When the local beer world learned Steve “Hendo” Henderson (above right) was shuttering BrewCult, it was unclear if we’d see beers with his stamp on them again. True to its name, BrewCult had amassed a devoted fanbase of beer geeks, while also taking home Australia’s first Champion Gypsy Brewer trophy at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2016.
However, since leaving the brewing company he started, Hendo’s path has led him to work with far more brewers – and beers – than ever before. After a short stint at Stone & Wood, he launched Rockstar Brewer, a consulting business that occupies its own spot within Australia’s beer industry. Since starting out close to a year ago, Hendo has set out to become a consultant, educator, lab technician, software aficionado and all-round problem solver for breweries across the country – and occasionally a little further afield too.
“Every brewer out there strives to make the best beer they possibly can and they do have a quality focus,” Hendo says of an approach he says needs to be flexible because of the diverse nature of the industry.
“But some brewers have formal education, some go from being homebrewer to pro-brewer, so my challenge has been to calibrate to each client what they actually need.”
It means he spends about a quarter of his time in breweries, working on the brewery floor. But a lot of his teaching and consulting comes through the computer screen, with YouTube videos, web courses and online meetings letting time poor brewers learn at their own pace.
“I really wanted to take modern and technological touch to it,” he says. “Using the technology means I’ve been able to meet a much larger global audience. I think it’s revolutionary, it makes [education] so much more accessible.”
That focus on technology enables him to work closely with brewers even when the distance between them might be great. Often, it’s through Rockstar’s Mastermind program, aimed at brewery owners or head brewers looking to become better equipped to look after the beer in their hands.
“It’s a membership-based program where I create video content for my members,” Hendo says.
“I’ve created a video course on how to create a lab for less than $3,000. I’ve got one that guides you on everything you need to do get your beer into major retailers; it’s a little dry but it’s about building a quality system, which you need to do.”
Each month Hendo gets together with his Mastermind clients and while most of them are Australian, he also has clients in Mexico and the United States.
In Australia, clients include the likes of Gold Coast’s small and fairly new Currumbin Valley Brewing to the rather less small and highly-awarded Black Hops, and The Coastal Brewing Co in New South Wales.
“It’s a really broad spectrum of brewers – some are brewery owners, some are brewery workers, some are startups,” he says. “Some are yet to start up and some have been established for a long time and the sizes of the breweries varies.”
One thing that ties them all together, Hendo says, is the their commitment to learning, which, in his words, is what makes them the “rockstars”.
“They’re the ones dedicated to making their beer better and they understand that it’s going to grow their business.”
He's keen to point out he doesn't see his service as an alternative to gaining a brewing education.
“I don’t compete with the formal education providers, in fact I encourage my Mastermind members to go and get an education but I’m there to provide practical skills to operate a brewery,” Hendo says.
“I don’t teach people how to brew – it’s not my job. I’m there to facilitate them and to give them practical skills in their brewery to be able to make their beer to the best of their ability.”
As beer consumers become ever savvier, he says quality is paramount: “There’s a trust relationship between the brewers and the consumers. If you want brand loyalty then you have to deliver."
In a world in which social media holds such a prominent position, there are plenty out there keen to share their opinions in Facebook beer groups or on beer rating sites.
“That’s coming from a space of them not trusting the brand,” Hendo says of people taking to the internet to deride brewers or beer. “If I’m standing in a bottleshop and there’s a wall of beer, then there are beers I avoid buying because I’ve had a bad experience with that brand.
“Even if you’re a brewer who doesn’t have a core range who is having weekly can releases or something like that, you still have to do it well. Even if you’re doing something like using extreme ingredients or doing something crazy, you have to do it well.”
More recently, Hendo has turned his focus towards brewing software too, partnering with American company The 5th Ingredient to become the Australian and New Zealand brand ambassador for their Beer30 brewery management system. It's something that appealed to the Hendo from his former life working in IT.
“Over the years I’ve done all sorts of spreadsheet kung fu on managing brewery data and that kind of thing and it is really difficult,” he says. “So, I know the perspective of where brewers are coming from but also having that IT background helps me with it too.”
Given the broad range of services he now offers, he’s dropping the final word from the Rockstar Brewer Academy business name. And, while he might have never imagined himself in the service industry, it’s a twist for which he’s grateful.
“I feel like I have a larger effect on the industry as a whole because I deal with all these brewers who are awesome and making this great product," he says, "and it’s the consumers who benefit.”