There are many different pathways that can lead people into the beer industry and, while some pre-craft beer careers seem to crop up more common than others, it's what people do in their spare time that often seems well suited to making the leap.
In the case of James Isacsson, his former hobbies might not come across as a natural fit for brewing at first, but on closer inspection they seem the perfect fit for creating Avnge Brewing with his partner, Steph Coats.
For close to four years, James was an avid graffiti artist, with his stencil work first appearing in Darwin and later Melbourne after he made the move south. When he decided to call time on his life as a street artist, James' next creative outlet drew on his love for Star Wars, creating a Boba Fett costume that's been approved by Disney.
“You have this list of requirements and it has to be screen accurate," James says. "So mine’s based off The Empire Strikes Back Boba Fett, and I had to source parts from overseas and paint everything myself. The helmet took me 60 hours to paint.”
Given that background, it feels right that his love for homebrewing has seen him take his first steps into professional brewing, where creativity needs to be matched by consistency, a little like the times his love for design has been tempered by an eye for precision.
“I had a really great time doing that for about a year or two, but I’ve just always needed a bit of a creative outlet. I feel like I get that through creating beer and being able to combine that with my artwork through labels is so much fun.”
Eager to gain a better understanding of the world of brewing, James is currently undertaking a Certificate III in brewing at Kangan TAFE and has brewed his first beer at Killer Sprocket in Melbourne. That beer, a West Coast IPA named Hopbotomy, features James artwork, while the Avnge name is borrowed from his time as a graffiti artist.
“As I started brewing and went down this rabbit hole, I really wanted to do my own labels and add my personality to it,” he says.
And as someone who has moved between different subcultures, from stencil art to Star Wars conventions and into craft beer, James says he's experienced a familiar warmth within Melbourne and the wider beer scene.
“There are similarities, everyone knows everyone and everyone has this real passion for quality,” he says.
“Everyone’s been great to work with. Nobody gatekeeps information too much."
Following on from launching their first beer at Melbourne’s Grape & Grain over the weekend, we caught up with James to hear about his passion for pumpkin beers, TISM and California's brewing industry as part of our long-running Who Brews? series.
Who are you?
We are a husband and wife team, James and Steph. We both work full-time where I have been focusing on everything from brewing and recipe development, and Steph has been managing branding and social media.
Where do you brew?
Currently through Killer Sprocket in Bayswater. We do not have our own home at the moment.
Why do you brew?
I love everything to do with beer. Being able to take an idea/recipe from a pilot batch at home then scaling it up, through to pouring on tap, gives me great satisfaction.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
My wife Steph being from the USA (California) introduced me to some great breweries across the San Francisco Bay Area (Buffalo Bills, Drakes) during our travels to her hometown. Having so many different craft beers on offer was one factor that led me to wanting to start brewing beer myself.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
The name avnge was my tag from when I used to perform stencil/graffiti art around the streets of Darwin and then in Melbourne some time ago. The artwork I am designing for our beers are inspired by some of my old artwork.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
The Hopbotomy IPA being the first beer recently released represents us through our connections to West Coast USA, along with our love for highly illustrated beer can labels.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
I would love to brew with Scott Janish, author of The New IPA. I would hope he could help me with getting hop additions bang on.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Most likely anything Metal or 90s, think Parkway Drive and Faith No More and TISM.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Killer Sprocket's Bandit and Braeside Brewing Co's Mango Compass Sour.
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
Tough choice, probably Garage Project's Double Pernicious Weed!
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Five 3 Brewing’s Hazy Lager. I am not really a lager guy, however this beer has pretty much converted me with its good amount of bitterness and stone fruit aromas.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
During our trips to the USA there was never a shortage of pumpkin beers, and this is a style we are really keen to develop and brew for 2022.
Where can people find your beers?
Across great independent bottle shops in the metro Melbourne area and online through Mr Mods Craft Beer Emporium.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
At the moment we are happy to keep gypsy brewing, and if the time is right years from now perhaps open a brewery/tap house to service our part of South East Melbourne.
You can read the rest of our Who Brews features here.