It’s not uncommon for breweries to name a limited release beer after a team member, but an entire bar and new beer brand within your tent? Well, that might be a first.
The uncommon achievement belongs to Stingray, part of the team at Melbourne's Bodriggy. And it's fair to say there's not much that's common about Stingray. After helping literally build the Abbotsford brewery and bar, he took up a job as a brewer and since has gone on to lend his name to the new upstairs bar overlooking Johnston Street as well as the fridge-filling Stringrays Finest Draught.
What's more, his entry into the world of brewing didn't come from a passion for craft beer, from training to become a brewer or even studying it. Instead, Bodriggy's co-founder Pete Walsh knew he'd be a great fit for their nascent brewing team, even though it took some pushing to convince Stingray to pick up the mash paddle.
“He’s been working with us for nearly ten years now in different roles,” Pete says. “And he’s just one of our best friends and a great worker who brings a lot to the table in terms of work ethic and general camaraderie.”
As with any team they’ve built in hospitality over the years, Pete says they wanted to make sure theirs included a broad mix of characters, including those who had spent time on the tools and those keen to work hard and learn.
“[Stingray’s] definitely not a beer nerd or a born and bred brewer,” he says, adding: “It’s how we build our kitchen team in each venue. We try to have an eclectic mix of skills, not all necessarily directly linked to the trade they doing.
"It’s all about that team you build to push the concept and have the vibe behind what you’re doing, otherwise – especially in a brewery – you’re just in a factory churning and burning.”
As for how his name came to be the moniker for Stingrays Upstairs, Pete says that, as they were building the brewery, Stingray lived in the upstairs space when he was between homes.
“That honestly feels like 50 years ago now, but we just always referred to it as Stingray’s,” he says.
It wasn’t just a case of the name just sticking; they always wanted the space to have a distinct feel compared to the wider Bodriggy experience. Pete says there’s plenty of pubs in Melbourne’s inner north that have rooms upstairs that are often under-loved, if not ignored or stacked high with junk, and even some of those that open for functions aren't full of people as often as he'd like – lockdowns notwithstanding.
“It’s a real shame because they’re so beautiful, so I just wanted to have something that linked into the brand and linked into the people in the building.”
There’s also a natural energy to a word like Stingray, one they felt captured the energy they were aiming for, which they define as “boujie bogan.”
It’s that energy they’ve tried to capture in their Stringrays Finest Draught too. The beer launched in the middle of the year, designed as their take on a classic Australian draught. They weren’t sure where it would fit best in their lineup and were weighing up half a dozen different directions.
“It just felt a bit convoluted," Pete says. "We’re doing a lot of interesting, unique and eclectic beers and at the same time flying a flag and saying we're doing this really consistent lager in an Aussie format. It just felt like we were just spreading too far and I just liked the conformity of splitting it a little bit.”
Pete says they wanted to push it as a by-the-case craft beer, a lower-cost, fridge-filling option akin to Hawkers' offshoot Rover or, at a much lager scale, Little Creatures and Furphy. With a personality separate to Bodriggy but still part of it, the name Stingray was ultimately the only way they could go.
“We thought, 'This guy is making the beer, is a big part of the business and is our friend.' And we were just looking for a little more substance in the story as to why we’re doing it.”
Often, our Brew & A series is the home of longtime brewers, head brewers in new roles, or veteran hands, but given he’s sparked a bar and brand for Bodo, we figured Stingray was worthy of a spot too.
We’re told he has a might have a real name too, but where’s the fun in revealing that?
Why are you a brewer?
Mum wanted me to get a job.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
I shudder to think…
What was your epiphany beer?
Not entirely sure what you mean by that; I once had a VB literally after a hard day's work under the sun. It came out of an esky, a work mate threw it to me, it was glistening, and I almost drank the whole thing in one go. Even crushed the can a little bit when I was drinking it.
Pretty much EXACTLY like the ad. Does that count?
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
I had zero interest in the brewing world. I helped build Bodriggy brewery. They asked me if I wanted to learn how to make beer and I said absolutely not. Yawn. I can’t even grow a beard.
After getting to know the brewer a bit more I ended up giving it a go. Now I love it!
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
I’ve definitely been part of some really interesting brews at Bodriggy, but I can’t say I’ve been doing it long enough to have particular taste yet. Getting my sea legs under control running something as psycho as a bloody 40hL brew house is enough to chew up all my concentration at the moment! Baby steps...
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Being so very green to the whole process, I’m still blown away by the malt side of it at the moment, it’s so wild milling in and chewing on all the different roasts, and tracking along the way all the different elements that develop or even drop out.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
I'm not allowed anywhere near said drawing board, [head brewer] Tristan Barlow and Pete have known me a long time now. They’ve seen what happens when I am entrusted with some chalk.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
I would have thought that was pretty obvious?????? Only the finest bloody draught on the market!
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery(s) in the world, which would it be and why?
Russian River. I watched a little YouTube clip the other day and that Vinnie fella looks like a bit of a legend. And why? Legends are fun as, I guess!?
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
I love Molly Rose. We get to work with them doing some of their worts and I just really like the way they go about it on all fronts. I’ve been really enjoying Mountain Culture’s core stuff. Love the cans too, I even bought a trackers cap of theirs at GABS so that’s gotta say something right?!
What inspires you outside the world of brewing beer?
Surfing, tennis, rock shows, Maccas, The Southern 80, hiking, jogs, car races, Xbox’s, beach parties, none of the above…
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers…
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
I’m a gin girl from way back.
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
How to brew.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Learn how to brew first. Nah jokes. JUST DO IT!