing of hefeweizens, helles, pilsner, bock, doppelbock, rauchbier, dunkel, and dunkelweizens.
But it was in June 1988, in a 550-year-old brewpub known as U Fleku Bier Hall in Prague, that I had my beer epiphany. I sat down at a table in the beer garden with all my new non-English speaking friends and within a minute a maiden had arrived with a tray of pilsners in one hand and a tray of a dark lagers in the other, all for me to choose from. I chose the dark.
I’ll never forget the delicate balance and depth of the malt character in that Schwarzbier. It was perfection in a stein. I returned home to the US and began brewing my own beer and never drank another Budweiser.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
In 2005, Kate and I returned to Boulder, Colorado, after being away for almost three years. I was 46, out of work and had reached that now or never moment in life of wanting to become a brewer. So I spent a day going around to eight different breweries, walking in and asking if they had any work. One brewery said yes.
The next morning I was standing in a 100-year-old timber barn alongside two other dudes, much younger than me, learning on the spot how to can Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale on craft brewing’s first ever canning line.
What's the best beer you've ever brewed?
The best beer I ever brewed was a beer called XXX Pale Ale at Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery in Boulder, Colorado. It was a beer well ahead of its time and the creation of Mountain Sun’s original brewer, Jack Harris.
Harris first brewed XXX back in 1993 as one of the original Sun beers and it is a pale ale that weighs in at 8 percent ABV and carries 75 IBUs [International Bitterness Units]. It has a firm bitterness and delicate hop flavour balanced with a clean malt palate with no indication of its alcohol strength until you go to stand up.
Twenty-three years on, XXX Pale Ale is still being poured at each of the Mountain Sun’s five pubs. It was a beer ahead of its time because it was brewed a decade before the beer culture that was evolving in Colorado and around the rest of the US would begin seeking out the higher alcohol, hop forward beers that are now more common.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Belgian brewer Peter Bouckaert, Brewmaster for New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, says the real ingredients of beer are creativity, knowledge and experience. I earned my knowledge and experience from my years at Oskar Blues, Mountain Sun and Moo Brew.
Hobart Brewing Company is a reflection of all the attributes gleaned from working at each of those breweries. However, creativity is my single most favourite ingredient to use in beer. My creativity began in Bavaria more than three decades ago and has been shaped and honed over the years by understanding the complexities of beer styles from all corners of the globe. The creativity that we put into our beers is a nod towards the brewers of those beers: beers that made me pause and ask the question (as we all do): “How did they do that?”
Are there any beers you've brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
After drinking a Bridge Road Chestnut Pilsner a number of years ago, I was inspired to do some research on brewing with chestnuts and began conversations with a grower in northwestern Tasmania. With the start of Hobart Brewing Co, this year we thought it would be a good time to brew a chestnut ale as a winter offering at the brewery taproom.
What started out as a seemingly good idea quickly transformed into a fair amount of hard, manual labour due to a lack of forethought on my part as to its execution of paddock to mashtun. Trouble began with chestnuts dropping from the trees a month early due to a hot and dry summer in Tasmania. Because of scheduling conflicts at the brewery, we had to enlist the help of a few family members to pick on our behalf. They spent a day and a half rummaging through fallen chestnuts on the ground to come away with 100kg of sizeable chestnuts.
We next decided that the best way to gelatinise the starch in the chestnuts would be to boil them with shells on. Easy we thought… except each and every chestnut had to first be scored so they wouldn’t burst during the boil. We worked out that the fastest way to do this would be to strike each chestnut with mallets to crack the shells. This took four hours of constant bashing by several people armed with mallets and supplied with beer for sustenance (see photo above left).
It was during the bashing of the chestnuts that we began thinking about how long it was going to take to peel off all of the shells following the boiling process. But there was no turning back at this point, so we decided to contact a local backpackers hostel in town and ask for volunteers willing to peel chestnuts in exchange for beer. By the end of the third day, ten volunteers from six countries, including the reigning World Champion in Thai Boxing, managed to peel 58kg of the 100kg of chestnuts we started with. And, on the fourth day, we finally mashed in. The farmer picking up our spent grain that day happily took the remaining chestnuts home to feed to his pigs.
The chestnut ale is conditioning in tank at the time of this writing and is drinking well… I hear time heals all wounds so I think we may brew it again next year. Don’t tell my wife just yet – her thumbs still hurt from six hours of peeling, but the beers in exchange made her happy.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be and why?
I am a hophead at heart always scanning the taps for an IPA when I walk into a bar, but I also love rich, complex beers of the world that have stood the test of time and are not necessarily hop forward. One brewery that has always held my fascination is Traquair House Brewery in Scotland. It combines a rich history while producing world class beer on a small scale that is sold around the world.
