Australian Brews News is the longest running news and opinion site in the Australian beer world. Its podcast, Radio Brews News, was the first serious podcast to tackle issues in and around the local beer world. Set up and hosted by Brews News founder Matt Kirkegaard and his sidekick Pete Mitcham, it has featured an impressive array of guests from all over the world and never shies away from tackling controversy head on – or stirring up its own.
Matt (above left assisting with a Stone Brew) is a well respected beer educator, event host and beer writer – inaugural winner of the AIBA Media Award sponsored by The Crafty Pint at last year's Australian International Beer Awards, no less. Pete (above right) is perhaps better known as Professor Pilsner of Beer Blokes, an ever present at beer festivals and major events around the country, where he hosts talks, seminars and meet the brewer sessions, and is a beer raconteur nonpareil as well as regular steward at The Crafty Pint's Blind Tastings (returning later this month) and occasional cricket umpire.
They record their shows despite usually being located thousands of kilometres apart in Brisbane and Melbourne respectively. Their most recent episode looked back at 2014 and addressed the history of Crown again while, on Australia Day, they plan to put out a live broadcast from The Local Taphouse during the Hottest 100 countdown.
Anyway, over to them...
Why did you start podcasting about beer?
MK: Brews News had always had 'Beer is a conversation' as a motto. That and Pete being one of the nicest people in an industry full of great, great people and I always loved our beery conversations. He usually has a different perspective to me – and usually puts it forward a little more calmly – and so I have always enjoyed chatting beer with him. The podcast just grew out of that.
PM: I guess we saw a gap in the market for a more immediate and 'playable' platform for beer news and opinion. Also, it's a great format for those who like to listen while they work. Brewers tell us they love to listen to a good rant while mashing in.
Are you authority or inquisitor?
MK: Saying we're an 'authority' overstates it; we have been around for a while which gives us some perspective and we also tend to discuss things between ourselves and with our authoritative guests, so I hope it's a knowledgeable interrogation, so that guests can't just get away with making purely self-serving statements.
PM: Matt's the one with the trophy cabinet so I guess that makes him the 'authority'. I often find myself playing Devil's Advocate or questioning Matt's penchant for flogging dead horses so that's the Inquisitor taken care of. Seriously, though, that's the truth. Alternatively, we like to get into relevant topics and areas of controversy in the beer world and present a balanced argument. We are pretty self-effacing and rarely claim to be an authority.
How do you choose your guests?
MK: We speak with people that interest us. We figure that will make for a more interesting conversation if we are interested in what we are discussing.
PM: Sometimes the guest is one who is relevant to the topic we want to dissect and other times it's a bit of a wish list of people Matt and I value as contributors to the craft of brewing. We generally toss a few names about and then pick whoever is happy to chat, who has a good story, but more importantly, can tell the story well.
Does much preparation takes place or is it a case of press record and let's see what happens?
MK: It can be tough scheduling everybody, but when we do it's a matter of pressing record and going where the conversation goes.
PM: You'd think that such a polished and professional product like RBN takes many people many hours to produce – and it probably should. The reality is that, of recent times, our output has become less regular as our paid work seems to be getting in the way more and more.
What's the best question you've ever asked a guest?
MK: I don't really have a favourite question or answer, and the feedback I get is that everyone I have spoken to has their own views. It's the conversation as a whole that I enjoy... and you'll have to wait til the next question to find out the best conversation. (Apparently that's called a teaser in radio...)
PM: I asked then-head of Cooper's, Dr Tim Cooper, about where he felt his brewery 'sat' in terms of public perception – Craft – Mainstream – Somewhere in between.
And the best answer anyone has ever given?
PM: Whatever Tim said.
MK: There have been a lot of great guests, all of them in their own way, but Professor Charlie Bamforth from UC Davis and Martyn Cornell have been the two that I have just loved, maybe because they are people that I don't get to chat to often but read their stuff a lot. They were so knowledgeable, passionate and articulate.
Who have you most enjoyed having on the show?
PM: As much as it was like watching a train crash in slow motion, talking to CUBs Vincent Ruiu and having him attempt to justify the company's flogging off tankfuls of Victoria Pale Lager as Byron Bay Pale Lager and passing it off as 'craft' was Australian Craft Beer gold. We don't like to say that the ACCCs fining of the company was due to our calling shenanigans on dodgy marketing by 'The Big House' but, well, it very was.
And who would be your dream guest?
MK: I would love to interview some of the historical figures in brewing – Gabriel Sedlmayr and Josef Groll – to talk about the evolution of brewing at that very important stage where lagers, and especially pale lagers, came into the brewing world.
PM: I see Matt has gone for historical figures. I was going to say Sam Caligione from Dogfish Head, Shane Welch from Sixpoint or Greg Koch from Stone Brewing. Locally I have Karl and Josh from Moondog on my list because I have had many a great conversation over a few beers with them but can never remember the next day what we discussed. Recording would solve that.
Do you drink while recording? If so, what's the ideal beer to have while in action?
MK: No, we rarely do as we record at all hours and even when we do it's not a feature of the recording. I seem to be on my own but I hate listening to podcasts where people are drinking and discussing the beer.
PM: We record at 9.30am on Tuesdays so – of course. I mean, no. No we don't. I recall we did once when we spoke with Brewdog's James Watt. That's the nice thing about having access to international guests and recording when their 'stupid o'clock' is actually our 'beer o'clock'.
For those of a technical bent, what is your technical setup? Has it evolved over time?
MK: I wish someone could tell me the best way to do it: an easy way that still sounds like it's not recorded in a toilet. We use Skype and record the incoming and outgoing voices separately so they can be edited together at similar volumes... It's a huge effort though and one of the reasons that the podcasts are so sporadic. If anyone has mad audio skills and wants a job...
Where can people find the Radio Brews News podcast?
MK: Wherever good podcasts are given away for free...
Are there any non-Aussie beer podcasts you'd recommend? Any non-beer podcasts?
MK: I love This American Life and a couple of podcasts that Leo Laporte does. They made me want to do a podcast but also make it so depressing that we don't have nearly enough time or skill to even pretend to copy what they do.
PM: I don't even have enough time to listen to Radio Brews News. I have been learning French from Coffee Break French Podcasts while cooking dinner, which helped me get out of a few scrapes in France earlier this year. It also helped me get my travelling companion into several well respected Gay Bars.
Thanks, guys. Did you get your mate back out of the bars, Pete?
You can catch Pete on ABC talking beer with Richard Stubbs between 2pm and 3pm on January 23 and Radio Brews News live from the H100 countdown on Australia Day. The most recent Radio Brews News episode is here.