Ten Years Of Crafty: In Ten(ish) Beers

When I first got in contact with James Smith in early 2017 to apply to write for The Crafty Pint, we agreed to meet up at a beer event to chat. Of course, I had no idea what he looked like, so I did what we all do in these situations – dove into the deep end of the internet to stalk him.

There was just one problem: he didn’t exist.

The guy was a ghost. He didn’t have a Facebook profile. His LinkedIn profile photo was The Crafty Pint logo. I didn’t even know enough about his past to find old school photos (don’t pretend you’ve never tried this). I eventually found an event promo video on YouTube from five years earlier that included James talking about the beer sessions he’d be running.

If anyone today were to search online for proof of James’ existence, they’d find the task a little easier. The man behind the curtain has stepped out into the light; these days he even attaches his name to the articles he writes, rather than hiding behind the moniker "Crafty Pint" as he did for the first eight years of the website’s existence.

He does still prefer to be behind the keyboard than in front of a camera, though.

As Guy Southern, another Crafty Pint writer, puts it: “For a personality, he sure is coy!”

But that’s the thing. Anyone who’s met James in the flesh knows he’s far from shy. That first time I caught up with him at an event, he was flitting between conversations like a dragonfly, chatting and laughing and shouting beers left, right and centre. He’s talkative. He’s bubbly. He's made more connections in ten years of Australian beer than many people make in a lifetime. Dude doesn’t have an off switch.

“There’s no Mr Pint without chaos," says Guy, "and yet he draws great people into his world…”

Just like Forrest Gump, who met (and sometimes influenced) several significant figures in 20th century American history, James Smith has crossed paths with (and sometimes influenced) myriad significant figures in the Aussie beer scene since his arrival in Australia in 2008. But just like that loveable Tom Hanks character, James often underrated his own significance in the scheme of things and sits happily in the background.

As we celebrate ten years of The Crafty Pint, I thought it was high time someone wrote something about James; after all, he’s the founder and beating heart of the site, the biggest beer website in Australia. But he railed against the idea of an article written about him.

“Crafty Pint isn’t about me,” he insisted. “It’s about the industry, it’s about the beer.”

However, we all know (and he does as well) that The Crafty Pint is about more than beer; it’s about people. It’s about people who make good beer, and sell good beer, and drink good beer, and tell others about good beer. So I fought hard to be allowed to write this piece on him, and he finally caved to pressure from me and the rest of the team – with the concession the article would be centred around ten of the beers that have served as landmarks along his journey. (In true Crafty fashion, those ten beers actually blew out to include thirteen beers, with plenty more mentioned in his stories. But I don’t think anyone’s complaining.)

Some of the beers listed here tell part of James’ story in the beer world. Others show the evolution of the Aussie beer scene through his eyes. Some are simply launching points for fond memories of his.

So here’s a look at our very own Forrest Gump [I preferred graphic designer Jessie Jungalwalla’s choice of Dumbledore, but OK – James] – the man who’s played a bigger role in the Aussie beer scene and people’s lives than he realises.


Harvest Ale - Castle Rock Brewery

Settling in for a Harvest Pale with the old man at the Red Lion in Kegworth in 2011.

 

James’ beer journey began in the early 90s in the United Kingdom, where he lived before coming to our fair land. (Try not to hold it against him.) While The Crafty Pint doesn’t in any way endorse underage drinking, we’re all aware that sometimes sneaky teenagers get their mitts on alcohol. As such, James’ first beer is lost to the mists of time and puberty. [If I had to hazard a guess it would have been Scrumpy Jack cider followed by McEwan's Export to "prove" my Scottish roots to my English schoolmates.]

His taste quickly moved on to real ales, as well as 80 shillings variants whenever visiting family in Edinburgh. The ensuing years saw him rack up some favourite tipples – Timothy Taylor Landlord, Everard’s Tiger, Courage Director’s, and Workie Ticket depending where he was – but at the pub his beer choices were usually governed by asking "What’s local?" and "What haven’t I tried before?"

