For all the attention it’s had – for the lagoon, the beach chairs, the 100 hectolitre brewhouse, the hidden tiki bar – there’s one part of Moon Dog World that’s a little less charted. The very top of it.
Sure, you might have heard about the retractable part of the roof, but what about the expanse of solar panels? While they're far from the only brewery making use of the sun to assist with energy generation, the size of their Preston warehouse – just walking from the car park at the rear to the door to the lagoon burns off enough calories to cover your first mouthful* – means they were able to install 317 panels. But, as brewery co-founder Karl van Buuren says, they've got a lot to power.
“We’ve got a brewhouse that’s capable of making ten million litres [per annum] and we’ve got a venue that’s open seven days a week and can hold up to 700 people," he says. "So we’re going through a lot of juice.”
To celebrate the solar panels coming online, the brewery released The Future Is Bright, a lean IPA launched with Karl and co-founder Josh Uljans basking in the sun – on the roof. While it was undoubtedly a moment to celebrate, the name of the beer was rather unfortunate as it was released as the country's venues were being shutdown, leaving the beer and hospo worlds with a future that remains rather unclear.
“Naming it the Future is Bright was a bit weird,” Karl says. "That was the key driver behind me and Josh on the roof."
Both the size of Moon Dog World and the fact it become a destination for thousands (at least until COVID-19 kicked in) might suggest the building was a natural fit for their grandiose vision. But initially the roof proved more of a stumbling block than all the rusted parts that had to be removed before they could move in.
“When we were first looking at the building, we didn’t want to take it because the roof wasn’t suitable to put solar on,” Karl says. “So, as part of the lease negotiations, the landlord actually replaced the entire roof.”
Today, the amount of power generated by the panels going back into the network is such that, if they’d kept adding more, Karl says they’d be classified as a power station.
“Because the venue has been closed for the last couple of months, we have been feeding a fair bit back in,” he explains.
Looking ahead, the plan is to explore further sustainable options, such as solar heating, with plenty of roof space still up for grabs.
“It still doesn’t even cover a third of the amount of roof we’ve got,” Karl says. “Only half is facing north because we didn’t want to put anything south as it’s less efficient, but there’s still quite a bit of that half if we want to put more on there.”
Back when they were based out of their original home in Abbotsford (which still operates as a brewery and, as of June 1, a venue again), if you were thinking of words to describe Moon Dog, aside from ridiculous or daft, you might plump for ad hoc. That brewery and venue were built with old milk vats and an assortment of reclaimed and repurposed items, growing organically over the years; the loose changed found down the sides of the old furniture would likely amount to more than was spent on buying it.
When planning Moon Dog World, not only did their significantly larger budget allow them to recreate their singular vision on a rather grander scale, it gave them the chance to think about how to brew greener.
“It was a multimillion-dollar project,” Karl says. “So, when you tack on this part of it, it doesn’t seem as unreasonable; it’s just an expense you have because we want to be a sustainable and ethical company.
“It’s really important to consider it upfront; if you’re looking at building a new brewery or expanding an existing brewery then incorporating sustainable or renewable processes into equipment or processes as part of the budget is important.”
Their panels produce an estimated 390 kWh per day or 142,200 kWh per year, which they tell us will save an estimated 4,195 tonnes of CO2 saved – or 16,780 trees planted – over their lifetime. Put another way, they reckon in a single month this year they saved 22.5 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to one car on the road for five years.
Aside from future plans to brew cleaner, there are plenty of other projects in the works. Just a few months after opening their vast Preston venue, the team has been open about their intention to open more Moon Dog Worlds in other parts of Greater Melbourne, both east and west.
From Monday, they’ll be allowed to open their doors for up to 20 people at a time – in the case of Moon Dog World, a mere 700ish under capacity – although, as with everyone in the industry, they can do little more than wait and see what the future holds.
“There’s not a huge amount of appetite for six, seven or eight hundred person venues in Melbourne, which is definitely what we want to do,” Karl says. “We’ve had such great feedback about the kind of experience people have at Moon Dog World and we want to expand on that and provide something new that’s still on that epic scale.
“It’s definitely not off the cards but we’ve put a bit of a pause on it and we’ve got other projects in the works.”
* Not scientifically proven.