When we think of WA's Innate Brewers, the phrase "quiet achiever" comes to mind. And we're pretty sure it's a description with which they'd be quite happy. After all, when your quiet achievement involves taking out three golds and a silver for your imperial IPA at the past two Australian International Beer Awards and Perth Royal Beer Awards, as they've done with Watch This Space, why wouldn't you be happy?
The brewery was launched by four couples in Spearwood in 2015, who then enticed Joel Nash back to his stomping ground from Indian Ocean in Perth's northern reaches the following year to take up the reins as head brewer. There, on a 500 litre brewhouse that was little more than a supersized homebrew kit (see below), he helped create a range of beers that's been evolving and expanding ever since, collecting fans and silverware along the way, with a trophy for their black IPA Bulletproof at this year's Perth awards the latest.
Earlier this year, it was out with the original kit and in with a 12 hectolitre brewery and a couple of fermenters twice that size. These days, that's the sort of setup you're more likely to find in a brewpub rather than a production brewery, yet the Innate way, for now at least, is to continue to build both reputation and output steadily until they reckon there's enough clamour for the next move.
As such, it's a streamlined operation. Joel handles the day-to-day operations – brewing and packaging all the beers (with an assistant one day a week), handling deliveries, ordering and so on – while the others bring their skills to the business where appropriate while remaining in their other jobs away from the brewery.
Outside rare occasions like Pint of Origin at Good Beer Week, you'll only find Innate beers on tap in venues around Greater Perth and available for growler or CANimal fills at the city's bottleshop. There's a core range of Perth Pivo (pilsener), an XPA Joel describes as "slightly wacky" thanks to the choice of a yeast that gives it a tart, funky edge, and the IIPA. And then there's "permanent seasonals" – red IPA, black IPA, NEIPA and "baby NEIPA" – plus all manner of one-offs (Joel's planning a summer of sours, for example).
Linking them all is an ethos that favours choosing the ingredients the recipe demands rather than cheaper alternatives; given they don't have the economies of scale, or indeed the scale itself, to compete on price and volume, the hope is to garner a reputation for consistently high quality beers and build from there, with the founders' outside income making this slow and steady, longer term approach viable.
Anyway, given he's now able to put twice as much beer into drinkers' hands as he could a few months ago, we figured the time was ripe to chat to Joel, to find out more about his career in beer and life outside the brewery as part of our Brew & A series.
Why are you a brewer?
I have always loved eating and cooking and it flowed from there. Brewing is equal parts creative and hands on and you get to imbibe something tasty at the end!
Kinda like being a chef but without the joint pain and drug dependence.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
Well that’s a hard one, perhaps a struggling entrepreneur…
What was your epiphany beer?
Unibroue Trois Pistoles really blew my mind with just how complex beer can beer. I haven’t drunk that beer in about ten years… because I fear it would almost be like going back and watching the first Jurassic Park again… not quite how I remembered it!
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
My first contact was through hanging out with Mal Secourable (now head brewer at The Monk in Freo) at Matso's in the early 2000s. It peaked my interest both in terms of the process and the lifestyle.
Years later, Mal gave me my first brewing job at Colonial.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
I guess that would have to be Watch This Space IIPA, although I still rate the Kolsch I had a small part in making back in the Colonial days. (That beer is now Colonial Draught)
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Is this a trick question? Um, definitely finings…
No, I don’t nerd out on ingredients like that! It’s the end product that matters and the "key" ingredient depends on the beer style not my musings.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Well, there was this one time with some hibiscus flowers… but I think that was just a bad dream.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery(s) in the world, which would it be and why?
I would have to say Anderson Valley because I absolutely love their sours and would like to know their secrets.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
What inspires you outside the world of brewing beer?
Cooking, eating, fooooooood.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You).
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
Trick question again? How to brew?
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Stop, collaborate and listen.
You can find other entries in the Brew & A series here.