At 22, James moved to Munich for a few months, and recalls the first beer he drank on the first evening he was there – a Paulaner Hefe.

“I couldn’t believe there was a beer that smelled of bananas that was good!”

While there, he’d visit beer halls and breweries (just to drink the beer – it’d still be a few more years before he’d gravitate towards talking with brewers about tank capacity and yeast esters) and soon realised that a night drinking helles and dunkels left him feeling fine the next morning, as opposed to the horrible feeling one would get from drinking a few pints of lager back in the UK, which in hindsight peaked his intrigue as to why.

Once he returned home from travelling, James trained as a journo and cut his teeth at the Nottingham Evening Post in 2003. As well as writing serious stuff, such as a multimedia series on life as a Muslim in Nottingham post the 7/7 bombings in London and features on the city's Prostitute Outreach Service, James had his first experience of beer writing: a story on the smallest "brewery" (read: man in a shed) putting beer into the Nottingham Beer Festival.

And it’s in Nottingham that we finally arrive at our first landmark.

“This was where I first tried Castle Rock’s Harvest Pale,” says James.

“Harvest Pale is very light in colour and booze – 3.8 percent ABV – which meant I could have two pints before reviewing a gig for the paper and comfortably be safe to drive home and file the review that night.

“I only discovered when heading back after launching The Crafty Pint and arranging a brewery tour there with my brother that it uses the classic US 3Cs hops [Centennial, Cascade and Chinook], a rarity in the UK at the time of its launch, which likely explains why it stood out. It’s gone on to become a massive seller for the brewery, who also run a chain of awesome pubs around the region.”


Hightail – Mountain Goat

A Friday evening at Goat in 2009. Tom Delmont is chatting to a shaggy haired Al Carragher of the Great Northern bottom left.

 

James and his wife Tara moved to Australia in 2008, and James wasted no time finding good beer. A visit to Australia in 2000 had left James with a low opinion of Aussie beer – backpacking through remote parts of the country hadn’t brought him into contact with the early craft culture. So he was pleasantly surprised when, upon arrival in Melbourne seven years later, he found there was something brewing.

Within 48 hours of arrival, James met with a friend at the Stokehouse in St Kilda, and selected the only local beer on the menu that he’d never heard of: Hightail.

“I was shocked that it was dark!”

This was James’ introduction to Australian craft beer, and it was love at first sight.

Shortly after this, James discovered the awesome community that is the Aussie craft beer industry, and how it attracts the best kind of folk. To butcher a quote by Hunter S Thompson: “People who drink good beer are good people.”

This discovery came when Tara met the then girlfriend of Tom Delmont, Mountain Goat's first rep, while teaching at the same school. Tom and Kate took the new arrivals to the brewery, where our protagonist was blown away. He kept returning to the brewery, ingratiated himself into Tom’s group of mates [I like to think they welcomed us willingly!], and joined the Goat Army indoor cricket team. This was only the beginning of long friendships with Tom and other Goaters.

Many key moments in the genesis of what would become The Crafty Pint took place there, as touched upon in day one of this series. And many other beers could have made this list: the first batch of Fancy Pants that blew everyone away; the Gypsy & The Goat Black Pepperberry IPA created with Mikkeller and accompanied by a dinner brought together by James, the Goat founders and the mysterious gang of hospo characters going by The 36 Collective (made up, it turns out, of people who are now key players in Melbourne's hospo scene); the Triple Hightail taken to Goat Island in the NT for a "beer dinner" in the middle of a croc-filled river; the Summer Ale can launch that involved a trip for a launch at a ten pin bowling alley in Cairns.

“The labels for the Mountain Goat & Mikkeller black IPA even include a thanks to The Crafty Pint – in probably incorrect Danish – for putting the two brewers together.”

