Increasingly, contract brewing is being seen as a stepping stone to building one's own microbrewery. Some of the hottest breweries in the country – Two Birds and Boatrocker to name but two – had their beers brewed under license before investing in stainless steel of their own (with the former still having its packaged product produced that way).
Not too long ago, it was a practice viewed sniffily by some in the beer world, in part because it seemed that many of those opting for the contract brewing route were interested in little more than marketing and the potential to earn. A visit to one brewery that produces beer for a number of brands a few years ago was revealing; a brewer there said the instructions from more than one of their clients were pretty much: "Give us X or Y style at this ABV as cheap as you can. We'll spend the money on marketing instead."
Today, there's all manner of shades in between those brewers that will only ever brew their beers in house and the marketers who aren't overly concerned about how their beer tastes as long as they can turn a profit. And we'll admit that when Quiet Deeds first entered the market we wondered if they were more of the "Let's create a beer brand" ilk than the "Let's build a brewery and brew the beers we love" ilk.
The venture had been launched by Red Island, the Melbourne-based importer and distributor of a number of international brands including, at the time that it exploded in Australia, Rekorderlig. Its beers were brewed under license in New South Wales, although you wouldn't have known from the labels (not an uncommon practice among Australian microbreweries). And its first two beers were a Pale Ale that presented (to the Crafty palate at least) as more akin to a toned down contemporary golden ale, lacking the hop character of a New World pale, and an IPA that was again playing things very, very safe.
Thus, with so much else going on in the Aussie craft beer world, any intention to dig deeper was one that failed to ever make much headway up the mountain of "to dos".
Then, late on last year, an email landed from Bobby Henry (above right, with fulsome brewer's beard), a brewer recently returned from brewing beer and making spirits at the likes of Parallel 49 and Yaletown Brewery in Vancouver, who was keen to chat about his plans for the Quiet Deeds beers. It came on the back of the release of their first limited release, a Vanilla Porter that was a step up from the debut beers. A subsequent email mentioned their forthcoming brewery.
"Hang on. This doesn't fit the narrative…" we thought.
Thus it was that, earlier this month, we rocked up to Red Island's new home in Port Melbourne, in an industrial unit near the Todd Road services (home of the KFC you call in to when you've almost resisted the lure of fast food on your return from Meredith / Golden Plains only to succumb at the final hurdle), and were shown the spot where the brewery they've ordered will sit, where the packaging line will go, and were told that from day one, more than a decade ago, the intention had always been to create a beer brand.
"We'd always wanted to have our own brewery 12 years ago but had no money," says co-founder David Milstein (above left), a name that, put alongside that of business partner Patrick Alè (above centre), suggests beer was always going to feature prominently in their lives.
Instead, they started off importing and distributing a range of international drinks, starting with Paceña from La Paz in Bolivia, having seen the success of other South American lagers in Australia. Later, their portfolio was to include the likes of Quilmes, mixers and Isfjord gin from Greenland.
A decade on – a decade of ups and downs (when asked how the Pacena launch went, David replies with a wry smile: "It was shithouse!") – they were in a position to create what they'd wanted at the start.
"We started looking around at creating a brand," says Patrick. "We spoke to a few marketing agencies about what the look and feel might look like, had ideas on what we wanted, and had some key messages that we wanted to portray."
"We've now created our brand and can see the opportunities in that," adds David. "There's endless possibilities, here and overseas, we're getting traction and doing a lot of seasonals."
Key to the development of the beer side of Quiet Deeds has been bringing long time friend Bobby back from Canada and investing in a 25 hectolitre DME brewery – the same size as Mountain Goat, Stone & Wood's original Byron Bay brewery and Mornington Peninsula Brewery's new setup to give an idea of scale. The aim is to gain greater control over their beer and also to give Quiet Deeds a home, one that may eventually have a cellar door operation in the warehouse.
Already Bobby has reworked the original beers, giving the Pale and IPA better body and balance while leaving them at the very approachable end of their respective style brackets; "People like the beers so you don't want to change them too much," he explains. Most recently, they released a White IPA in cans and promise more beers of that ilk as well as a mid strength ale in a can.
"We've got a Brew-Magic system [a small pilot brewery] here so I do test brews each week. We then sit and taste them and talk about how we want them to go," says Bobby.
Of his joining the team, he says: "The guys came to visit me in Vancouver. They wanted to check out some breweries and spent six days in Portland and Vancouver seeing more than 30 breweries. We had a great time."
"The first thing was to look for equipment," says David. "The other part was to get an idea of what stages they were at, what the trends were, the volumes [being produced], looking at those that were just breweries or had front of house."
Since returning and enticing their mate back to Melbourne, Patrick and David have been studying at Ballarat Uni to improve their knowledge of the beer and brewing worlds. Reminders of the other side of their business remain: when discussing future plans Patrick refers to "core SKUs" [stock keeping units] rather than core beers. But when you're investing heavily in your own brewery, we'd suggest you're entitled to call your beers whatever you like.
The equipment will arrive later in the year, while there are plans to brew a beer for GABS in May, to bring the Vanilla Porter back and to release a brown ale in Autumn among four limited specials this year. And that, we'll happily admit, is not a situation we saw coming.
Find out more about Quiet Deeds here.