Fans of Boatrocker Brewery may have wondered what roads were left for the Braeside pioneer to explore. The brewery is at the forefront of barrel ageing and sour beer production in Australia and has been forging partnerships with leading chefs, bars and restaurants too.
But, as one might expect of the brewery that recently persuaded Dan Murphy's to stock a raspberry Berliner Weisse nationwide, the team has another trick up its sleeve. As of July 1, 2017, Boatrocker Brewery will be no more. In its place will be Boatrocker Brewers & Distillers as it merges with award-winning West Perth distillery Hippocampus.
The latter, which was founded by the Made by Hand group that took a 33 percent share in Boatrocker in 2015, is to move its operation to the Barrel Room in Braeside, where distiller Alex "Lex" Poulsen (pictured above) will work alongside brewery founder Matt Houghton and his team.
This isn't the first time an Australian brewery has added distilling to its output – we've got a story on the growing number of brewers making spirits in the pipeline – but the uniting of two of the country's top rated producers under one roof is bound to set booze aficionados' pulses racing. Readers of this site will be well aware of Boatrocker's beers but may not be aware that the very first batch of gin released by Hippocampus won gold at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Matt (pictured below) says a driver for the merger was the potential for creative collaborations between the two and the opportunity to "push the boundaries of distillation" – as well as bringing Lex's knowledge base on board.
"This is something that has always excited me," he says. "We have been playing with beer and spirits to some extent ever since we started.
“I am really looking forward to having Lex on our team bringing his knowledge of craft beer and craft spirits. Once we settle production of what we are both doing now we have plenty of ideas for collaboration between kettle and still."
The decision to merge the two businesses moved from original idea to green light in a matter of weeks. It will take a few months longer for Lex to build up enough stock to cover the relocation period before moving and installing the copper still in Melbourne. But they're hopeful of being operational sometime around September.
Lex joined Hippocampus in November 2014, where he is responsible for production of its entire range of gins and vodkas. Previously, he worked at Little Creatures, Cheeky Monkey and Norwegian brewery Ægir.
"I lived in Norway for a year and that was my first taste of commercial distilling," he says, adding that the merger with Boatrocker is "pretty amazing".
"Having barrels and the team in the brewery – there's a lot of possibilities there, which is really exciting."
Howard Cearns from Made by Hand says: “Conversations between the two craft producers about ideas for collaboration led to the thought of combining the two under one roof and that makes sense to be a Melbourne roof being closer to the majority of our customers and where the beer ferments can be useful to some spirit production, particularly our vodka which is made from the ground up – essentially taking quality wheat and embarking on the initial stages of beer production to create our own distinctive base."
He says ultimately the aim is to have a base for Hippocampus and Boatrocker in WA too, but for now the focus will be on Melbourne.
As for what future collaborations may look like, it's early days. There have been early phone conversations, says Lex, while Matt points out that his core range includes the Miss Pinky raspberry Berliner Weisse while Hippocampus has released a seasonal raspberry gin.
"One of the ideas we've played around with is Miss Pinky cocktails," says Matt. "They're already at a number of Melbourne bars. If we can supplement that with a raspberry gin that would be exciting."
As indeed is the thought of what will emerge from this collaboration.