If there's one downside to the rapid growth of the Australian craft beer industry, it's that brewers are bloody busy. (OK, we're pretty busy here too so we can't direct all the blame in their direction...) Hence, while we plan to run a Brew & A every month (not to mention a Beer Nut, Craft Beer Hero, the yet-to-return beer food section, etc etc), they're tending to prove rarer than hen's teeth.
There are plenty of questionnaires that we're told are "half done" – and have been since 2011 – but not too many that reach the hallowed ground of "finished". However, today we set foot upon said hallowed land and can shine a spotlight on the brewer at one of South Australia's longest established microbreweries, Barossa Valley Brewing (see photo below right).
Former home brewer James Collison (pictured above) joined the team last year and, not much later, the brewery picked up the Most Outstanding Beer in Show trophy for his Canis Majoris Double IPA, not to mention the Champion IPA and Champion South Australian Exhibit too. As such, we asked him if he'd like to feature in our Brew & A section on the back of such glory and he said yes. Then sales went bananas and, well, nine months later, finally we got there.
In all honesty, nine months is well ahead of average so, nice one, James. Over to you...
Why are you a brewer?
Brewing beer is my zen place: once I mash in, nothing else enters my mind until that beer is in the fermenter. But I really enjoy the interface of art vs science. For me, the most enjoyable part of brewing is when someone grabs a pint of beer that I brewed with my bare hands and thoroughly enjoys it.
What would you be if you weren't a brewer?
I would have continued with my previous career as Project Engineer, in civil construction.
What was your epiphany beer?
My father-in-law (who taught be how to brew – thanks, Wally!) made a super hoppy IPA using Amarillo hops. I just had no idea beer could taste like that! Ever since then, the memory of that beer has been my Nirvana.
What's the best beer you've ever brewed?
Thats a really tough question, almost like asking which is your favourite child! But honestly, probably the DIPA which took out “Best in Show" at the 2014 Royal Adelaide Beer Awards.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Water. You can totally change, or even ruin, a beer by not considering your water profiles.
Are there any beers you've brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Honestly, not really...! But the closest would probably be a 100 precent house smoked ale I brewed – it tasted like a bush fire!
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be?
It would have to be Weihenstephan. The oldest brewery in the world and home to my favourite beer style, Hefeweizen.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
There are so many quality brews coming out of both countries that its hard to name just one. But if I had to, it would have to be Boatrocker.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your life?
I'm probably going to get a heap of criticism for this, but it would be Coopers Sparkling in a longneck. Before I ever knew craft beer existed, it was my go to beer.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
System of a Down – Mezmerize and Hypnotize.
What's the one thing you wish you'd known before becoming a brewer?
Packaging... At first, I thought brewing was the hard bit. How wrong I was!
And the one piece of advice you'd give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
For the keen and enthusiastic home brewer, turning your passion into a career is a challenge. In the commercial world, you don't really have the chance to brew everything you want to, and the truth is you will end up brewing what's selling, so you will miss out on being super creative.
I tend to get my kicks out of nailing target gravities, evaporation rates and cell counts rather than inventing something really out there. But the job really is rewarding, I'll never forget the first time I saw a beer on a shelf that I brewed...