To bring back the Forrest Gump analogy: life is like a case of beers – it’s better shared with friends.


Stone & Wood Pacific Ale / Feral Hop Hog

 

When speaking of influential moments in the Aussie beer scene, Feral’s Hop Hog and Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale could never be ignored. Just like James, both first arrived on the scene in 2008 and both served to spread the message of craft beer across the country – few people who tried these beers didn’t go on to tell others about them.

We’ve told the stories of both Hop Hog and Pacific Ale in great detail before, recounting how they came about and what part they played in Australian beer. But it’s little surprise the two pioneering beers played a memorable part in James’ personal story as well, in the main thanks to the people who made them. The founders of both breweries were kind enough to open their doors and knowledge banks to someone trying to gain a fast-tracked education in all things beer and brewing.

One of the first pieces on beer James got into Epicure in The Age was about the Great Northern Hotel in Carlton North securing the first kegs of Feral, with the highlight Hop Hog, to be poured on the East Coast – that era's version of hype.

His first meeting with Feral's Brendan Varis was a little odd, however. James and a mate just arrived from Germany had parked their 4WD campervan out the back of Feral's brewpub, and were waiting for Brendan to arrive back from judging in Sydney.

The next morning, Brendan asked his staff: "What the hell's that van doing there?" and was met with the reply: "Some guy says he's starting a beer website and wanted to meet you." But the years since have seen Tilquin enjoyed in Brendan's pool at 3am and a four-vintage Clout Stout vertical tasting shared with Nail founder John Stallwood as the kids from all three families played on a trampoline nearby.

 

Crafty Pot Sr lends a hand at the Stone Beer brew day in 2012.

 

James recalls his first pot of Pacific Ale (then Draught Ale) vividly: at a table in the front bar of The Courthouse in North Melbourne with Tom. And it was a beer that led to many adventures.

On a first visit to Stone & Wood, James and brewery co-founder Brad Rogers stayed up drinking Pacific Ale fresh from the tank and listening to The Flaming Lips until the small hours. The following year, the Stone & Wood crew welcomed his parents for a tour (and Pacific Ale from the tank). When James returned for a Stone Beer brew day, it was when his brother and then girlfriend were visiting; after a night to remember, said brother returned to the UK and got a tattoo inspired by the label from an early Mash Collective label.

"So many good times. So much patience. And so much generosity from so many titans of the industry," James says. "It wasn't until a few years in, when I fully understood the roles these people, and many more, had played in building this industry that I realised how lucky I'd been they'd effectively taken me under their wings."


Chevalier Saison – Bridge Road Brewers

 

Ask James what his favourite style of beer is and he’ll answer without hesitation – Brett saison. Despite the fact he has enough beer in his fridge(s) at any given moment to put out a house fire, his eyes light up like said fire whenever anyone so much as mentions the style.

Bridge Road’s Chevalier was James’ first saison (sans Brettanomyces), and sparked his love for the style. And he’s far from the only one in Australia introduced to farmhouse ales by Bridge Road; Ben Kraus first made Chevalier in 2005, before almost anyone else in the country was brewing saisons. (Read the story of Chevalier Saison here.)

Over the years, James’ love affair with saison has grown. Bridge Road's version was an ever-present at early beer dinners in which he was involved. He even later persuaded Hawkers co-founder Mazen Hajjar – himself an avowed lover of the style – that the country was ready for a brewery to have a core range saison, despite brewers who might know better advising against it. (The brewers were right...)

Like wines, farmhouse ales traditionally contain a sense of place; in other words, they taste like where they were made. So it seemed to be kismet when farmhouse brewery La Sirène set up shop in Alphington at pretty much the exact same time James and Tara were to start renting a house less than a kilometre away. The brewery has since become a big part of James’ life, and it’s no wonder; for James, La Sirène literally makes beers that taste like home. Their spontaneously fermented beers even feature the essence of the Darebin Parklands (which have been a godsend during 2020's lockdowns).

