How fast things can change... When working out who to approach for this series, the person we're featuring today was head brewer and co-owner of one of the fastest-growing and best-loved breweries in the country.
When we asked him if he'd be keen to get involved, then sent him the questionnaire ahead of calling him up, that was still the case. Yet, when it came to making said phone call – from a picnic bench in the middle of the road in Nhill, in regional Victoria, of all places – it was more to chat about arguably the biggest change of his professional career.
Thus, as his answers hit the site today, they land in a landscape somewhat altered from when the questions were sent his way. In many ways, nothing has changed: Scotty Hargrave is still head brewer at one of the fastest-growing and best-loved breweries in the country and he'll still be heading to the brewery in Currumbin Waters to oversee production of as much XPA and friends as his growing team can fill their tanks with, but now it's as part of CUB's expanded craft portfolio.
The beer and recipes won't have changed, although your opinion of the brewery and whether you choose to continue supporting them might have done. What won't ever change is Scotty's remarkable run from quitting his job as a concreter in Canberra to start brewing at Sunshine Coast Brewery around thirteen years ago. The intervening years went on to include stints at Stone & Wood in the brewery's early years, the Byron Bay Brewery prior to its sale to Lion, and then Balter, where trophies have been amassed regularly on the back of his beers along the way.
When it comes to those awarded by industry experts, you have AIBA Champion Large Australian Brewery 2019, AIBA Best International Style Pale Ale 2019 (Strong Pale Ale), AIBA Champion Medium Australian Brewery 2017, and AIBA Best International Style Pale Ale 2017 (XPA). As for the public votes, Balter XPA topped the GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2017 and 2018, while the brewery was voted as Australia's best in the 2018 and 2019 Australian Craft Beer Surveys conducted by Beer Cartel.
While helming the brewing side of Balter as it's grown at a rapid rate, quickly outgrowing the original warehouse, he's found time to contribute to the industry, most recently in a role on the Independent Brewers Association's technical advisory panel. Alongside brand director Stirling Howland, he's regularly given up time to chat to members of our Crafty Cabal ahead of new beer launches too.
While we're unlikely to agree often on what should be blasting from the speakers, I've been able to enjoy a few beers with him outside official duties, so to speak, and I'm sure he's planning to find more time for life away from official duties following this month's announcement. If he can loosen his grip on the brew deck just a little, that is.
What's been your highlight of the past decade?
Well, as far as beer is concerned, the biggest one for me obviously would be Balter. To get to build my dream brewery with just a handful of what were then non-beer industry peeps back in 2015 has gotta be the pinnacle. Then add the insane way that people took to our beer right through to today, where we have 60-odd staff who show up everyday to make the best beer we can and just be total legends, is really quite something... All that with beer in the market for just a bit over three-and-a-half years and, yeah, no wonder we're exhausted haha...
And I have to mention XPA: this little beer that was born in my garage that then just took off and took us all with it has been astounding, really. To see how well it's done commercially, with the punters' love for that beer, and to score a couple of gongs along the way is very humbling. It's a beer that has more or less given everyone at Balter a job.
I've said plenty of times before that I certainly didn't invent the term "XPA" and there were a couple of great local – but very different – ones before ours, but I think we really did help make it a "thing", which is still just very surreal.
What's surprised you the most about the Aussie beer scene?
For one, the incredible explosion of new breweries – folks finding a way to get in there and have a crack. Brewing is a very tough business and to see folks going: "Fuck it, we're just gonna have a go anyway" is always inspiring.
And with the upswing in new breweries has come a wider repertoire of beer styles and an audience for them. It really is mind-blowing to see the range of different beer styles in bottleshops and pubs all over the country these days, basically driven by the punters' demand and appetite to have more well made local and more diverse beers available.
What are your thoughts on the health of the beer industry as we approach the end of a remarkable decade?
I think it's at an interesting point in time. With a lot more breweries now, even since we started, it's so busy and crowded out there that competition is fierce, and if we were attempting to start Balter today, it may well have had to be with a different model. I kinda thought we were mad building a 35hL brewery as a startup. Turns out it should have probably been bigger.
I don't know if that still applies these days and it seems that the brewpub model might be the best way forward in a lot of cases. Having said that, a lot of brewpubs want to start selling cans or wholesale beer fairly soon after opening and that's understandable too. And, yeah, there's a couple of recent entrants who are going for blue sky so, all in all, it seems like there's no shortage of dreams of all sizes... None of it is easy, but all of it is worthy...
Also, I think the industry is no longer in its infancy, it's now more like the awkward teenager stage. There's a lot more confidence and skill, but there's also a bit of teen angst as well.
I think we need to realise we have bigger threats in this game than each other. We are competing for the attention of a whole new generation of people, the very first generation in this country to expect to have 30, 40, 50 beers to choose from when they buy alcohol, and that is absolutely fantastic. But they are spoilt for choice and attention across many beverages and we need to fully realise that beer is only one of the myriad choices they have.
What's your number one goal for the coming decade?
I've had lots of people over the last few years remind me to stop and smell the roses and absorb all the great things that have happened. But I'm such a dumb shit that I've managed mostly not to do that because there is always the next thing to tackle, next beer to make etc.
So the 20s is going to be about looking after myself better and hopefully repaying the significant sacrifice that my family have had to bear. I am blessed with an amazing wife and two daughters who have supported me and encouraged me and backed me all the way and I owe them everything. And, for their sakes and mine, I'm beginning to understand that it is just beer...
And, if you had one Christmas wish for beer in Australia, what would it be?
Two small ones: that Greg the goose bites Will Irving [of Feral] in the nuts – and a Wildflower x Mountain Culture collab.
We're opening a door on Crafty's Advent Calendar every morning up until Christmas Day and you can find them all here.