Beer From The Far Side

October 27, 2014, by Crafty Pint

Beer From The Far Side

In recent years, we've had craft beer arrive in Australia from the usual suspects, such as North America and New Zealand, as well as some less expected places, including all parts of Europe, the Middle East and Japan. Heck, at Good Beer Week 2013, Melbourne even welcomed a joyous band of Brazilian brewers to town, bringing with them crazy tales, fun beers and leaving behind the odd collaboration.

Now we can add Ireland to the list with beers from some of the rising stars of the country's thriving microbrewery scene heading Down Under. Among them will be beers from World Beer Cup medal-winning Cork brewery Eight Degrees Brewing, a fast-growing operation set up by a Kiwi called Scott and an Aussie called Cam. They've been enticed to send their beers to Australia by an Irish couple who moved to Melbourne two years ago and, inspired by their adventures during Good Beer Week 2013, decided to leave the corporate world behind and follow a craft beer dream instead.

"We were blown away by the extent of the industry," says Mairead Kennedy, who with husband Colm has just opened Far Side Beers in Camberwell. "I was ready for a change when we moved to Australia, after 19 years in pharmaceutical manufacturing, but I took the easy option after moving here and took a job in pharm.

"During Good Beer Week I started to formulate an idea that I wanted to do something in beer."

That "something in beer" has since become the aforementioned Camberwell bottleshop and much more besides. The couple threw themselves into homebrewing and Mairead began studying for a postgraduate qualification in brewing under brewing guru Peter Aldred at the Federation University in Ballarat. By the time Far Side Beers opened in September, she'd walked away from her successful two decade career, assisted by a mentor from the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce with his own connections in the local beer and hospo world, to work full time at the tiny store and with plans in place to get the first major shipment of Irish craft beers into the country.

"I was disappointed that I didn't try something when I first moved here and was determined to take the leap," she explains.

Having witnessed an explosion in craft beer in Ireland in the short time since moving to Australia, she began making enquiries through government agencies to get in touch with brewers directly. 

"I discovered in a lot of cases that they were interested in exporting but didn't have the capacity," says Mairead (below right, with husband Colm at the Far Side launch). "When we were home we went to a beer festival in Dublin and found breweries couldn't keep up with demand and were all expanding."

Eventually, contact was made with the guys at Eight Degrees, a pair of Antipodeans who'd moved to Ireland with their Irish wives and established the first Irish microbrewery to win a medal at the prestigious World Beer Cup. They've since entered into a partnership to bring their beers to Australia and now there are plans to brew an Eight Degrees beer especially for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular (GABS) in 2015.

As for the decision to open a store in Camberwell, Mairead says: "We used to live in Camberwell and would drink at East of Everything but were having to drive to Richmond to get beer. [Camberwell] was an area with nowhere to buy craft beer so we thought, 'Let's start up a retail store' – and then the goal was to bring in Irish craft beer."

The retail store has a 100 percent craft focus, with its 150-strong (and growing) beer list split roughly 50/50 between Australian and imported and with a focus on sourcing "really hard to find" beers. Peruse the shelves and it's clear to see Mairead and Colm are committed to supporting the small, the unusual and the adventurous.

"[Among my former colleagues] there's a whole mixture from insane jealousy to 'Are you crazy?' to 'If you change your mind there's still a job back here.' What's been interesting has been the amount of people that came up to me at work as I was leaving and said, 'I really wanted to do something like that' but didn't have the guts."

It would seem guts aren't in short supply with Mairead, however, as setting up the store and importing Irish craft beers are not the end of the intended road.

"Ultimately, I'd like to bring my own product to market. My skills are getting better," she says. 

"But I wouldn't want to unleash anything onto the world just yet..."

Far Side Beers is at 887 Burke Road. Look out for Eight Degrees beers arriving in Australia before the year is out.

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