Ballarat has a long and distinguished history when it comes to beer and brewing. Now, a figure with a long and distinguished history when it comes to beer and brewing has taken up the reins at a new brewpub in the Victorian city.
Aunty Jacks opened at the start of September, made possible by the team at the city’s Hop Temple venue and funding from the Victorian Government to establish an Australian Craft Beer Centre of Excellence. And the founders persuaded Peter Aldred, a widely-respected brewer and beer judge with more than three decades experience in various roles in the Australian beer world, to become part of the project as head brewer.
With virtually all beer brewed on site staying on site to be enjoyed by patrons, Peter admits to feeling like a kid in a candy store.
“It’s been amazing so far,” he told The Crafty Pint. “To be able to brew right here at the venue in the morning and come back in the evening to see people enjoying our beer has been terrific.”
Like many brewers, Peter’s first foray into brewing started in his garage as a teenager, and ended abruptly with a few exploded bottles and litres of homebrew covering his mum’s car. He didn’t let this dampen his passion, however, going on to secure a Bachelors (Hons) and PhD in Biochemistry before heading to CUB as a member of the R&D team. Following this, Peter relocated to Ballarat, where he took up a position at Federation University (formerly University of Ballarat) as a lecturer in Biochemistry and Brewing, steering the uni's highly successful brewing courses.
He held that position until early 2020, when he opted to retire. Or so he thought, as the opportunity with Aunty Jacks came knocking shortly after.
Now in, as Peter likes to call it, “semi-retirement”, his days are spent at the Mair Street brewery, working through batches to produce a range of beers designed to please anyone from craft beer novices to veterans. And it's a move he says was made out of a want for change, and an excitement to get back to basics.
“For me, it was an opportunity to take on a predominantly brewing role, which I enjoy, while still being involved in brewing education,” he says. “The fact that it isn’t in a full-time capacity was also appealing.
"For me, it was a new place, I loved the concept of the place, and I loved the thought of being able to simply brew beer as my primary role.”
For someone who has been so involved in the country's brewing industry for so long, it might come as some surprise to learn this is the first commercial brewery over which he's had control.
“I want to brew great beer, first and foremost,” he says. “However, I also want to brew accessible beer. We want to be inclusive. I’ve been drinking craft beer for a very long time now... If I was only brewing what I liked, I would be shutting out a lot of the public.
“With the range we’ve been brewing, I think we’ve covered just about everyone who wants to try something new or different.”
At the time of publication, that range had included a lager, pale ale, session ale, IPA and vanilla porter, all of which are being tweaked as Peter works towards exactly what he’s looking for from each batch.
Over the first few months, he could often be found walking around the brewery in the evening, chatting to patrons and looking for open dialogue about what they were drinking.
“The vast majority of the feedback has been positive, although I don’t know if that’s because people are too nice to tell me they don’t like something to my face,” he says, laughing. “I want people to enjoy what we make – that’s the biggest thing I am looking to achieve here."
Over his time within the industry, Peter has seen plenty of change sweep through.
“I think there were less than one hundred breweries in Australia when I started in 1998,” he says of a time when Mountain Goat was just a year old, Little Creatures was yet to launch and it would be a decade before Stone & Wood released their first beer.
“Now there are just hundreds and hundreds across the country, and probably even more than that when you look at all the people who have done short courses and are brewing on a small scale. The industry has grown massively in that time.”
In terms of what’s next for beer in Australia, a move back towards some of the beers of yesteryear wouldn’t surprise him.
“The honest answer is I really don’t know,” he says, again with a laugh. “The interaction between different yeast and hop products is always going to be interesting in terms of seeing what people can come up with.
“In terms of actually producing, it’s a lot more difficult to pick what’s next. I think we could see things start to get a bit more retro to an extent. I think we could see some lighter-flavoured lagers coming back and maybe move away from these very hop-driven beers.”
And, despite his short-lived intentions to retire, Peter will be among those brewing and drinking those beers a while longer. His new haunt has already proved popular since opening a few months ago, with Peter excited at the prospect of continuing in his role as an educator and running brewing classes there.
"Beer has given me so much," he says. "I want to give people an opportunity to get the same out of it.”