One Year. Five Beers. Nine Fingers

David Anderson’s entry into the Australian beer landscape was not what you’d call a tried and true method. The catalyst for David’s transition from amateur to professional was a homebrewing competition held at Frenchies Bistro and Brewery in 2018 in conjunction with a wet hop beer festival. The grand prize? Brewing 2,000 litres of the winning beer at Frenchies to be distributed locally in cans and kegs.

Incredibly, amid a sea of pales and IPAs, a wet-hopped, manuka-smoked, porter won the day. Smoke On The Porter was released commercially in June 2018 and has remained a constant in bars and bottleshops throughout Sydney ever since. That one batch prize has since turned into a five beer core range and a new part-time profession.

And, staying true to straying just off the beaten path, it’s taken a year and four other beer releases before David has sent an IPA out into the world. In 2019. Absolute insanity.

Fresh from a first birthday party held at Uncle Hops in Sydney’s Newtown, Judd Owen – one of the judges who voted for Smoke On The Porter as the winning beer – caught up with David to see how that triumph has changed his life.


Before you won the competition, had you ever given any serious consideration to becoming a brewer professionally?

I think, like most homebrewers, it was a complete fantasy dream. I’d won a couple of other competitions before that but it was this one that really made us [David’s wife Kate is deeply involved with the business] sit up and take it seriously. I mean, I’d never actually researched what it takes to brew commercially so this gave the insight on all that.

I’ve talked to couple of guys who’ve entered these comps and didn’t win and they seemed to have this impression that once I’d won it was just a formality that I could start to brew professionally. And it’s like I still had to get an alcohol production licence and register a business. There’s no reason why they couldn’t rock up to somewhere like Frenchies and pay for a contract brew. 

 

The couple behind Nine Fingers, Kate and David, celebrating the brewing company's first birthday.

For a bloke without a brewery and a full-time job as a chippie, you’ve certainly had a very big first year as a professional brewer. What’s been the highlights?

Winning the comp was really what started it all for us. It was the final positive motivator that made us decide that we wanted to pursue this professionally.

Other highlights have been brewing for, and speaking at GABS 2019, being a part of collaboration brews with other gypsy brewers, and getting out to festivals as a beer provider where I get to engage directly with the consumers. 


Speaking of GABS, you released a black XPA for the festival. Aside from making beer nomenclature pedants combust with rage, this fits firmly in with the rest of your beers being approachable and focused on drinkability. I’m assuming this is 100 percent intended? 

Absolutely. It all fits into the gypsy brewing model. I really don’t have the luxury of gambling with the beer. Realistically, every batch is a big financial commitment and I need it to sell as soon as possible. Without a brewery of my own it’s not feasible to brew up a crazy pilot batch to see how it sells first.

We’ve been fortunate enough to stock our beers at a couple of local BWS stores and that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d opened up with an IIPA or imperial cherry saison. Also, when I get home from work, if all I’ve got to drink is a 7 percent IPA, it’s just going to put me to sleep! I wouldn’t brew it if I didn’t want to drink it.

That being said, BWS have a four product limit so now that we’re passed that, I’m already playing around with some bigger and more out there beers.


You've been mentored by Vince at Frenchies, what's been the biggest change to your approach to brewing?

Firstly, a HUGE thanks to Vincent – he is a real professional and master of the craft, as well as one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. His guidance and assistance over the last 12 months with the ten or so brews we have now done, has been consistent and invaluable. 

He has helped us to continually produce the high quality of beer that we happily release. His insights and knowledge from years of brewing on different systems in different countries have helped me in assessing what we may want to do in the future.

 

Little did he know how his life was going to change... David at the 2018 Brewers Unearthed competition.

Has brewing commercially made you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams? Are you still building houses to pay the bills?   

*laughs* No. This is still only our “side hustle” – my wife and I still have full time careers. Winning the competition did motivate and help us, but by no means did it set us up. 

We have consistently worked hard to get us to where we are, like any other start-up business. We’re proud at what we have achieved in the last 12 months and look forward to what the future holds. 


You've been getting your beer into bars and bottle-os and into the hands of drinkers with no knowledge of your backstory, what's the feedback been like from the average punter?

The feedback has been really positive. I have been doing a lot of in-store tastings and festivals where I get to speak directly to the consumers, telling them about our story and the beers, and it is such a great experience.


What seems to be the most popular beer?

By pure volume, it’s the pilsner but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the favourite. It’s probably more of a reflection of the bottleshops where we’ve been able to stock the beer. I’m sure if we had released an IPA first, it would be just as popular as anything else. 

I don’t really want to be defined the guy who makes that pilsner but it’s a bloody good beer.

 

The first batch of Nine Fingers beer to head into the wider world.

There's been a real decline in the number of gypsy brewers around compared to five years ago; do you plan on continuing down the gypsy path or are you looking to build your own space?

The exclusively wholesale business model is not as lucrative as it may seem. This probably has something to do with the decline in active gypsy brewers. 

We are in the process of looking for a location to open a brewpub. Somewhere people can come and see where the beer is made and enjoy it in a tasting room environment. We would like to create an experience for people to enjoy our beers in that would add to, and complement our story so far. 


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