Brewing Up Brilliance

April 22, 2024, by Will Ziebell

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Brewing Up Brilliance

On paper, there’s not all that much that obviously connects Mountain Goat, Moffat Beach Brewing, Dollar Bill and Deeds Brewing. Sure, they all make beer and three of them are based in Victoria, but their distinctions are arguably greater. 

Mountain Goat helped pioneer craft beer in Melbourne, then more widely, and today the Richmond-based operation is part of CUB/Asahi's craft portfolio. Deeds regularly hit the market with a dazzling array of beers. Moffat Beach brew by the surf on the Sunshine Coast and have made a startling habit of sweeping the floor at beer awards. And Dollar Bill spend years barrel-ageing mixed culture and wild beers on their plot of land in Ballarat.

Last May, in a showcase of how diverse the local beer industry has become, each was named Champion Australian Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards in the large, medium, small and gypsy categories respectively; as a result, they've come together at Mountain Goat to brew a beer for this year's trophy presentation night on May 16. 

The team behind the awards has been overseeing such collabs since 2015 when 3 Ravens, Thunder Road and CUB created Girt By 3, an Australian strong ale. In the years since, the concept has brought breweries from across the country together to make four different IPAs, two saisons, and a gose for members of the beer industry to enjoy as the awards night unfolds. 

Last week's brew was the second time Matt Wilson has flown to Melbourne to take part after Moffat Beach claimed back-to-back Champion Small Australian Brewery titles in 2023. The small Sunshine Coast brewery Matt runs with wife Shaz has become perennial award-winners, with their hop-forward beers particularly impressing judges. Despite years of success, Matt always approaches each new year's awards with humility. 

“Our minimum standard is one gold medal, so if we get that we’re happy,” he says. “We’ll see how we go, we’re probably due to not win something.”

As for this year’s beer, a session IPA named Champions featuring freshly-pelletised Cascade, Eclipse and Galaxy hops from HPA, each brewer jumped on a Zoom call and developed the recipe from there. Following two years of cold IPAs – last year's brewed by Hawkers, Stomping Ground, Dollar Bill and Moffat Beach, Matt says they wanted to follow a different path, while keeping the beer hoppy and on the leaner side.  

“It was pretty easy, we were all on the same page,” Matt says. “A lot of people didn’t want to do a hazy, which I was cool with.”

 

Matt, Ed, Kenny and Deeds' head brewer, Curtis Uhyn, going through their freshly-processed hops.

 

Tasked with writing that recipe and leading the brew day was Mountain Goat’s Kenny Doyle, who says part of their thinking involved how and when the beer would be drunk. With the beer set to be served at the awards dinner, they were keen to ensure the beer was refreshing on a night at which tables are filled with beer industry members digging through large bowls of cans and bottles on ice like a lucky dip for adults.  

“You’re sifting through ice buckets where there’s all kinds of styles, some bigger beers, and some weirdness,” Kenny says. “So, by the time you get to this beer, you want something refreshing that’s not too heavy.”

Of the freshly-harvested hops, he adds: “We were lucky to get a hold of those and they were delivered [just before the brew day]. They’re insanely fresh and probably some of the best hops I’ve smelt.”

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Of course, while Deeds, Mountain Goat and Moffat Beach are all known for their hop-forward releases, there’s an odd one out: Dollar Bill. But Ed Nolle, who alongside wife Fiona makes up the tiny brewery’s entire workforce, came to the collaboration with some ideas. He’d been reading about bright IPAs from New Zealand designed to be particularly lean and led the charge when it came to his favourite hop. 

“I pushed to have some Galaxy hops in there because I love Galaxy,” he says, suggesting there’s probably good reason there isn’t too much Dollar Bill distinctiveness involved.

“It's really hard collaborating with multiple different people from different breweries with different kinds of beer styles," he says. "But if I had a lot of input, this beer would probably be in a barrel and we wouldn’t see it for two years.”

 

...in case the photo at the top of this article wasn't quite "boy band" enough.


He says such brew days are typically less about the recipe and more about the chance to collaborate with brewers that have enjoyed ultimate judging success.

“Working with absolutely champion brewers is just a great opportunity and one you just don’t get unless you do well,” he says.

“I absolutely love annoying people and just getting information out of them about the brewing process. I was just talking to Mountain Goat’s team about glycols and their brewing system; if you’re in the industry and you want to make great beer, you can’t visit enough breweries.”

It works both ways too: Kenny, who’s spent the better part of a decade brewing at Mountain Goat, took great joy in chatting to Ed about his unique approach, the eclectic beers Curtis brews at Deeds and Matt about Moffat Beach's fastidious focus on quality.

“It’s just good to have like-minded people in the brewery and about the little things you pick up,” Kenny says.

Both the brew day and the awards night, which takes place next month during our Pint of Origin festival, come as the local beer industry faces significant challenges. Although winning trophies is nice, doing so doesn’t automatically lead to more sales; indeed, one of last year's champions, Deeds, is going through a process of voluntary administration.

Matt says despite their own considerable success, they still face challenges to secure taps for Moffat Beach, particularly as venues and bottleshops are looking to cut their own costs.

“I know that some of our sales team, they’ll go in there with what we’ve won,” Matt says,  and a lot of our customers or potential customers just want the cheapest thing they can get at the moment. So I’d love to see it cut through more than it does.

“I do think the organisers of the awards could do a little bit more to promote them."

 

Last year's packed awards night.

 

The need to connect beer consumers with the annual competition, is something Oskar Long recognises. As the Manager of Melbourne Royal's Food & Beverage Awards, he invited Gavin Ellicot along to the brew day. Gavin is a well-known homebrewer behind The Home Brew Network and will recreate the Champions recipe so other homebrewers can try their hands at it. 

Having long watched Gavin’s videos, Oskar felt his engaging style was a good way to connect with the kinds of beer drinkers who are more interested in whether or not a beer gets a medal.

“He was my biggest resource as a homebrewer,” Oskar says. “I wanted the awards to connect with a highly engaged audience, which is homebrewers – people who are really trying to learn. Those are the consumers that are going to look at the results and see a gold medal at the AIBA as being a really big result from a big international competition.”

As the beer industry continues to experience challenging conditions, he thinks there’s all the more reason for champion breweries to come together.

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“I think there’s a lot to talk about, given the state of the industry, but they always have a lot to discuss no matter what size or scale they are,” Oskar says. “I think these collab beers are just a reflection of the industry as a whole, which is quite cohesive.”

It’s a point perennial winner Ed sees too; for them, awards are about being a part of the industry, whether they help them sell their small batches of unique creations or not.

“When Fiona and I started, we handed out as many samples as we sold beer," he says, "so it is hard to make leeway in an industry that’s so saturated.

"But these awards are just a recognition for beer and its inclusiveness and its versatility; it can be anything to anyone.”


If you'd like to be among the first to enjoy Champions session IPA and be part of one of the beer industry's biggest nights, there's still time to grab tickets to the AIBA Trophy Presentation Dinner. Tickets can be found here

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