Starting a Brewery: The Boatrocker Story Pt IV

April 30, 2013, by Crafty Pint
Starting a Brewery: The Boatrocker Story Pt IV

Well, we were expecting to be running this article well before now – as the owners of Boatrocker Brewery would have been, no doubt. But, as seems to be the way with even the best planned brewery, it took a little longer than expected to get over the finishing line. 

But, as of this week, the first beer from Boatrocker’s own brewery – their first “self-brewed” batch of Alpha Queen – is on shelves, so here is the fourth and final part of our series on starting a brewery through the experiences of Matt Houghton and his wife Andrea.

Last time we spoke you appeared to be almost ready for the first brew. It took a little longer, didn’t it? What happened?

As we’ve discovered, everything with setting up a brewery takes longer... The amount of red tape, bureaucracy, and tying a million and one technical components together so that they work seamlessly, is time consuming. But, if you persist, you will get there in the end. Most of what we have done is very much like Catch-22: you can’t get X done until you get Y done, but you can’t do X until you’ve done Y (read: Bureaucracy).

And then there are the things that you’ve done, but for some reason, either the tradie you hired to do a certain thing didn’t do it properly, or the piece of equipment that was just installed (glycol chiller), decided to shit itself for no particular reason.

These all add up to delays. And there is nothing you can do about them. Essentially, this is an incredibly complex construction project. And a fact of life with construction is delays.

However, thankfully, we are now licensed to manufacture alcohol (beer) by the ATO. We’ve installed our temperature controlled coolrooms (one for chilled beer, so we can ensure that our filtered products are kept as fresh as possible before they hit the pubs and bottleshops, and the other is our cellar temperature controlled room to hold our barrel-ageing program (60 x 225 litre mix of red and white wine barrels from the Yarra Valley)).

Any more lessons learned?

There is always something more to be done. Which can be hard juggling the amount of time spent working with that spent with your family.

Also: expect the unexpected. We countered for this in our business plan, but it’s a solid lesson for any aspiring, would be brewery owners. For example, when the glycol chiller compressor blows a weld, replacing the gas in a 5.5kg compressor is #$%$# expensive! (~$200+ per kg).

How does it feel to finally be the owner of a fully functioning commercial brewery?

At this stage, it really hasn’t sunk in. There is so much to do, that I don’t even have time to think about it.

The most important thing to us right now is to create a viable and flourishing business. Not only am I responsible for our family, we have a responsibility to our employees and their families too.

How did the first brew go? What was it?

If you ignore the pancake brew, our first brew was Alpha Queen. We had a great time making this old girl, but it’s great to be making her the way she was always intended. Loads of hops, British malt, and then more hops!

As a craft brewer, I’m sure she’ll be tweaked along the way (Pimp my Queen?), mainly due to hop variety availability, but we may explore quite a few options with our barrel program. But for now, that’s just crystal ball gazing...

As for our next brews, well, we’ve got Smash! (a new world hop ale at 4.4 percent ABV using our custom designed pressurised hopback and loads of Australian hop flowers) and Hop Bomb IPA (a big 6.5 percent ABV, US style IPA with loads of dry hops, loads of kettle hops, and well, just loads of hops!) in our tanks.

We also have a cracking 10.5 percent ABV Belgian dark ale on the horizon, using our own Boatrocker Belgian Candi Syrup. This allows us total control over the wonderful flavours from the sugars.

How has Matt (former 3 Raven and Mornington Peninsula brewer) settled in as your head brewer?

Matt has been great from day one. There are things that have not been at all beer related that Matt has been very adept at doing around the brewery, although we’ve certainly pushed his creative carpentry skills! He has a real hands on attitude, with years of brewing experience.

His palate is exceptionally fine tuned, which allows us to detect and develop some great nuances in our pilot brews, which will then be scaled up to commercial quantities. His insight and knowledge around the brewery floor is fantastic, as is his overall brewing knowledge, which will certainly hold us in good stead as we develop our range. Matt’s passion for great beer and seeing the business succeed is fantastic, as is his dry humour and pie making skills!

I must also mention here that we have taken on a full time sales rep called Jade Burley. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but he’s been great to work with, and we’re looking forward to Jade making a real presence for Boatrocker in the craft beer world.



When will you be filling the barrels?

As soon as next week. We are flying in specialised strains from White Labs in the US, so we can really kick off this barrel program with a bang. But before everyone gets too excited, this is a long term commitment, not just from us, but for the consumer as well. The vast majority of Belgian sours take one year plus, and even Berliner Weisse can take up to three months to allow the Brett to give its character. So don’t expect everything all at once.

What can we expect to see in the coming months from Boatrocker?

As mentioned above, we’ve got our core range coming out (Alpha Queen, Smash!, and Hop Bomb), as well as the Belgian dark ale.

On top of that, we will be creating numerous beers for our barrel program. Think Berliner Weisse, Lambic styles, Flemish reds, Oud Bruins for a start. But we’ll also be going old school with some interesting historical brews too. Really, the only limit is the imagination.

Any regrets?

I’ve had a few as the song goes... Nothing major, but as far as the build goes, I wish I’d spent more time with my beautiful wife (Andrea) and daughter (Zoe). A lot happens in the space of six months, especially when Zoe is only 18 months.

And I also wish I had been able to commit more time to the Good Beer Week committee for 2013. But I promise I’ll be able to for 2014!

I’d like to say a big thanks to James at The Crafty Pint for giving us the chance to share our story, and for tirelessly supporting the wonderful burgeoning industry that is Australian craft beer. I’d also like to thank my family for putting up with me for the last six months of my life... I’m sure having a stressed, tired, walking zombie is hardly the best thing to come home to!

And finally, a big thanks to the readers of this blog. I hope you’ve managed to glean some useful tidbits from the ramblings of a Melbourne craft brewer.

Thanks, Matt. You have indeed looked like a zombie on many an occasion recently. Best of luck with the brewery – now to hunt down an Alpha Queen!

You can read the previous features here, here and here.

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