Several times a "quick" visit to see Costa Nikias to try a couple of upcoming releases have led to: "You know what, I've got this in a tank over here" or "Let's see how this barrel is tasting" and before long they're drilling holes in barrels and calling their wives to suggest takeaway pizza for dinner.

 

Garrett Oliver, of Brooklyn Brewery, and Martin Spedding, of Ten Minutes By Tractor, as beer is announced the narrow victor at the first Good Beer Week Brew vs Cru.

 

Due to their complex but delicate flavour profiles, saisons are widely regarded as one of the most versatile beer styles for pairing with food. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only style that works with food. It was a pairing of Holgate's Temptress with a chocolate dessert at a beer dinner at the RACV Club in Melbourne in 2009 that first sparked a realisation for James that there was something to this beer and food pairing thing, one that led to many epic lunches and dinners.

Among the highlights, other than Gypsy & The Goat, was the one Red Hill arranged with Matt Wilkinson mentioned in day one of this series (highlight being the pairing with their Temptation Belgian ale), two Brew vs Cru specials at Vue de monde for Good Beer Week, and the series of Mega Dega events at the same festival. The last of those he was involved in allowed him to introduce his greatest passion too.

"I'd always wanted the guest brewers and chefs to give us three or four songs that they associated with the beer or dish, or that represented them, to play during the meal, and the team at Green Park for Mega Dega 3 was up for it," he says.

"We had psychedelic jazz from Haru at Coedo, War On Drugs from Ron Barchet of Victory, all turned up louder than would be normal in a restaurant so you couldn't not hear it. The highlight, however, was John Stallwood getting up to talk about Clout Stout as the Imperial March from Star Wars played!"


Our Dark Secret – Hargreaves Hill, Moylan's & Nøgne Ø

 

I’m no scientist, but I think Newton’s law of gravity states that every particle in the universe attracts every other particle; a variant of this law could state that every beer lover attracts every other beer lover. This law would account for the existence of beer festivals in general, and could certainly be applied to creation of Good Beer Week specifically.

It would explain how then Beer DeLuxe staff Miro Bellini and Barney Matthews, along with Dale and Phil Meddings of ingredient supplier Bintani, found themselves musing in February 2011 that there should be an event to celebrate the beer industry coming together in Melbourne that May. James had launched The Crafty Pint a few months earlier and was in the beer garden so they mentioned their idea for a Great Beer Debate. Within weeks Boatrocker founder Matt Houghton was roped in, then Kate Paterson, who was running events for Fed Square, and the idea of "an event" had become Good Beer Week.

It would also explain how that first year of 50-plus events grew into 2019’s festival of more than 300 events that attracted 75,000 like-minded people from around Australia and overseas.

It’s this gravitational field that brought brewers from Moylan’s in California and Nøgne Ø in Norway together with Hargreaves Hill in 2012 for the first Masterclass of Champions. Together they brewed an imperial black IPA with masses of Aussie hops (including the as-yet-unreleased hop variety now known as Vic Secret) at a time when such collaborations were few and far between.

 

Cracking a bottle of Our Dark Secret at the following year's event at Mountain Goat. Still bitter AF...

 

"Something unexpected and inexplicably wonderful happened at that first Good Beer Week, and not just Local Taphouse founder Steve Jeffares turning up for the debate dressed as a sheep from their Kiwi SpecTAPular and going on to hug a blow-up sex doll onstage," James says. "In many ways, it was a moving feast – the same people at every event – but it was the moment those people knew something special was going on.

"It inspired us to think nothing was off limits for year two – even that the bigger and more outrageous we went with events, the more impact we could make. Matt first suggested the idea of bringing champion brewers from overseas together to brew with a local host, and that led to the Masterclass of Champions, which continued for a number of years, was a huge amount of effort, and never made any money for the festival – the last of those being one of my key skills, in fact.