The brewery itself is in the oldest inhabited house in Scotland with the cellar brewery dating back to 1573. In 1743, the “Bear Gates” of Traquair were closed by the 5th Earl of Traquair when Prince Charles Edward Stuart left for England. The Earl vowed the gates would not be reopened until a Stuart again sat on the Scottish throne. The brewery stood idle for more than 200 years until Peter Maxwell Stuart, the 20th Laird of Traquair, rediscovered it and reconditioned the original equipment in 1965, which included Russian Memel oak unlined fermenters, wooden coolships and a four barrel (UK) copper kettle. Beer today is brewed with the same equipment, some of which is 200 years old. With annual production reaching around 1,000 hectolitres, the beer is rare indeed.
The reason I would like to do a guest stint at Traquair House is to experience brewing in its purest form, where process and equipment have as much influence on the rich complexities of the beer brewed as do the ingredients.
I was fortunate to be able to find Traquair House Ale in Boulder, Colorado (a 7.2 percent ABV Scotch ale of amazing depth). And, here in Hobart, I sometimes find the Traquair Jacobite Ale (8 percent ABV) on the shelves of my local bottleshop, Cool Wine. Both are exceptional drops if you have the opportunity to enjoy them. Cellar them for a cold, rainy night next to the fire.
What local breweries inspire you?
The beer scene in Australia is evolving at such a high velocity these days that is difficult to keep up with new brewery openings and beer launches. Each part of the country is now developing its own beer personality through its own collection of mature, new and even newer local breweries. There are many independent breweries around the country celebrating ten year to more than 20 year anniversaries now, but this rapid growth we are now experiencing here is a very recent phenomenon.
I am inspired by many brewers from around Australia, but two breweries in particular, each with pubs, in my mind have helped to also inspire the ever-evolving palates of beer drinkers over the years, each in their own way.
When my wife, Kate, and I moved to Tasmania a little over six years ago from Colorado, we found it difficult to satisfy our hoppy beer needs. That is until we discovered Hop Hog from Feral Brewing. Feral began pushing boundaries right from their start. Hop Hog is still one of my go-to beers and it also provides evidence that the theory of lupulin threshold shift is real. That is to say that, as people drink hop forward beers they experience a shift in their palate that desires more and more hoppiness. The label of Hop Hog reads India Pale Ale but there is a line through “India” now, which shows how the Australian beer culture has evolved over the past few years. How fantastic is that!
The Wheaty Brewing Corps has also been an inspiration for me over the past couple of years since they started brewing. Passion, knowledge and creativity exude from The Wheaty Brewing Corps. And, on an even greater level, they truly have fun doing it – and are not bashful when it comes to sharing all that fun, passion, knowledge and creativity through brewery collaborations with other brewers from around Australia and other parts of the world.
They also have a direct link to showcase all of that effort and passion to their loyal followers through their legendary pub, The Wheatsheaf Hotel, AKA The Wheaty.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
Saison Dupont is my ultimate beer experience that would keep me going on a deserted island for the rest of my days. Its simplicity is its hallmark. It is an expression of everything good in beer, from its slight haziness in the glass with bubbles dancing beneath a thick meringue head through to all of its complex aromatics allowing the mind to wander and daydream. Refreshingly dry with a firm bitterness, it only improves with age.
I have never been disappointed with a bottle of Dupont.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Bob Marley singing “don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright…”
What's the one thing you wish you'd known before becoming a brewer?
A former head brewer of mine once said: “We don’t become brewers by accident.” The one thing I wish I knew before becoming a brewer was the occupational hazard of drinking beer with other brewers!
And the one piece of advice you'd give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Know exactly what you are getting yourself into. Becoming a brewer is a working way of life. Nobody becomes a brewer for the money.
The hours are long. The work is sometimes incredibly physical. The work can also seem routine or even a bit dull. Challenges occur every day that will test a person’s abilities, patience, diligence, determination and fortitude.
Seek a formal brewing education or get some hands-on experience before making the leap. In the end, the rewards are many, including a never-ending journey of increasing knowledge and experience and meeting an array of incredibly passionate and knowledgeable people.
And, in the words of a good friend, “beer has been bringing good people together from the year zero”. Beer culture around the world today is better than ever before. At least until tomorrow...
Thanks, Scott. If reading that doesn't make everyone thirsty – maybe even for a Chestnut Ale – then we don't know what will!
You can visit Hobart Brewing Company at their Red Shed on Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturdays from 2pm. If you'd like to join Scott for a tour, they run at 4pm on Fridays, but book in advance.