He’s spent a lot of years getting a lot of different beers into the hands of a lot of Melburnians, but for Mik Halse the kegs currently in his car are a little different.
After many years working in the beer and hospo industries, the long-time sales rep (and prior to that venue manager and chef), who works for Bandwagon Beverages, is selling beer of his own, under his own banner, with the arrival of Hopocrisy Beer.
“I’m the oldest I’ve ever been and about to be the busiest I’ve ever been,” he says. “But after a couple of years sitting at home, I’m pretty happy with that.”
The first beer is a new world pilsner called Waiting Impatiently, a collaboration with Venom Beer, whose owner Joel Drysdale also runs Bandwagon Beverages. As far as beer names and styles go, it couldn't be a more fitting first release: the idea of starting something of his own has been on Mik's mind for some years, while there wouldn't be many reps in Melbourne who have spent more time selling nothing but pilsner.
For six years, he looked after Austria’s famed Trumer Pils in Victoria. Mik secured the job when in the role of Beer DeLuxe’s first general manager – the first of several managers at the Fed Square venue responsible for expanding the beer list and making it increasingly crafty.
“I was the first person to sell BridgePort IPA in Australia, and you’d probably almost sell it as a pale ale now, but in its day it was just a stupid and crazy, crazy beer,” he says.
“But I got the job with Trumer because I was selling ten kegs of it a week.”
Although many in Melbourne’s beer industry would know Mik from his time at Beer DeLuxe, Trumer, or his more recent sales positions at Hawkers and Bandwagon, his love for exploring beer can be traced back much earlier: to when he was a teenager working in Belgrave, in Melbourne's outer east.
“I started working at a fine dining restaurant when I was 15 and my mum used to buy me a different international beer all the time," he says. "And I’m 48, so it was a while ago.”
Having seen the world of cheffing up close, it’s a career path the young Mik was eager to follow: “I saw chefs drinking longnecks of Melbourne," he explains, "and I wanted to be them."
The decision led him to work in kitchens across Melbourne, Sydney, Scotland and, eventually, land a position as head chef of the James Squire brewpub, then the Portland Hotel, in Melbourne's CBD in 2001. It saw him working closely with beer and starting to build connections with brewers: arguing with Chuck Hahn over which Squires beer to use in a batter, and with Doug Donelan – whose story you can read here – on his regular trips from Sydney to brew on the small Squires kit.
“We’d be talking shit until three in the morning about food and beer,” Mik says.
Over time, he developed a passion for picking beers apart and talking about recipe developments with brewers, something he felt was a natural progression for a chef, and a feeling he took with him when visiting Austria while with Trumer.
“The brewers all wanted to talk food and I just wanted to talk beer.”
As for the decision to start a brand of his own, after starting at Bandwagon a couple of years ago Joel was the person to give him the push he needed. Two years into their working relationship, that push and Mik's love for great pilsners led to Waiting Impatiently, hopped with Citra and Motueka. The plan for the first releases is to focus solely on draught, with a wider release, including cans, of a more traditional pilsner and a West Coast IPA to follow, choices that will surprise nobody who knows him.
“Basically, every mate I’ve talked to about this went, ‘OK, so you’re going to make a pilsner and a West Coast.’," he says, adding that there's good reason to focus on beers you love drinking.
“You can be a really good beer rep but if you don’t like your product then it does end up coming across to people. I know that when I’ve tried to sell beers that aren’t really my thing then my sales reflect that. But if you sell something you like, that passion comes through, even though it can be a really subliminal thing.”
Although he’s spent a lot of time around beer, Mik isn’t a brewer so he worked on the recipe with Deeds’ brewers Justin Corbitt and Ned Bowring, who he's known for some years.
“To have someone I really trust, who’s made so many beers and knows what I like, that’s so important,” Mik says. “So I’m pretty lucky I’ve got some good relationships.”
It's those relationships he views as the greatest part of the craft beer industry he’s been part of since it started to explode. Having seen and experienced from so many angles, as a chef, venue manager, head of sales and now brewing company owner (oh, he and Joel have just bought a new bar too – Mik’s not kidding about being busier than he's ever been), there’s plenty that excites him about the industry.
There’s the quality of local beer across the country, including those from small and newer regional outfits, as well as the continued rise of craft lagers, and the deeper knowledge many beer drinkers now have about the beer in their hand. But most exciting of all as been watching the careers of mates who started in the industry when he did.
“John Cope-Williams was running Cookie when I was running Beer DeLuxe and he’s just started [Sure Brewing]. [Fixation co-founder] Tommy Delmont was my Mountain Goat rep when I was at Beer DeLuxe, and Adam Betts was working for another distributor before starting Northdown and Edge. While Fiona Lane, who was Stone & Wood and with Moritz at that time, is now general manager at KAIJU!," he says.
“So I’ve watched my friends grow up and now I am as well.”
As for the name, well, as anyone who knows Mik would likely attest, he can be a pretty straight talker and isn't afraid to speak out about when sees hypocrisy in the industry. He's partial to a bit of Michael Franti too...
You can find Hopocrisy kegs in Melbourne at the likes of the Great Northern, Bluebonnet BBQ, Hudson Road, Carwyn Cellars, Grandview Brunswick, District Bottle Store, Beer Republic, Valley Cellar Door, The Catfish, Handle Bar and The Local Taproom Bacchus.