"Brendan Moylan and I came up with the name the day before. Tom's brother Will, a graphic designer and street artist, did the labels. And I remember Kjetil Jikiun insisting it was pointless adding the Summer hops from HPA as they were too low impact to make an impression. He was outvoted, every ounce of hops was added and the resultant eight percent-plus black IPA was one of the most bitter beers every brewed here!"

The event itself again featured The 36 Collective, who went for an Eastern European diner vibe, with Hargreaves Hill's brewery turned into a temporary café. Unfortunately many attendees were still worse for wear after attending the first GABS to be held at the Royal Exhibition Building the preceding weekend; hence why GABS was moved to the closing weekend in subsequent years.

 

Masterclass of Champions transport in 2014, an inspired (OK, within our budget) move by Shev Kerin, now running events for the Independent Brewers Association.

 

The following year's Masterclass of Champions saw Brooklyn hosted at Mountain Goat, then in 2014 Rogue brewed at Moon Dog before attendees were bussed to lunch in a hot pink pole-dancing bus that got stuck in an alleyway outside CUB. In 2015, the team brought together Evil Twin, Baird Beer, KAIJU! and Edge at Hawkers, with Brooklyn founder Steve Hindy dropping in for a look.

"Sometimes when you look back you realise how crazy it was," James says. "We had Brendan Moylan going on The Brewing Network in the States and saying it was the best beer week in the world after coming in year two and Brooklyn GM Eric Ottaway telling their global staff the same thing the year after. Yet it really was a bunch of randoms from around the beer world coming up with wild ideas and making them happen with next to no budget, aided of course by an industry that to this day keeps showing how creative it can be."

While James is no longer festival director as he was for GBW’s first few years, he hasn’t completely escaped the festival’s orbit. He still holds Pint of Origin close to his heart, and so continues to organise the showcases under the banner of The Crafty Pint; I suppose he found that it’s not easy to get someone to take PoO off your hands. (You can read the Pint of Origin story here.)


Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep – Murray's

Telling the story of the Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep after it took out the 2012 Beervana Media Brew title with a perfect score.

 

When James first tried Murray’s Icon 2IPA at Beer DeLuxe soon after he arrived in Australia, it widened his perception of what beer could be.

“Icon blew my tiny mind when Tom persuaded me to spent $10 on a stubbie I could barely afford.”

But in that moment, when a well-made double IPA was a game-changer for James, he couldn’t have possibly imagined that, four years later, he’d be collaborating with Shawn Sherlock and Ian Watson at Murray’s to brew a peated imperial seafood stout made with a Trappist yeast, two types of mussels and oysters. The idea had been to create a collab that captured his Scottish heritage, that of the sole Crafty contributor at the time Nick O (a Kiwi), and that of Shawn Sherlock (a Novocastrian).

"I realised we could get blue mussels from Victoria that are also native in Scotland, green-lipped mussels from New Zealand, and I'd read there were freshwater mussels in waterways around Newcastle we planned to try to forage on the morning of the brew," James says. "When I mentioned the idea to Nick for a three-mussel stout, his wife Gia instantly said, 'The Tricep' and there was no turning back."

The beer was to be the Australian entry to the annual Media Brew competition at Beervana in Wellington and didn't turn out quite as planned. Shawn had readily agreed to using the Belgian yeast as they already brewed an imperial stout with one, and reluctantly accepted the peated malt and seafood idea. But, having traipsed around Sydney placing the mussels from the city's fish market in various bar and restaurant fridges as James and Nick toured the city, then keeping them on ice on the train up to Newcastle, Shawn put his foot down when it came to foraging for freshwater mussels. Instead, he said he preferred oysters anyway so they stopped at a fishmongers on the way to the brewery. (Read the full tale here.)

 

Collaborator Ian Watson receiving delivery of an Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep when head brewer at Fortitude / Noisy Minor.

