If you'd told attendees at the 2023 Indies that a brewery from WA's South West would claim Champion WA Brewery on the night, few would have been surprised. Not only is the region one of the most densely-populated when it comes to breweries, its breweries are also no stranger to awards stages, with the likes of Rocky Ridge, Cheeky Monkey, Margaret River Brewhouse and Beerfarm all regular collectors of silverware.
Yet it was another name that was destined for the trophy that August night on the Gold Coast: Black Brewing Co. The brewery is located on the famed tourist route that is Caves Road, taking over the space once occupied by Duckstein Brewery's southern outpost in late 2015.
The Indies award came less than a year after they took on a new head brewer, Gavin Williams, who caught up with our man in the South West, Jono Outred, for our Brew & A series.
When Black Brewing Co put out tender for a new head brewer to run their Margaret River brewery in 2022, applications for the role at the brewery situated on idyllic Caves Road came in thick and fast. Among those applicants was Gavin Williams, who wasted no time getting comfortably settled into the role: as well as the Indies 2023 trophy, his beers have picked up a slew of medals in the last 12 months.
But, as hr tells The Crafty Pint, it isn’t necessarily awards and medals that are his motivation; instead, creativity and producing beer that people can properly appreciate is at the heart of his brewing ethos.
"I get a lot of creative license here," Gavin says. "We’re doing about eight limited seasonal releases a year.
"I’m honestly happy brewing and drinking anything; whether it’s a weissbier or a fruited sour, I just want to brew the best quality beer."
While he says he's focused heavily on beer quality in his time at Black, he says: "It has been good to look at the bigger picture with the awards, and the marketing and branding side of things, too. It’s great to brew good beers, but it’s even better to try and tap into the right demographic, and really dial that in so the beers are reaching the right people."
He certainly brought the right sort of experience to the role, given his resume includes a lengthy stint as a senior brewer at Cheeky Monkey, not to mention his first role in the brewing industry as an assistant brewer at Margaret River Brewhouse.
Another focus is upskilling, and encouraging more people to get into the trade. As the industry grows and diversifies, more brewers are needed and brewers, like Gavin, often come from disparate backgrounds. Now he's well and truly settled into the region with his family, he hopes pathways into brewing can be further improved.
"I was working FIFO and thought, 'What’s something I’d really like to do?' So, I jumped in at Brewhouse and at that stage didn’t really know anything; it was a great experience to start there.
"As a brewer, I’d love to see some more pathways into brewing for people, like me, who don’t have the experience. That’s something I hope to see grow in the industry."
As for his first head brewer role, a little over 12 months in, Gavin says he’s loving the challenges.
"The actual brewery here is a pretty old kit. It’s from the days when this brewery was Duckstein, so it was probably commissioned over 15 years ago," he says. "It’s like driving an old car, you know. It’s a bit rough, everything’s manual and you need to know all the little tricks to get it to run just right. But when you do, it’s awesome. I love it!"
They've been adding some shiny new parts to the old kit, however.
"Since I’ve started, we’ve won a few awards, which is great," Gavin says, "but we’ve also commissioned new bright tanks and a few other bits in the brewery. I’m currently looking at designing a grist delivery system and a wastewater treatment plant.
"I actually built my own house, so I feel pretty confident I can do a lot of these things myself, which is something else I love about working in breweries."
Black Brewing Co’s brewhouse comes with plenty of history, but under Gavin's guidance, it very much feels like they're looking to the future.
Why are you a brewer?
Lifestyle, joy of working, having fun every day.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
I worked as a scientist in my former career. I’d probably still be doing the same if I hadn’t made the life change.
What was your epiphany beer?
For me it was a Feijoa Sour. That beer began a great journey of flavour experimentation.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
I used to homebrew with my dad in my late teens. The love of beer has never stopped.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
The latest Bad Boy Bao Imperial Stout is a standout for me.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Botanicals are great fun. The flavour combinations are limitless.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Absolutely! Cupcakes and wort should never have met in the brewhouse.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery(s) in the world, which would it be and why?
Id love to do a collab with Bright Brewery! Make a winter brew over in the High Country with Indian Ocean influence!
I love the concept of taking a couple of awesome regions and making something new.
Which local breweries inspire you?
All of our South West brewers are absolute legends. There is so much talent and expertise in this mob, and they all make sensational beer.
What inspires you outside the world of brewing beer?
All things ocean. 4WD adventures, camping, surfing and fishing.
Add craft beer to the mix and you can see how I’ve ended up in Margaret River.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
In that environment, it would have to be a cool, clean pilsner. The perfect beer for summer heat.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Let's go for Bob Marley and the Wailers.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
In my former days, I would have reached for the spiced rum and dry, but a quality cab merlot would take preference for me now.
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
Becoming a brewer has been the greatest learning journey of my life. No regrets.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
A creative and analytical mind will take you a long way. Also helps if you love to clean.
Gavin's latest limited release is a Blackberry & Violet Catharina Sour you'll be able to read about on this site soon. You can find other entries in our Brew & A series here.