In Tasmania’s busy beer market, gypsy outfit Ocho has managed to stand out from the crowd since launching. Stu Grant released the first beers under the Ocho banner shortly after he started brewing at Van Diemen at the end of 2015, selling direct to customers via the brewing company's website and displaying an eagerness to embrace new styles and ingredients, while exploring barrel-ageing and blending from the start too.
Ocho released one of the earliest examples of a New England or hazy IPA in Australia and was among the first to embrace the Norwegian "super yeast" kveik in his mid-strength Happy Place.
As Stu takes up the role of head brewer at the soon-to-open Miners Gold Brewery, we’re likely to start seeing more releases from Ocho too. The brewery is based in Beaconsfield, towards Tasmania’s top end and likely best known to those outside the state as the location of the Beaconsfield Mine collapse of 2006. Housed in an 1870s miners cottage, Stu says the spare capacity that comes with being a new brewery will allow him to spread his beers a little further.
“It’s been built into the business plan that Ocho will be there from the outset,” he says, "which means I can increase how much I’m able to produce for Ocho while we build the Miners Gold brand from the ground up, and we can grow together.”
With Miner’s Gold not expected to open for a few months, anyone looking to try a new release from Ocho in the nearer future might like to check out the Fresh Hop Beer Festival in Launceston. Stu's beers have proven popular at the festival over the years, with a fresh hop sour IPA taking out the People’s Choice two years ago.
“We’ve continued our three-year tradition of doing fresh hop sour beers,” Stu says. “The first two we did were both kettle sours and I was happy for those but wanted to do something with a bit more complexity to the sour character.
“I had a barrel of saison that was getting nice and funky and sour so decided to throw fresh hops in the barrel and let it stew for a little while.”
The hops used are a mix of fresh Super Pride and Cascade from Van Diemen founder Will Tatchell’s farm. Stu says, while the connection to beer’s agricultural origins is what he loves about brewing with fresh hops, the longer brew days and the dangers of ending up with a beer that tastes overly vegetal – not to mention the sheer number of cones you have to use compared to pellets – all threaten to create complications on brew days.
“Fresh hops are frankly a pain in the ass to use but I still brew one every year,” he says. “There’s something about that whole experience and it’s about getting closer to that raw ingredient than you usually do.
“The best part about it is the whole sensory experience of picking them or getting the delivery and busting the box open to have a look. It’s a much more hands-on experience of hops than we usually get.”
Ahead of the Fresh Hop Beer Festival and with Stu set to start at his new digs, we invited him to take part in our ongoing Brew & A series.
Stu Grant - Ocho
Why are you a brewer?
The simplest answer is that fermentation got hold of me – firstly the process, then the flavours produced.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
If beer hadn’t saved me, I fear I was destined for some sort of bureaucratic desk job nightmare (with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Sociology).
What was your epiphany beer?
Imported bottle of Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier, circa 2002, believe it or not. I know wheat beers aren’t cool anymore, but I’ll fight anyone who says a fresh one isn’t tasty.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
Cute story: my mum and I went halves in a homebrew kit when I was about 18 – it was all downhill from there.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
“Best” is too hard, because so much about the enjoyment of beer depends on time, place, and company, which is part of why beer is so enjoyable!
BUT... I did make a Rye Table Beer once that improved my life by at least 18 percent until the day it ran out. It was 3 percent, dry and spritzy, hopped heavily with Centennial and was developing refreshing acidity as it aged.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Can I be pretentious and say “balance”? Most of my favourite beers strike a balance between malt and hops, or between clean and complex, or between too much and not enough.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Perhaps my accountant might call into question our last GABS beer, a eucalyptus smoked dark lager. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love drinking that beer, and I was also 100 percent happy with my execution of the concept, but it didn’t sell well, haha.
Here's what we made of said unique beer, which absolutely nailed its brief, even if it didn't sell.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery(s) in the world, which would it be and why?
Jester King in Texas. I’ve followed what these guys have been doing for more than five years now, and to me they are the epitome of brewing according to a clear set of values and philosophies – though I’d probably put Hill Farmstead in the same basket.
I particularly love the way they brew in connection with the land they’re on. And,, obviously the beer is incredibly delicious, otherwise none of the rest would matter.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
Leading on from the above, Topher Boehm and the Wildflower gang have that same “this is us” approach to their brewing, which I love.
Over the pond, I’ve always admired 8 Wired – particularly as they spent so long contract brewing like me!
What inspires you outside the world of brewing beer?
I’ll be honest: the more I’ve become enveloped in the world of brewing, the more my other hobbies have fallen by the wayside...
More recently, however, I’ve developed a healthy addiction to trail running – a thoroughly enjoyable way to keep fit in an industry that, um, sorta needs it.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
I never know exactly how to answer this question, because I know that if I picked a hoppy beer I’d end up craving something sour... and vice versa. So my answer is a hypothetical beer: under 4 percent ABV, moderately tart (need that refreshment), and yet nicely hoppy (palate craves them fruity vibes).
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Apart from the wind swishing in the palm trees...?
Deerhunter, Grizzly Bear, My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Wilco but also Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
McLaren Vale Shiraz.
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
The cliché is that brewers actually spend most of their time cleaning. In reality, it’s the inordinate amount of time spent chasing deliveries, organising logistics, and so on that kills me!
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
That the world needs more stories told in liquid form, so believe in yourself [hug emoji].
If you want to try Stu's wet hopped barrel-aged saison at the Fresh Hop Beer Festival, you can grab tickets here.