This month sees Mountain Goat turn 19, which means its first beer, Hightail, is also turning 19. A year on from the brewery's purchase by Asahi, we spoke to its brewer, Dave Bonighton, about the beer then and now, and the many other Goat beers it's inspired.
When was the beer first conceived?
Probably sometime in 1996, in the backyard in Elsternwick.
What did you hope to achieve with it?
Something different to yellow, fizzy lager. I have no problem with yellow, fizzy lager, but when it’s all there is…? It’s like: "How much chocolate ice cream can you eat?"
It’s so great to see how far we’ve come since those days with the choice and quality on offer now from Aussie craft brewers.
Was it inspired by other beers?
Yes, and for different reasons. Anchor Steam’s Liberty Ale was an eye-opener: a hoppy and simultaneously malty beer, beautifully balanced, drinkable and yet complex. That was one of my epiphany beers.
The other was drinking real ale in the UK. The variety, the colours, the maltiness. I think Hightail came directly from those two sources.
How many brews did you do before Hightail was Hightail?
Many. And many that didn’t fly. We had plenty of opportunity to "learn from our mistakes".
Where did the name come from?
It was not a scientific process and there were no focus groups. I think [brewery co-founder] Cam [Hines] and I wrote down dozens and dozens of words on a legal pad. We wanted something snappy, something with a Goat connotation. Hightail stuck.
Has it changed much over the years?
The basic recipe hasn’t changed much. Ale, crystals, a little roast and Cascade hops. Lately we’ve added a little Galaxy to blend with the Cascade, but aside from little tweaks it’s been pretty consistent. A few people have told me they think it’s changed, but I put it down to more their palates changing, and our gear and quality systems getting tighter.
As your first commercial release is it your favourite beer?
Don’t make me choose! It certainly has a special place in my heart.
No plans as yet. We’ve got another year to go and anything can happen! Maybe we could put some in a whisky barrel…?
What's your fondest Hightail memory?
Seeing someone I didn’t know order one at the Great Britain Hotel in 1998. For the first year or so, Cam and I pretty much personally knew everyone that bought our beer. And most of the time it was us buying it for them!
As well as the Double and Triple Hightail, there's been Fancy Pants and now The Alphonse, both of which pay homage to the original. Do you know of any other beer that's spawned so many offshoots? And do you think there are still more to come?
I don’t know of any beers that have spread their seed so far, it’s not something we’re keeping count of. I do think Hightail is a touchstone for us, not only the beer itself but for what it represents to this place.
At its inception it was a pretty crazy prospect for publicans, but on some level it broke through. When we approach the development of a new beer, we keep that feeling in the back of our minds.
What was the inspiration behind turning Hightail Nitro? Do you think nitro beers have a big future in Australia?
Nitro Hightail was something we tried for the last 12 months, the idea was to take it back to it’s real ale roots. Lately we’ve come to think that we’re not quite ready for it yet at the pouring end. There’s an extra layer of expertise and equipment required that many pubs out there just don’t have. So we’re probably going to put it on the back burner for the moment.
Has there been any talk of Hightail, or any other well known Goat beers, being phased out since Asahi came in?
Nah, no plans. The lineup is pretty much locked in. In fact, since Asahi came in, our Richmond brewery is pumping out Rare Breeds, In Breeds, Barrel Breeds and single kegs at a rate never seen before. I think we released four different beers last week alone. Asahi value the creativity of this place, and encourage us run to with it.
It’s great to see the brewers running with it, too. Each of them is involved in the creative side, and got a great reward at the AIBA this year, winning Best IPA (Zymurgist) and good old Hightail a gold!
[Brewing these sort of beer is] very important to all of us. It’s what we do in here, and there are zero plans for that to ever change.
You can join Mountain Goat for their 19th birthday celebrations at the brewery on October 7.