In April 2016, we launched a new series called Aussie Exports. The aim was to tell the stories of Aussies who were enjoying adventures in beer overseas.
The series kicked off with Alex Troncoso (admittedly an honorary Aussie, albeit one who had been head brewer at Little Creatures) and Annie Clements. They were preparing to launch their own brewery, Lost and Grounded, in Bristol. They've since gone on to build one of the most respected new beer brands in the UK so, on a recent trip back to his homeland, British expat Neil Richardson called in to pay them a visit.
I've just been handed a bottle of Lost and Grounded’s Keller Pils, straight off the bottling line before the lid goes on. Standing at the pouring bar in their shed, with its ten taps set in the wall, beneath a huge Lost and Grounded banner where a hippo with wings carries the world on a rope beneath it, head brewer and owner Alex Troncoso stops mid-sentence, takes a sip of his hoppy beer and, with a face of pure contentment, says: “If you have something really simple, do it really well. It’s delicious.”
I'm a tad worse for wear, having enjoyed many of the huge array of Bristol breweries' beers the night before, yet Alex is right: the Keller Pils is delicious; a perfect hangover beer.
It’s been more than two years since The Crafty Pint caught up with Alex and his partner Annie. Back then they were just about to put the brewery together and, as Alex and I speak, we wander among the vast array of pipes, metal staircases, soaked floors and stainless steel tanks of a brewery running at full capacity. The team is bottling Keller Pils; one member hoses the floors down, while inside the office the staff stare at computers, maniacally clicking away; everyone in this huge shed is busy working their magic.
“It’s all about Keller Pils,” Alex says of Lost and Grounded, “If you do one thing really good, all the rest should be really good. We set up the brewery to make just that.”
Alex became smitten with the style of beer while at a German hop harvest, believing that this “simple, plain, hazy beer” was where the couple’s future lay.
They also fell in love with the city of Bristol, the cultural hub of southwest England, with the city following Tasmania, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Brussels, Perth, Melbourne and London, as the latest stop for the "lost" couple wandering the earth, creating fantastic beers wherever they landed.
In Bristol, they have created a regional business, which Alex says refers to the other part of the brewery’s name.
“Grounded refers to someone who is sensible and knows what is important in life," he says, "so for us that was to stop and try to make it in Bristol.”
Currently, the brewery employs ten people: four in production, one in sales, one in delivery, one in events, with Annie the co-founder and visionary creative lead. Indeed, according to Alex, Annie has been the driving force behind Lost and Grounded’s success, pushing the brand through the city on the back of their Keller Pils, limited release beers and popular events.
Initially, Alex had said to Annie he was going to brew just two beers but his partner told him that was ridiculous. Annie was wise to the fact there was an insatiable appetite among drinkers to hunt down different beers.
Alex suggested three and was told in no uncertain terms: “No!” So, he sought the advice of his good mate, Justin Hawke, head brewer and owner of Moor Beer, explaining that he thought four now sounded a reasonable number, until Justin explained that four was an unlucky number in some cultures. As a result, Lost and Grounded have six beers in their core range (although Alex managed to pour nine throughout the interview).
“We thought quite carefully about what we wanted the company to be like, what the beer had to be like and the branding. There are a lot of cover bands out there, but we need to see more originals,” Alex says.
One thing the team agreed upon was the need to be good at what they were doing.
In 2017, at a beer festival, a German came up to the Lost and Grounded team, demanding to taste their version of his homeland’s keller pils, stating: “I’ll be the judge of this.” Sure enough, his approval was forthcoming.
Alex says the ethos of the brewery is to believe in yourself. If you look at the design on the bottle of the Keller Pils, you will see a hippopotamus in a boat, rowing across a lake; “That represents being prepared to back yourself and go all the way,” he explains.
Making craft lagers can pose significant challenges, particularly in terms of selling it when, says Alex, it “always ends up being a conversation about price.” At a recent tasting at a beer festival, he used an analogy from a restaurant when speaking to a group of drinkers.
“You ask for bread and butter and what comes out is some nice, crusty sourdough," he told them. "So you don’t mind paying four quid for it. But how would you feel if what came out was bread that wasn’t as good as the sourdough, and you still had to pay the four pounds?
“So, the analogy is about there’s more to lager than it being just a commodity product.”
Having successfully established the brewery, where do he and Annie expect to see Lost and Grounded in another two years?
“We started this as a regional business and, two years down the line, I like to think we are well on the way to that," he says. I’d like to think there [would be] at least double or triple the tanks we have in here now, with 25 people running around this shed, with a sales team down the road.”
And, as we take a sip of Apophenia, an 8.8 percent ABV tripel, Alex explains the key to reaching that point: “It’s only the people in the shed that will make a difference.”