Every morning, Drew Coleman drives to work past endless rows of sun-drenched barley and wheat.
If you drink beer in Australia, odds are you’ve ingested some barley from the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. The region as a whole has long been referred to as the barley capital of the world, and the small town of Minlaton holds onto this claim even today. So although there are only 11000 people who live in the Yorke Peninsula, and only 800 in Minlaton, somehow it still seems the perfect place for a brewery.
Watsacowie Brewery opened in late 2017, when Brendan and Roxanne Phasey decided to swap corporate life in Adelaide Hills for a family run and owned brewery in a rural town. And, if Brendan and Roxanne are the parents of Watsacowie, head brewer Drew is the adventurous family friend you call "uncle".
Drew had an unconventional entry into the world of commercial brewing. After eleven years of homebrewing, a Cert III in Microbrewing, and training under local distiller Justin Murdock – all quite conventional – Drew cut his teeth at Robe Town Brewery under Maris Biezaitis, mashing in wooden barrels with hay, branches and bricks – rather less common. (Or, as Drew describes it: “It was like a giant, historic home brew kit!”)
Maris’ brewing methods and beer styles were influenced by his Latvian background, and this all rubbed off on Drew; he became obsessed with all things Baltic and Nordic, including history, culture, food, and beer. Drew’s Latvian girlfriend turned fiancée may have had something to do with this as well.
While other brewers were leaning more and more heavily on hops, he was exploring the rustic malt characters and interesting yeasts of traditional European styles, eventually turning his focus to Norwegian farmhouse ales.
Add this to Drew’s background as an artist (his Instagram account @alphamanta brings together his two great loves, art and beer), and you can understand the sense of experimentation he brings to Watsacowie too. He takes pride in finding ways to introduce new (or old) flavours to country folk who aren’t familiar with craft beer.
As well as brewing a range of classic craft styles, he often toys around with traditional European techniques and ingredients in more mainstream beer styles, and was one of the first commercial brewers in Australia to use Norwegian kveik yeast. For the 2019 Adelaide Beer & BBQ Festival, he brewed six different kveik beers; his Seabeast, an 8 percent ABV Scandinavian Spiced Stout brewed with seven different herbs and spices, was a crowd favourite.
Half of Drew’s heart is in rural South Australia, while the other half is in northern Europe. Here he is to tell us more about who he is as a whole as part of our Who Brews...? series.
Why do you brew?
It’s my favourite creative outlet. When I’m not making beer, I’m usually thinking about the beer I want to make next.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
I’ve always been artistic and started homebrewing straight out of school, the same time I started my Visual Art degree.
It didn’t take long for me to justify making a beer for a Concept Development lesson, designing the label and recipe from a mismatch of ideas.
That led me down the rabbit hole of beer history and culture and I’m forever falling deeper.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Brendan and Roxanne (the owners) came up with the name when they’d had a few beers one night. It’s a tongue in cheek reference to local place names on the Yorke Peninsula. When their family first moved there they noticed lots of place names suffixed with the word "cowie" (Bublacowie, Minlacowie etc).
The name basically means “what is a cowie", which as it turns out is a local indigenous word for water.
What beer in your lineup best represents you, and why?
Watsakraken – Scandinavian Nitro Stout.
My creativity is in full swing with this one: a mismatch of exciting ideas and ingredients, old and new. Fermented with my new found love, a variety of Norwegian kveik, which really works wonders in this rich dark and wintery ale.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
A mix of metal, rock, 90s allsorts and sometimes a little folk and country music makes its way in.
Or if it’s a real special brew day (and there’s no customers around) I’ll be smashing some Tool super loud.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
It’s sad; it’s bare. I live too far from Adelaide to keep it stocked up with the good stuff.
A recent highlight was some Prairie Bomb that I shared with the boss – wow, what a beer! Brendan had nightmares that night, but I loved every minute of the beer.
What would be your desert island beer?
Robe Town’s Southern Ocean Gose. I could session this probably harder than anything else.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
As I’m also the artist behind Left Barrel Brewing’s labels and decals, I often get to sample Brad’s delicious beers on trips down to the city.
I’d say my current favourite would be the Sibeerian Roast, a delicious BIG wintry Russian Imperial Stout!
Is there a certain style, ingredient, or trend in beer that you’d like to explore further?
Kveik and other landrace yeasts from Scandinavia and the Baltics. Using these yeasts for new and old styles, like a rustic wit beer using the Lithuanian Jovaru, or a tropical New World hop bomb with Hordindal kveik.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
Lars Marius Garshol. I can’t stop reading all his research and adventures regarding kveik and farmhouse brewing around Scandinavia and the Baltics.
What a guy, I need to pick his brains one day!
Where can people find Watsacowie beers?
Come see us at the brewery! It’s a big venue, so bring your friends, family and dogs.
We are not massive into distribution yet, but currently there are few local pubs on the Yorke Peninsula and a handful of places in Adelaide such as Port Burger in Noarlunga and The Little Rickshaw further south at Aldinga stocking our beers.
We are, however, working on getting a canning line put into the shed next door so keep an eye out for our products at your favourite crafty bottlo hopefully by the end of the year.
Where do you hope the brewery will be ten years from now?
Not really for me to say, but Brendan’s pretty keen for it to stay right where it is now: making great beers and being a part of the local community.
Sure, production will increase, but we really just want to improve our processes, continue to focus on consistency as we grow, and most importantly have fun while we are doing it. We’ve been talking a bit about starting a barrel program and I’d really like to see that become a reality.
Follow Drew on Instagram, and check out Watsacowie's website, Instagram and Facebook page.
You can find previous entries in the Who Brews...? series here.