 

The 20 litre brew fermented in just four weeks in a cube in Shawn's bedroom (Update: apparently not – it was fermented in Ian Watson's dining room; all these years we've lived a lie!), sample bottles arrived at Crafty Towers the night before the flight to Wellington, and James was almost barred from boarding the plane as his Australian visa was going to expire while in New Zealand. But none of the drama hurt the beer – it ended up winning with a perfect score of 45/45. It was then brewed commercially twice, hitting the top 20 of the top-rated Aussie beers on Ratebeer.

"I sometimes bemoan the novelty element of the beer world now, not to mention how everyone is a collaborator, then I look back and remember we made an imperial Belgian peated mollusc stout with a ridiculous label and figure I should just shut up," James says.

Perhaps ironically, around the same time they were putting those ingredients into an imperial stout, craft beer was beginning to be accepted as a "normal" sector of the beverage industry.

"It was craft beer's biggest challenge in the early years I was involved," he says. "And I reckon we reached the tipping point by 2013."


Pirate Life IIPA / Hawkers Pale Ale

Pirate Life co-founder Michael Cameron at a Gala Showcase in Melbourne.

 

"I can't remember exactly when it was, but not long after Hawkers launched their Pale Ale and Pirate Life released their first three cans ten days later, it felt like this was a significant moment for beer in Australia," James says.

"Both breweries' founders entered the industry with experience honed overseas and ambitions beyond pretty much everyone else that had launched a brewery in the years beforehand. They've followed different paths since, but I don't think the combined impact they've had since launching in February and March 2015 can be underestimated."

James first met Hawkers co-founder Mazen Hajjar when he was brought to Melbourne by fellow founder Joseph Abboud to launch his Lebanese brand 961 at the latter's Rumi restaurant in 2013. He was blown away by Mazen's life story and, when Mazen and Joe were getting serious about launching a brewery in Melbourne, James was the first "local" they ran the idea past.

"Funnily enough, when they invited me to meet them at the hotel where Mazen was staying, I took a bottle of Auld Bulgin' Boysterous Bicep along as a gift," James recalls. "Mazen had one sip and, in typical Mazen style, announced, 'Now, that is a fucking beer!'.

"I somehow ended up leading him to his first head brewer after insisting he had to try the beers at Bright when visiting the High Country to meet a potential investor; he was impressed by Jon Seltin's saison and called me a few days later to ask why I'd told him to go to Bright. 'Because Jon's beers are great,' I replied. 'I think I've found my head brewer,' was his reply."

 

Mazen Hajjar makes a first visit to Melbourne to promote the 961 brewery he founded in Lebanon.

 

While Hawkers looked to build a strong local base in Melbourne for their own beers and offered a high quality contract offering for other brewers, Pirate Life were blowing beer geeks' minds with their epic hop bombs, influenced by BrewDog where co-founders Jack Cameron and Red Proudfoot had brewed together, and throwing wild parties across the country. Launching with a 500ml IIPA as a core range beer was a statement of intent and, in many ways, they laid down a template that Balter were to follow a couple of years later.

On a personal level, James says two of the biggest events for Crafty's beer club, The Crafty Cabal, involved these breweries. One was a last Friday before Christmas session at Hawkers, while "the way in which Mosaic was stripped from the fridges by members at Pirate Life's original Hindmarsh home was akin to piranhas stripping flesh from a carcass"...


Sternweisse – Boatrocker

 

In 2009, Boatrocker released their first beer – Alpha Queen, a punchy US-inspired pale ale made with British malts. And from that moment, James' eyes were firmly fixed on a brewery that has been rocking the boat ever since.

“From Alpha Queen onwards, I’ve followed the Boatrocker story closely and become a good friend of Matt’s,” James says. "I distinctly remember sitting on cushions at the front of the now-defunct Grumpy's Green in Collingwood trying that first Alpha Queen. It's funny how some things stick with you."

