“Out of something so crap, a lot of good came from it really.”
As Melbourne emerges from another lengthy lockdown tomorrow, the words of Future Mountain co-owner Ian Jones are worth remembering.
Successive lockdowns – whether lasting a weekend or months – have been brutal for the local beer and hospitality industries, but some good has come from it.
Arguably the biggest positive change is that many breweries have become better connected than ever to their communities – something we covered in many ways through our Postcards From The Edge series and the Keeping Local Alive campaign. It turns out that if people are forced to work from home and unable to travel outside their suburbs, there's a good chance they end up discovering far more of the delights their locale has to offer.
For the barrel-aged brewers and blenders at Future Mountain, in the northern Melbourne suburb of Reservoir, support from their locals came quickly in March last year. Now, with their latest release, they're paying homage to those who helped them survive this pandemic.
Ian told The Crafty Pint that, as a brewery that had only been open for about a year when the first lockdown kicked in, they weren’t ready for the level of support they received.
“We weren’t really expecting that much, being [in Reservoir] and being a niche brewery,” he says.
As a small brewery with no canning line – they still bottle each beer by hand – Future Mountain weren’t able to make the quick switch to cans that many of their peers made, instead focusing their energy on “howlers” – one-litre refillable bottles
“We had so many kegs and we were shocked how quickly we went through it,” Ian says. “We had a table on the roller door, and on Friday and Saturday we were hectic.”
Many of their influx of takeaway regulars were people who hadn’t known much about the brewery before COVID. Yet, over time, they noticed the same names popping up each week – and often it wasn’t small amounts they were spending.
“There was quite a lot of new customers because [the lockdown] really made people seek out the brewery in their area,” Ian says. “It really made us connected to the community better than we had been.
"When you look at what some of them spent, it was significant. It was keeping people in work, the lights on, and definitely keeping the rent paid.”
Having survived 2020, the brewery team was keen to say thanks to those locals. So, in March this year as their second anniversary approached, they invited nine of their biggest lockdown supporters to a birthday celebration to help create Anniversary Ale 2. Released today, the golden sour effectively acts as the brewery’s grand cru, drawing from different barrels and with the blend chosen by their fans.
Among those taking part in the process were Oscar Wookey and his mates, who had moved into a new share house in the area just before Melbourne's second lockdown.
“We hadn’t really heard about [the brewery] before and had just driven past it,” he says.
“Instead of going to the pub on the weekend, we’d trundle down every Friday and grab a few howlers for the house to have at home.”
Oscar says it’s unsurprising Ian and co-founder Shane Ferguson soon recognised his name – he reckons they made an order every lockdown weekend last year and would have only missed a couple this time around.
“For the 2020 lockdown, it was every weekend, and part of that was just them having so many beers to try,” he says.
Having lived in Belgium a few years ago, the weekly lockdown tradition was also driven by what he liked to drink. as well as the variety on offer.
“I really got into the gueuze and the lambics over there, and when I tried the Future Mountain ones, it was by far the closest I’ve tasted in Melbourne to those Belgian sour styles."
When it came to the blending session for today's release, Oscar says attendees were given access to a range of different beers then encouraged to decide which would taste best together.
“It was a very democratic process and then they worked out what most people liked,” he says.
“There were different ages, ones with different fruit, and just different balances. Then we just wrote what we thought the tasting notes were, which was pretty daunting, though very non-judgemental."
Ian admits it was a slow process, with he and Shane keen to let each regular become really involved in the process.
“Everyone’s opinion is different and subjective,” he says.
“It’s not what Shane and I want. Some of them were super into it and it was really a good time. It takes such a long time, there’s a lot of discussions, a lot of tasting different blends.”
While the Anniversary Ale was designed to give something back to those people who helped Future Mountain survive lockdown number two, it's being released at the end of lockdown six, which was in many ways a repeat of number two.
“It was just exactly the same situation with awesome locals and the same people really,” Ian says.
“People do just revert to lockdown standards and go back to their lockdown habits.”
For Oscar, however, the regular discovery of new beers and taking part in the blend made supporting local easy. What's more, along with his blending assistants, his name is displayed on the Anniversary Ale's label.
“We feel like we’ve done pretty well out of it,” he says.
Anniversary Ale 2 is available from the Future Mountain webstore and in limited supply from the brewery's stockists.