February 7, 2013 by Crafty Pint
Next month’s Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase will mark exactly two years since Melbourne’s Cavalier Brewing first announced themselves to the world. All being well, it will also mark the release of the first beers from their brand new brewery. Not bad going, all things considered, given the circumstances behind that first appearance.
“We’d only registered the business two weeks prior to the showcase,” says the brewery’s marketing maestro Heath Shirtcliffe. “I annoyed the shit out of Roland, the guy running the Showcase, to get us in. We only picked up our artwork that morning and were kegging till 1am that morning to get the beer ready. We arrived at Fed Square about half an hour or 45 minutes late having packed everything we needed into my wife’s little Toyota Echo.”
Such frantic preparation did them little harm, however. The Crafty Pint was filming at the Showcase that day and we recall being particularly impressed by their wheat beer (now a seasonal release) and also by the manner in which brewer Steve Martin was able to talk about the brewery nonstop for about six minutes to camera in response to one simple questionâ¦
Since then, theirs has been one of the real runaway success stories of the Australian craft beer scene. With Heath on the road â someone who claims he really is able to “sell the proverbial ice to Eskimos” â signing up venues seemingly at will, there was only one problem. Their brewery was a 100 litre set up in a large shed in his Pascoe Vale back garden.
“We didn’t know what people would think of our beer,” says Heath. “It turned out that they did like it and that we actually did make good beer. For that first six months we did everything in my shed with hand bottled, hand filled, hand-capped bottles with handwritten labels; we’d get home from work and spend the night bottling. It was absolutely ridiculous.”
Within just a few months, it was blatantly apparent that they were not going be able to survive on the tiny set up in Heath’s backyard. Thus they began hunting around for breweries who had the spare capacity to allow them to brew on a bigger scale. First up, that meant regular trips down to the Otway Ranges to brew at Prickly Moses, although soon even that wasn’t enough to meet demand. In recent times, the Cavalier brew crew has rocked up to Mountain Goat, Hargreaves Hill and has even made the lengthy trek down to Bullant Brewery in Bruthen, in East Gippsland.
As such, the arrival and commissioning of their own brewery, made up of a 10 hectolitre brewhouse and a number of 30 hec fermenters that will allow them to triple batch brew, could not have happened quick enough. Fortunately for them, in keeping with their seemingly blessed arrival on the Australian craft beer landscape, the whole process has gone rather smoothly; whilst most breweries can tell tales of woe about setting up their home, the journey from stainless steel arriving in Melbourne from China to first brew looks like being just a few weeks.
Their journey truly began more than a decade ago, however, when Steve and fellow brewer Andrew Cronin began homebrewing together. That said, it was a case of serendipity in a dog park three years back that really acted as the accelerator pad.
“I met Steve walking my dog in a dog park in Brunswick,” says Heath. “We got talking about beer as we were both avid beer lovers. He told me that he had been homebrewing for years and then started bringing his beers along to the park. So we’d be there walking around with our dogs, drinking his homebrew out of 500ml bottles in the park.
“It was a different beer almost every time and I was blown away by them. There were stouts, brown ales, red alesâ¦ I started homebrewing with the guys, originally at Andrew’s mums house in Toorak before moving to Steve’s house. Then one of Steve’s friends who had been drinking his beers for eight or ten years said he was opening a restaurant in Prahran and wanted to put them on tap at his venue. He said he’d need an ABN for invoicing so we’d better form a business.”
As for the name Cavalier, the story isn’t quite as dramatic as that in yesterday’s tale about 7 Cent Brewery. No torched furniture here, rather a competition online to find the best name. Not that the competition threw up anything they liked; instead, Steve called Heath out of the blue one night and said: “Cavalier!”
“It described our nature and who we are perfectly,” says Heath.
Most recently, the guys have become involved with Cavalier Courage. This fundraising venture for motor neuron disease in Australia has, like everything they have become involved in, taken them by surprise. They were approached by Dr Ian Davis, who had been diagnosed with the disease and wanted to know if they would be interested in brewing a beer to help raise funds and awareness of MND. He chose them as it was one of their beers that had been his epiphany craft beer. Between them they came up with the Cavalier Courage brew, a tasty golden ale of which they simply can’t brew enough to keep up with demand.
“It’s been great,” says Heath. “Someone asked me recently if we had done it just for the publicity. That wasn’t the case at all. Ian approached us and to agree to it meant we had to stop brewing one of our other beers to do the project. It was only supposed to be a one-off beer as we didn’t think it would gain the momentum that it did.
“But it’s been just ridiculous. If we were to brew a 10,000 litre batch of the beer now, it would be sold immediately.”
As for the immediate future, the first brew through the new equipment will be their Brown Ale, with the Pale to follow soon after. Their popular Imperial Stout and Double IPA are also on the agenda, as are plans to play around with some sour beers. The facility in Melbourne’s west will remain purely for production although Heath would love to see a Cavalier venue open in his home suburb of Brunswick in the next year or so.
Photo at top shows (l-r) Heath, Andrew and Steve at their new brewery.