It was working together on Good Beer Week that saw them become friends. Matt was initially invited to join the team as they needed someone who could build the festival website and James knew Matt had built the first Boatrocker one. Since then, particularly since opening Australia's first Barrel Room – itself a "moment" in the country's brewing story – Boatrocker have put out dozens of beers that have found favour at Crafty Towers.

Ramjet would have been an obvious fit here (although James didn't want two imperial stouts in the list), but Sternweisse makes the cut. The whisky and chardonnay barrel-aged Berliner Weisse sits somewhere between beer and wine, has delicate whisky characters and, at least according to James, is a "marvel of subtlety and complexity", a beer he believes would impress even the most hard-to-please palate.

The Barrel Room is his favourite place to drink (and, on occasion, dance) in the whole of the country and, since the Hippocampus distillery was brought over from WA to become part of Boatrocker, is a home to more than just brilliant beer.

"This entry is almost a catch-all or a nod to the brewers out there playing with barrels, blending, fruit, spontaneous ferments and so on," James says. "For me, this is the most fascinating realm within beer and brewing – it's magical and romantic as well as producing incredible beers when done well.

"We're so lucky in Australia today to have the likes of Matt, Costa, Topher at Wildflower, Will at Van Dieman, Ashley at Two Metre Tall, Alex at Slow Lane, Brendan and the team at 3 Ravens, Future Mountain, Black Arts and others exploring this niche and doing it so well.

"If I was allowed just two beers for the rest of my life, it would be a Brett saison and a Flanders red – Caractère Rouge if I could be specific – and the fact we're able to get our hands on such beers brewed locally and often with their location playing a role in them is genuinely wonderful."


Landlady – Wheaty Brewing Corps

 


South Australian beer drinkers owe a lot to Jade Flavell, AKA Wheaty Jade.

We’ve told the story of The Wheaty before, so I won’t rehash how Jade (with the help of others) turned an old pub into one of Australia’s best beer venues, and started a brewery that’s diverse in styles and regularly draws some of the best brewers in the world to come brew collaboration beers.

But I will draw the connection between how Jade has brought many into the good beer community in a way they never would have been otherwise, and how James has done something similar with The Crafty Cabal.

The Cabal doesn’t fit neatly into any category: "membership subscription", "beer club"… nothing quite seems to capture it. A sprawling list of discounts and special deals from breweries and venues around the country is part of it. Exclusive competitions and giveaways is another. (As much as this sounds like an ad, it isn’t – it’s the thoughts of someone who enjoyed the Cabal before being involved with Crafty.)

But, in my humble opinion, the best perk of the Cabal is the way it offers punters – people who have traditionally been standing on the outside, looking in – the opportunity to step into the inner circle of the beer community. The chance to reap the benefits of James’ connections in the beer industry, whether that be attending an intimate tasting with a brewer (which usually includes an impressive amount of free beer), or participating in brewing their own beer, such as was the case with The Landlady.

"For the SA launch, which had to be at The Wheaty, Jade suggested brewing a beer," James says. "So we invited a few members along for the brew day and set out to brew a version of Timothy Taylor's Landlord, partly due to my upbringing, partly because the Wheaty Brewing Corps was known for brewing outlandish beers and this was the opposite, and partly because I wanted to pay tribute to Jade, one of the key figures in good beer in Australia and another utter legend who has been incredibly kind to me over the years; she even came up with the Pint of Origin name, handing it over in return for 'permission' to call her annual festival Good Beer Wheaty."

 

The Landlady brew day at The Wheaty.

 

While COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to putting on physical events for members, the brew day sits within a lineup that includes a barrel-blending masterclass, various behind-the-scenes events, and a whole stack of parties with brewers and other industry folks.

What COVID-19 has done, however, is highlight the importance of online, leading to a reshaping of sorts for The Crafty Cabal (the name chosen for its secret society allusions and alliterative nature).

