There are clear advantages to having a home brewery in a garage that faces onto the street. For one, there’s the opportunity for a spot of people watching while the boil does its thing. What’s more, if your beer is any good, it’s a great way to make new friends. And so it proved for Andrew “Shandy” Gargan when he was living in the Melbourne suburb of Elwood. Over time, more and more people spotted him brewing, popped in for a chat and, ultimately, his garage became the regular Friday night hangout for local mums and dads.
If the story ended there, you could be forgiven for wondering why it is on The Crafty Pint. Thankfully for Shandy it didn’t. One of his regular guests was Gus Kelly, part of the family behind the Kellybrook Winery and Kelly Brothers cider in the Yarra Valley. He rather enjoyed the beers and one evening suggested they were so good they should be bottled.
No doubt countless home brewers have enjoyed similar conversations with enthusiastic mates. But not every enthusiastic mate is already well established in the alcoholic beverages industry and has access to a brewery, warehouse, bottling line, keg washer and distribution. So, over time, what may have begun as a fanciful conversation took shape and, earlier this year, three of Shandy’s recipes left his garage and travelled with him to a factory unit in Moorabbin where Gus was already packaging Kelly Brothers cider and had been storing the brewery that once resided at Coldstream Brewery in the Yarra Valley before its owners decided to head down the contract route.
“In the beginning, every homebrewer gets very excited about becoming a commercial brewer,” says Shandy (above left with Gus), who many people will know as the acerbic Scot who hosts Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse St Kilda. “I did when I started out 10 years ago but very quickly realised from meeting other brewers just how difficult and expensive it is. With a young family at home, the notion was very quickly shelved.
“I had hardly thought about it at all after that initial excitement and was really happy just brewing away in a shed and having great beer to share with friends. Then Gus came and said we should do this. The first time might have been in jest but at some point two years ago I got a text message from him saying ‘I’ve got an idea. Are you in?’
“My girlfriend was out and I had a bottle of whisky and home brew in the houseâ¦”
Thus, what was to become Riders Brew Co was born. The first brew went through earlier this year, the first three beers were launched at this year’s Kellybrook Cider Festival, and now batches six and seven are in the tanks ready to head out around Melbourne.
“Even before I started the cider, I always intended doing beer as well,” says Gus. “It’s not so easy to break the mould stylistically with cider yet with beer you can just go nuts.”
His father began making wine in 1967 while, along with brother Phil, he has been releasing cider since 2007.
“We actually registered the name for the cider in 1993/94 and did the first batch but Phil was making wine and I was too busy working.”
With the cider business going great guns, helped by the success of Coldstream Cider that they also produce, the opportunity to self-fund his brewing dream arose. He had a warehouse with a bottling line, keg washer and most of a working brewery plus a good mate who’s beer he loved. All that was needed was a few more tanks, Shandy’s willingness and a name.
“I was thinking of what linked me, Phil and Shandy and it was riding,” says Gus. “I surf, mountain bike and snowboard. Shandy skates and mountain bikes. Phil loves mountain bikes and riding horses.
“Phil and I play in bands and Shandy was a DJ, all of which often get paid in riders too.”
Shandy adds: “And then there’s the approach we have. As Bill Hicks said, ‘Life’s just a ride.’ We found more more reasons why it works – we have to ride the controls on that brewery to get it to work.”
The first three releases continue to play on the theme. They are Easy Rider – a golden/summer ale, XPA – a 5.8 percent hoppy American pale ale – and Loose Trucks – a porter.
“A golden ale, APA and porter?” you might ask. “What is this – 2007?”
To which we would reply: “Try them then come back to us.”
Loose Trucks, which takes its name from skateboarding terminology, is probably the most straightforward of the three beers, a 5.5 percent porter made with all English malts that packs a seriously creamy chocolate aroma yet remains light, clean and dry enough on the palate to be truly sessionable. The Easy Rider – designed so that Gus and his band had a beer they could knock back throughout practice sessions in the band room above the brewery – belies any notion of being a tame golden ale. Instead, this lightly filtered ale smacks you round the chops with its huge grapefruit aromas, courtesy of nothing but Citra, and has a rounded malt and wheat malt backbone that carries the hops nicely. If you’ve tried Nail’s Golden Nail, you’ll get the idea.
Pick of the bunch, however, is the XPA, a combination of rich, toffee like English malts and heaps of punchy American hops: Centennial, Mosaic and Amarillo. Called XPA for Extra Pale Ale, it’s an attempt to plug the gap between what American pale ales have tended to become an Australia – 4.5 to 5 percent beers that are weaker than the American originals they were inspired by – and local IPAs that are heading ever upwards in alcohol content. In fact, we suggested it could still be called an APA, but standing for Actual Pale Ale.
All three have been brewed in Shandy’s garage (and now shed) for the past two or three years and are still being tweaked, while he is chomping at the bit to bring more recipes from home to warehouse.
For now, the brewery that inhabits the warehouse is a little rough around the edges. Brewing beer on it is a very manual job, with a multitude of hoses and pipes and a kettle that looks disarmingly similar to the spaceship that took Wallace and Gromit to the moon. But, says Gus: “I truly believe that whole idea of knowing your craft before you try to automate. It’s like being able to navigate a tall ship with a compass, a sextant and the stars.”
With a policy that also involves never skimping on quality ingredients (much to Shandy’s delight) and setting keg prices with lower margins than many, he admits the Riders' way is one that will “take the most time but won’t make the most money.
“That’s the whole nature of a labour of love,” he says. “It’s why we make champagne. It’s a long-term plan; we just want to grow organically.”
To find out more or to order beer, contact Shandy and Gus via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. "