Hop Nation’s poly-booze approach to the world of good drinks is set to become even more multifaceted, with the brewery installing a 1,200 litre pot still at their Footscray home this week.
Already, the overarching Hop Nation family has fingers in many pies: as well as the beers, they have the hard seltzer brand 'Ray, Site Wines which lean upon the founders' wine backgrounds, and their sour beer and barrel-focused Site Fermentation Project.
The changes currently underway at Footscray include a renewed focus on their sours, with co-founder Sam Hambour telling The Crafty Pint that, after moving brewing to Mornington, they wanted to keep their original home a place of production.
“Now all our wort is produced out of Mornington we can bring the wort up for the sour program and also use the space to make spirits,” he says.
They’ll soon have their own gin, plans are in place to work with their winemaking mates for grape spirits, and they'll quickly look to get brown spirit into barrels so they can release whisky in due course. Also among their plans is something a little less common: Calvados. Technically, Sam and co-founder Duncan Gibson's creation will be apple brandy as Calvados has to come from Normandy, but given Duncan spent time working in Europe, the Footscray team's approach sounds pretty close to Northern France...
“Duncan’s friends in France make it and he’s worked with them a few times," Sam says. "And they’ve been over to New Zealand and Australia and always bring it with them. It’s just a spirit we enjoy drinking and they’ve helped us a bit with techniques.”
The move into spirits has been part of their plans for close to a year and, while they’re still working out the finer details, the intention is to have the first offerings in bars and bottleshops by year’s end. Sam says they've more or less landed on a name for the brand but, having spent a long time discussing it as a crew, he doesn't want to jinx it by revealing it yet; all he will say is that, as with its siblings, it will be tied to a sense of place.
“It will tie into where the brand has come from and where it’s going,” he says, adding that fans can look forward to a renewed focus on barrel-aged beers again too.
“That got left a bit behind while we were setting up Mornington, but now we’ve got it set up and our staff in Mornington really know what they are doing, we can put a bit more energy into our sour program.”
The changes at Footscray are set to fit more closely with how the founders always envisioned their original home. And, once visitors are allowed back, the tasting paddles on offer will be more varied than ever.
“There will be a hundred-odd barrels and we’ve installed more tanks," Sam says. "Then we’ve got a 3,000-litre, open wooden fermenter for sour beers – and we’ve potentially got another foeder coming.
“So, it will look and feel more like a production brewery; it was a bit quiet for a few months while we were heads down setting up Mornington.”
They're also working through plans for a bar at their Mornington brewery, one that allows them to brew around a million and a half litres of beer a year. And, while this latest addition means they've got a lot of strings to their bow, Sam says their main focus is very much still on Hop Nation, which accounts for close to three-quarters of their output.
“Having other stuff complement it keeps everyone creative," he says. "And, from a sales point of view, it makes the most of opportunity and channels.”
The news comes on the back of an impressive run for the Melbourne brewery, which secured Mornington Peninsula Brewery's site last year after Tribe Breweries decided it was surplus to requirements. Originally, they had hoped to open a second production facility in Footscray but, in the face of planning delays, instead focused their energy on production at Mornington while also opening Zymurgy, a bar and restaurant in West Footscray with Julian Hills from the Yarraville fine-diner Navi.
Add in four trophies at the most recent Australian International Beer Awards, including Champion Medium Brewery and Best Pilsner for their traditionally-brewed and long-lagered Rattenhund, and it's something of a purple patch. For fans of Rattenhund, there's more positive news too: it's sticking around for the foreseeable future, with two more batched lagering at the time of writing and plans to find a stainless home for that beer in the longer term.
“We’ve ordered a couple of new tanks coming from China to dedicate to it just because of the amount of time it takes up," Sam says. "So we’ll keep doing it and just see how it goes; I think the excitement around a quality lager is only increasing, not decreasing.”
For a detailed chat with Hop Nation's other founder, Dunc, head to the Ale of the Time podcast.