There aren’t too many new brewers who have seen the first slabs of their beers carried away by a helicopter, dangling on a long line as they are whisked into the heart of the Tasmanian wilderness. But that’s how Will Horan waved goodbye to his Du Cane beers earlier this year – a consignment of cans added to the provisions of a mountain hut, to be imbibed by bushwalkers and their guides under the Du Cane Range.
It might seem a strange place to start selling your beer, but it’s not so unexpected for Will, having spent many years as a guide himself, taking visitors hiking and fishing in some of the remoter parts of Tasmania.
When one of the guiding companies for whom he previously worked commissioned him to brew for their trek, Will jumped at the chance. Even before his beers became part of the huts’ provisions in the mountains, he'd found a way to get his beers there. Indeed, some of Will’s first homebrews were consumed beneath the dolerite summits of central Tasmania.
“I had realised that brewing could be my next 'career move' in a very career-less lifestyle,” Will explains. “I spent many hours walking behind my group, daydreaming of different beers that I would make.”
Full disclosure: I have worked with Will on the Overland Track. Our backpacks, normally carrying around 25 kilograms, would always bulge a bit more with the stash of stubbies and cans we’d add to our usual supplies.
It was an award-winning homebrew entered in an event at Launceston bar Saint John back in January 2015 that spurred Will’s career in brewing. He took out first and second place and was able to brew the triumphant beer – a stout – with veteran Launnie brewer Paul Morrison at his Morrison Brewery.
Will was subsequently offered a job as an assistant brewer; today, while continuing to work for Paul, he brews the Du Cane beers in the Morrison brewhouse.
“He’s just such an excellent brewer,” Will says of his mentor. In particular, he refers to Paul’s consistency and his reliable attention to detail.
“I’ve learned a lot to do with the process of making good beer,” he says. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to cut my teeth.”
For those who know him, it’s not surprising that Paul's particular commitment to specific styles has had an influence on Will, whose own beers have often been shaped by beer travel, and are frequently references to, as he puts it, “stylistic experiences I’ve had around the world”.
For example, the stout that won the prize in 2015 arrived shortly after a stint in the Netherlands, where he would pass many hours cycling to and from the De Molen brewery in Bodegraven.
“I originally wanted to start a stout brewery,” he says. And, while that hasn’t exactly come to pass, the Du Cane ethos has followed in this mode: searching out beers with deep roots in different places, and polishing them. So, while Peak is a very German, dry, flavourful pilsner that might come straight out of Berlin – reflecting the changing mood of craft beer, as drinkers return to traditional styles – the Hut pale ale uses all Tasmanian ingredients, highlighting the Galaxy and Cascade hops sourced from Tassie’s pre-eminent hop farm at Bushy Park (where, conveniently, his brother works).
These days, the mountain-themed beers aren’t restricted only to Tasmania’s remote hiking routes – Du Cane’s attractive white cans are found in plenty of locations at both ends of the island. But the beer maintains its connection with the high country, frequently stuffed into backpacks and bushwalked into many of the state's most far-flung spots.