Since the launch of their first beers at their panoramic brewery home at Cape Naturaliste in South West WA almost a decade ago, Eagle Bay Brewing have established themselves as a key player in the Western Australian brewing scene.
Next year sees the family-run operation mark ten years of beers (and more, given they produce wines and run a restaurant and flourishing kitchen garden too). Plenty has changed over that near decade in business, but perhaps the biggest shift was the recent decision to appoint a new head brewer to take up the reigns from co-founder and Nick D'Espeissis as he moves into a brewing operations manager role.
Stepping into his shoes is Keegan Steinbacher, who has spent 18 months working alongside Nick and prior to getting the nod. It's a move that will give him greater ability to guide the creative direction of Eagle Bay's beers, particularly the popular Single Series.
Keegan has been a brewer since 2015, after deciding it was time for a change from his job as a fitter and machinist working in diesel engine reconditioning. After a period of travelling, he settled into an assistant brewer role at Mash Brewery in the Swan Valley alongside Charlie Hodgson (now at Helios Brewing), before lining up a move to the Great Southern.
**Jono Outred** caught up with him to find out more for our Brew & A series so punters can get better acquainted with the man behind Eagle Bay beers.
Why are you a brewer?
I spent ten years working on diesel motors getting filthy and earning good money but feeling wholly unsatisfied with it all. I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do and needed to get out well before it got too difficult to leave. So, I sold my house and quit my job, went to Europe for four months with my partner and asked myself: "If I could do anything in the world, what would it be?" And here I am!
Fortunately, the job suits me perfectly and I get to work with epic people both inside and outside of Eagle Bay.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
I’d like to say a landscaper because it seems incredibly satisfying and rewarding. Having said that, I am a useless gardener so make of that what you will.
What was your epiphany beer?
I unfortunately have no idea what it was called. But I know it was a saison that I purchased a pint of at the Norfolk Hotel in Fremantle about eight years ago. It was this monstrous blonde saison at 11 percent ABV and way back in 2011-ish it cost me $18 a pint and was the most ridiculous thing ever.
I’d had good stouts and and a whole bunch of old American IPAs but this thing was next level. Bright and punchy and stupid amounts of lemon zest.
That beer showed me this whole other world. It will now forever be the one that got away as I have no idea what it was called although it also remains perfect in my mind and I can never tarnish that, so maybe it’s a good thing?
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
Jumped on the pack line and deliveries at Mash in 2015.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
Eagle Bay IPL.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Different yeasts. The challenge of different yeast strains is my favourite part of brewing. For me it provides the most complexity to a beer and the best one to play magic tricks on consumers who have no idea how we do it.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Yeah, I can think of a couple. Some of the ideas were solid but the final product was not so pretty.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be and why?
Garage Project. They put out a ridiculous amount of different beers and I can’t recall ever having a bad one. I’d love to hang out in the Wild Workshop for a long time.
Which local (Aussie or international) breweries inspire you?
Artisan Brewing – For making the cleanest Belgian beers and saving me on airfares to Europe.
3 Ravens – Brendan [O'Sullivan] is constantly doing something ridiculous that always pushes boundaries, always seems to be busy, but always has time to answer a few questions. I’m also not yet certain he’s not a robot.
Balter – Excellent brand execution from day one. Not sure I’ve seen them put a foot wrong yet. You know you’re doing things right when the punters start complaining about you being too consistent.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
Saison Dupont. It does everything I need it to. Fresh and vibrant for hot days. Complex enough for cold nights. And pairs excellently with whatever food I can scavenge and hunt on this desert island. And if I don’t get a fresh supply on the reg it should store well in my sand cellar.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
If I’ve got enough Saison Dupont I’d be having regularly parties with all my coconut friends so I’m gonna need a good selection of my favourite Rolling Stones songs and Aretha Franklin’s Respect. It’s impossible to sit still when that song is on. Pure toe-tappin', D-floor starting goodness.
A little King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard thrown in for high leg-kickin' and long hair-whippin'.
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?
I wish I’d known not to stress about every single bit of negative feedback. In this industry opinions are everywhere, and punters quite often dislike your beer before they’ve even tried it purely because they have preconceptions about it at some point. You cannot please everyone all the time.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Work your ass off and do the dirty jobs no one else will. But never let anyone rip you off. Working for free is not a required part of your way into the industry. Get out of those companies before you become too jaded. Brewing is not meant to be like that.
Does that count as one piece? Ah well...
You can find other entries in the long-running Brew & A series here.