Every so often, a small community is graced by the type of person who’s not just a "man about town" but someone who lives for their community. They’re selling raffle tickets at the pub, sharing sunscreen at the markets, and harmonising in the choir. Not only is Ian Carman doing all of these things, to the joy of his community he also owns and operates Bathurst’s most succulent brewery, Cosmo Brewing.
Originally hailing from the contemporary crafty capital of Wellington, across The Ditch in NZ, Ian’s love for the environment led him to study forestry, which turned into a job in the NSW central west.
Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Ian when I was living in Bathurst. We were both helping out our mates' band with their music video. He was responsible for driving a ute while I stood on the back holding the guy who was filming.
So, when I say he’s a nice guy, I can assure you it is the truth, as can about 30 other members of the Bathurst Community Choir.
Some eight years after I left Bathurst, Ian started Cosmo brewing with wife Alexandra as a way to combine his love for brewing, nature and the community.
They launched in October 2020 with a humble pilsner that Ian and Alex used to have to lug, sans trolley, to the local pubs. At time of writing, Cosmo is producing a core range featuring a sour, XPA and a seasonal pale ale.
After two years of putting the thirst in Bathurst, it’s the 4 percent ABV Cosmo Pilsner that makes up the bulk of the business; Ian brews around 10,000 litres each year for the venues and bottleshops that offer Cosmo on tap. Indeed, unless you pop down to the Bathurst markets or a bottleshop with an empty growler in hand, on tap is the only way you’ll get to taste any of their beers.
“Generally speaking, our beers are mostly only available locally, but I'm OK with that” Ian says.
“I like that if people want to drink our beer they have to go to the pub and socialise to drink it. It’s been a pretty hard couple of years for hospitality – a big part of Cosmo is getting people into good venues. It’s one of the reasons I’m not rushing into cans and bottles just yet.”
So what does a commitment to nature and your community look like for a brewery?
For Cosmo, the nature aspect comes in the form of seasonal releases which make the most of locally grown and foraged goods, such as NSW grown organic malted barley and wheat from Voyager, as well as fruits and other produce from local hobby growers.
Aside from turning donated gluts of local feijoas into beer, the community spirit is also displayed by Cosmo's charitable brewing initiatives.
“For our Ukrainian Imperial Stout, we donated all the proceeds from that," Ian says. "We brewed 70 litres and we charged a premium for it, which everyone was all good to pay. We raised over $2k and that felt really good.”
See, he’s a nice guy. Which is maybe why I felt a little guilty when I slapped him with the hard-hitting George Negus style gotcha questions that make up this sizzling little grill sesh we call Who Brews...?
Who are you?
Cosmo Brewing is me [Ian] and my wife Alexandra Robinson. I’m the brewer, I make all the beer, and before that I was brewer at Two Heads Brewing in Bathurst.
My background before brewing is forestry science. I studied in New Zealand and I got a job straight out of uni in Bathurst. I’ve always been an outdoor person, I’ve never wanted a desk job.
Where do you brew?
I’m brewing in a very small, very rural, shared space at Fish River Valley Brewing in Locksley. (See photo at top of article from Cosmo's Facebook page)
Why do you brew?
Good question. I love beer, I’m passionate about beer and it was just this hobby and the opportunity came along to get into the industry so I took it. I had to ask myself if I wanted to turn a hobby into a profession but I really fell in love with the industry and how open the people are.
The camaraderie is pretty well rooted. I like how it builds community and brings people together; that’s a really important part in Cosmo, that’s why I still brew, to give something back to my community.
My background in forestry means it’s important to me that I think I am doing something that is improving the world. I had some really good advice from my brother, a structural engineer who builds sustainable buildings. He said: "There’s always an opportunity in any work you do to find some ways to do a good thing."
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
I don’t know, I’m no good at questions like that. It’s like: "What’s your favourite movie?" (It’s Dumb and Dumber if anyone wants to know.)
Probably drinking Heineken in Amsterdam when I was 17. Their stock standard beers are quite a lot better than what we had in New Zealand at the time. Those Dutch and German lagers and pilsners steered me on that path – 80 percent of the beers I sell now are pilsner. Bluetongue brewed a banging pilsner when I moved here, so pilsner was the first beer we launched with.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Definitely drawn from Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld. He doesn’t follow the rules, he’s a bit quirky, he’s not afraid to be different and neither are we.
Cosmo is also latin for "combining form", which is what got the name over the line. It brings together all my hobbies and interests into one project.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
The Feijoa Saison probably best represents what we do. Using the what-you-got mentality, feijoas just grow around Bathurst, people know when it's the feijoa season, and they call me up with 20 to 50kg spare kilos of fruit. It speaks to the whole community values that are important to me: keeping it local.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
The first person that comes to mind is Topher (Boehm of Wildflower). We don’t know each other that well but I met him when he was broken down in Bathurst.
I was at Two Heads working on my first ever saison and the plan was to make the Feijoa Saison for the first time. It’s pretty serendipitous that he came in for the first time and gave me a few pointers that were very helpful. I feel like we’d probably share the same view on a lot of things; I know we share the same view on sustainability. We use fruit from a lot of the same orchards as Wildflower.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Fat Freddy’s Drop or Bob Marley depending on whether I can connect to the internet or not at the time. I have all the Bob Marley albums on my phone for when I can’t get reception.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Recently, a 3 Ravens IPA and the Mountain Culture Cult IPA. I have the Cosmo pilsner on tap most of the time at home. I don’t know if you’re allowed to publish this, but I normally have some non-alcoholic beers in the fridge, usually some Heaps Normal XPA. [Non-alcs have a place here and in the Crafty Towers fridges, Ian!]
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
Honestly, I’d choose my own Sour House: it’s so refreshing but not too acidic, it would go very well with fish.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Oceania wide: I was at Beervana in Wellington where I grew up, ended up at Garage Project and tried the single keg release Bretted Barrel Aged Blackberry Porter – approximately 10 percent ABV. One thing that enhanced the experience was drinking it with the employees who worked on the bottling line, cleaning tanks and sales, including sales manager Sally who had devotedly defended the keg from sales reps as if it was her own child. She took a keep cup full of it home for her husband who was at home watching the kids/asleep.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
Brett beer. Not for everyone but I like it.
Where can people find your beers?
On tap at seven venues in Bathurst, and at the Bathurst and Tarana markets where you can buy growlers and squealers which you can refill at Cobb & Co in Bathurst, who have four of our beers on tap. Also, throughout the Central West and in the Blue Mountains. By the end of the year, hopefully you'll see it pop up in Newy.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
Massive question! We will have eliminated all single use and non-compostable package from our supply chain. All our hops will be locally grown and all our ingredients will be NSW grown.
I’d still like it to be a small, locally-focused brewery. I’d like to have a cellar door where people can come in and try beers and get takeaway. I’d like to grow to a point where we can still produce the best beer possible for the pubs and the customer. We’ve got beers in the cellar, fruit beers in barrels that will be going into bottles – I’d love to be more well known for that kind of beer in the future.
We’re going to introduce reusing bottles, get back to some of those old school things we need to be doing more of as a society. I’d like Cosmo to be known as a leader in that field.
What I wouldn’t want to see is Cosmo as just another brewery doing the same thing as everyone else.