“Every other beer brand seems to want own the sunset; we want to own the sunrise.”
From the outset it’s clear what binds this new brewery, and it’s a vibe that lives well beyond the local pub. As Terra Forma ready their debut trio, Guy Southern spoke to Chris Nelson and Joel Pember, two of the diverse group involved in the project, about craft beer, nightlife culture and techno – lots of techno.
Terra Forma is best viewed as a collective rather than a typical brewery startup. Much like electronic music’s white label culture, which sees artists release music under different guises, the Terra Forma members' creative tentacles stretch through music, wine, geology, design and more, a mélange that's coalesced in a love of beer and the night.
Chris Nelson and Joel Pember are two of the Terra Forma team and are also founders of Juicebox, a highly-awarded digital agency that has been involved in the West Australian beer scene among its many other projects.
Although a separate business, Terra Forma’s roots began through Chris’s long friendship with former brewer Mark James, who had previously brewed at the Sail & Anchor and Indian Ocean before stepping away from beer. The pull, however, proved to be too strong as Mark’s homebrew was being regularly devoured by the creative team.
“Around 2015/16 is when Mark was using us as the guinea pigs," Chris says. "After a while he said, ‘Why don’t we have a crack at it? The chance to be a real microbrewery is here again. What do ya reckon?’.
“We decided to do it while having some wind down beers on Chrissy eve and then madly ran around putting the feelers out and, by the start of 2017, it was a case of getting to work. It all came together over, literally, over the break between Christmas and New Year's and then it was a case of, operationally, ‘How are we going to pull this off?’."
The brewery is housed in the old storage room of what was once an antique book store. This, however, was the easy part, and although site works were completed by May 2017, there was one last piece of the puzzle to complete.
“I go like the clappers, that’s my management style," Chris says, laughing. "I like to have everything down and I just didn’t want to be this clichéd story that it takes two years to get a liquor licence. I said, ‘I’ll buck this trend’ and, ah, there’s no way around it... For something of this size, it was much more of a journey than expected.”
Terra Forma’s 400-litre nano kit size was an important consideration, one partially defined by a brewery name meaning constant change.
“We saw that the beer landscape was constantly in flux, so we want to be agile and responsive to that," Joel says. "That’s why we are a nanobrewery, so we can pivot. But also be responsive to the culture that’s around it.
"You only have to go back a little bit and look at the craft beer culture in the Noughties to where it is now, and heading into the 2020s it’s a lot more sophisticated and a lot of the big guys now are the mainstream breweries. We are the antithesis of that. We are literally the nano, just punching small and interesting brews, hopefully being a little bit more underground.
"Our style, our aesthetic and our name actually talks to underground techno culture. We are massive lovers of that style of music and the night. It’s one thing that we recognised: night culture has not been tapped into by craft brewing in a big way. It’s our own little niche but it’s also our own little playground – late night bars and clubs and music venues and kick ons.
“We said, ‘What would we do and what’s authentic to us and that night life culture?'.
“I had my bucks party in Amsterdam for the club culture. There’s awesome DJs and awesome alternative bars over there. At night time, they’ve got a night mayor, same as London, because the night time economy is a big thing, right. Modern cities have a night time economy.”
Indeed, for many, Terra Forma’s monochromatic distorted design will feel nocturnal. Brewery creative designer Michael Boag’s work echoes European techno posters with touches of David Carson grunge and Tomato-era graphics – this clearly isn’t two guys and a dog nor sunset knock-offs.
Says Chris: “Everyone that’s ingrained in our culture enjoys kicking on into the night, having a good time and drinking great products.”
And although the lure of the night is most obvious, Terra Forma is, for the collective and its drinkers, more likely about an attitude as well.
“It’s a bunch of free thinking, creative people," Joel says. "It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You could be a muso, you could be a financial planner for all I care, but if you’re willing to scribble outside the edges and be a little bit more freeform and free thinking with whatever you are doing, well then, they’re our people.”
Read on to learn more as part of our Who Brews...? series.
Why do you brew?
Firstly, we love drinking full-flavoured beer, so why not brew and experiment with our own?
And further to drinking delicious beer, we wanted to create a brewery and brand that aligned to our culture. Essentially a creative outlet and a platform to collaborate with other like-minded people and brands.
What music is playing when you’re brewing?
We can’t talk about music at Terra Forma without talking about house and techno culture, with a special mention going to leading producers and label heads like Daniel Avery, Floating Points, Joy Orbison, Jon Hopkins, Nicolas Jaar and Four Tet.
The biggest influence is Daniel Avery. He’s a techno producer and DJ from London that’s a personal favourite for all of us. He’s just got an aesthetic and a style that’s fucking cool. That was a big source of inspiration.
The full list of producers and DJs would be extensive, but it’s important to note some of the lesser known artists that are on high rotation: Anthony Naples, Objekt, Skee Mask, Donato Dozzy, Leon Vynehall, Randomer, Khotin, Tornado Wallace, Move D and Nathan Fake to name a few.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
There was a big shift in the landscape of breweries and the timing felt right to get back to being agile and free with beer production. Getting craft back to just that: a craft.
What beers have you released to date?
Raspberry Red IPA, Yellow Lemon NEIPA and Hard Lemon Double NEIPA.
Where can people find your beers?
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Terra Forma was born from the idea of a shifting beer landscape in Australia. We also wanted our name to elude to the agility and responsive nature of our nanobrewery setup.
We always want to brew great beer and continually refine our recipes, but we’re certainly not staid in our approach or thinking when it comes expression and experimentation.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Toppling Goliath – Pseudo Sue Pale Ale
Rocky Ridge – Rock Juice NEIPA
Alefarm – IIPA
What beers are in your fridge most frequently?
Hop Nation – Jedi Juice
Cheeky Monkey – IIPA
Feral – Biggie Juice, Hop Hog and Barrel Fermented Hop Hog
Chris: Hop Nation set the benchmark early on. Just the way that they slow released. On a quality perspective that was the benchmark. They were right in the sweet spot of what everyone here wanted to drink. It was that high quality NEIPA style but it was also what they didn’t produce as much as what they did.
Joel: Brendan and Will [at Feral] are the master brewers. I think they are the brewers’ brewer in WA as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s very hard to beat them in terms of quality. Their brand has a lotta fun and cheekiness to it, but they are absolutely bloody minded to the craft. It’s about the sweat and heartache for the perfection of the beer. It’s not a marketing gimmick or about anything else, those guys just love bloody good beer.
Where do you see your brewery in ten years from now?
We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. At the moment we’re just hoping to make some good beer and supply select independent outlets that align to our brand. For us it’s critical that we remain small and agile so that we can be relevant to wherever beer and culture moves.
But, if we’re talking long term dreams, I think we’re all like to see a unique concept venue and bar in the front of our West Leederville brewery. We’d love to create an intimate space that is dedicated to underground beer, niche music and local culture.
If you’re in Perth this Friday (November 15), Terra Forma launch at Besk from 3pm with some of the team spinning vinyl.