"A few weeks after the nationwide shutdown, a time which had been taken up for the most part with the Keeping Local Alive campaign and Beer Swag Day, I realised we needed some sort of 'pivot' if we were going to come out the other side of JobKeeper and make it into a second decade," James says.

"I'd always known the Cabal needed to be a greater part of what we did, and the realisation dawned that the current situation was made for it; by tying deals and events solely to breweries and venues, members had to be in the right place at the right time to fully benefit. Now we've been adding heaps of online deals and have started online events too. I can't wait to start running them in person again, but even when we do we'll still stream part of the event for members in other parts of the country.

"I've never been a fan of asking for donations or subscriptions from readers just to access what we do on a daily basis, but the Cabal is a bit like that, except instead of subscribing for access to the site you help fund it while getting heaps of good stuff in return."

(FYI: At time of writing, the Crafty team has been beavering away on a new look and enhanced offering; look out for a relaunch and "Cabalathon" in the coming weeks... and maybe another stab at The Landlady – James and Jade felt they didn't quite get the beer they were after first time around.)


Fixation IPA / Molly Rose Matilde

 

Two beers from different breweries in different styles that take the total in this "ten beers" to thirteen... It might not make a lot of sense, but it ties together some of the threads from above: the familial, collegiate nature of the industry, and how good friends are just as important as good beer.

Fixation founder Tom Delmont (above) is James' oldest friend in Australia, meaning the two have shared many beers but also been able to enjoy each other's journeys in beer over the past dozen years. And Molly Rose founder Nic Sandery is someone who's become a great friend more recently. But why choose them from dozens of close friends in the beer world?

"When you look back to where we started out, the thought that two breweries would exist a couple of hundred metres apart on pretty much the same road in Collingwood, both brewing superb, yet mostly very different, beers would have been laughed at," James says. "Yet that's what you have with Fixation and Molly Rose. Add in The Mill, Bodriggy, The Craft & Co, the original Moon Dog, the forthcoming Range, Stomping Ground in the neighbourhood too and things have changed beyond recognition.

"I really wanted to shine a light on just how close people become in this industry, how we get to know each others' families, and how the times spent together with people outside of breweries, pubs or events doing things other than drinking or talking about beer are as special as those times centred around beer. People are always asking after each other's kids and genuinely care for their friends' and colleagues' welfare, something that's been ever more important this year.

 

Molly Rose founder Nic Sandery outside what was to become his brewpub in Collingwood.

 

"Nic drops off samples with his son Seb in his arms. My eldest 'married' Tom's eldest in our garden a few years ago. Whenever I see Guy from Stomping Ground, we chat about how well our daughters got on when they met at an early High Country Hops.

"A lot of people work really bloody hard to bring joy to beer drinkers, often for very little financial reward, and a key factor behind why they do it is because of the people they work with and the moments they share with them. Without that, and without the families we have supporting us, we wouldn't have the industry we do."

Having spent time with the Crafty family, it's obvious how important a role Tara has played throughout the years. The Crafty Pint would never have got off the ground if she hadn't been funding their early years in Australia and it's always entertaining watching her keep James in his place as only a wife can do.

"Tara has told people she's never worried about me being an alcoholic," James says. "She's worried I'll keel over from being a workaholic instead! But, as with so many small businesses in the beer world, while she might not write for the site, she's the one person above all others who makes it possible."


It’s impossible to capture James Smith – alias Crafty, alias Mr Pint – in a profile like this. But hopefully you’ve got a sense of what he’s contributed to the Australian beer scene. He may not make beer (though don’t forget the peated mussel monstrosity discussed above), but in The Crafty Pint he’s made something that shares knowledge and builds connection through the power of stories.

If you don’t get the chance to meet James in person, be aware that it may be another ten years before he allows someone to write something about him again.

If you do get to meet him, you’ll no doubt get showered in the chaotic creativity, contagious passion and generosity of spirit he flings about, drenching everyone in his proximity.


You can find the rest of the articles in this series here.

Hit enter to search or ESC to close