BALMAIN BREWERY INTERVIEW
Newly reborn Balmain Brewing Company will be in attendance at the Craft Beer & Cider Fair. Elliot Clifford sat down with CEO Glenn Cary [over a schooner of Matilda Bay Itchy Green Pants] to chat about the Sydney peninsula’s icon re-emerging from the ashes.
Do you remember your first beer?
Yeah, it was Fosters. It was bloody terrible.
[Laughs] Let’s talk about Balmain – you guys actually first started up in the 1980’s.
The Balmain Brewing company was formed in 1980, those guys created a beer called the Balmain Bock and it was a bit of an iconic beer and it had a great following. You talk about ‘blue collar’ and I think Balmain back then was much more blue collar than it is today, but I think they tapped into an opportunity where people thought ‘Hey Balmain’s got it’s own brewery, this is great!’
I think the disappointing thing back then was these guys were approached – from what I’m led to believe – they built a brewery, in Balmain down near White Bay and some developers liked that real estate and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Therefore the beer brand was put on the shelf and off they went with a pocket-load of money.
Some years lapsed, the brand sat idle and Martin Lalor – who’s the Managing Director and founder of the business – noticed that the brand was available so he registered it.
Was the Pale chosen as the flagship model to re-launch the brewery?
Yeah, I think that was Martin’s initial plan. A good, English-style pale ale that your true beer connoisseurs would drink and go ‘Wow, that really is a nice pale’.
You’ve brought the Balmain Bock back and it’s on a couple of taps in Sydney at the moment. Is it going to be coming back in a wider release?
Look we’re treading cautiously. The Bock is very much a seasonal beer, it’s targeted at the winter market. When you look at darker beers, the market is not as large as your pilsners and your pales.
We will cautiously consider going into packaging Bock beer in the future, but having said that, it is a large investment for a small company to invest in packaged product.
The government’s excise relief initiative has just been announced, what are your thoughts?
There’s a small saving there for us as a small brewer, so in dollar terms it may represent a $20,000 saving to us in year one. And those sorts of initiatives taken by the government are extremely helpful to us, to enable us to compete in the marketplace. But we need them to do more. We need them to recognize that the craft beer industry is in a growth phase and employs a lot of people.
Our cost to produce is so high, the excise is high, we don’t gain the same benefits as the major corporations – so any relief on excise for the small operators is greatly welcomed.
Why do you think that some of these major breweries are simply buying up craft breweries rather than trying to create something new that tastes different?
I think that in a lot of ways, they’ve missed the point.
The easiest approach for these guys – if you’ve got a big bank – you go out there and you use your cheque book to grow brands and if someone is doing it well and has good market share, why not buy them and take advantage of the hard work that those companies have done in creating good quality beers with good brands?
But I feel, that once the mainstream companies get a hold of those craft beer brands that they won’t be able to help themselves. They will re-engineer the beers and I suggest that it’s based more on an accounting methodology than a true brewer’s belief of what the beer should taste like. It’s more about the dollars cents.
What would you say to someone who’s been drinking the same beer all their life?
Explore. It’s a little bit like food, you know? If you’re a meat and potatoes type person and that’s all you eat, but one day you try something a little different and your taste buds explode and you wonder why you hadn’t tried these dishes sooner.
I would encourage you, not to try a craft beer after you’ve had a few of your standard everyday beers. But next time you go out for a beer, look for a different beer and try it first. And if that’s not to your liking, try the next one along on the tap.
I think it’s a case of gently gently – ease into it. You don’t want to shock the system. You certainly want to impress your tastebuds. But you need to do it with a fresh palate, you need to do it with your first beer of the day.
Do you think people are open to the idea of matching food with beer?
Very much so. We feel that we’re seeing hotel operations re-evaluating their businesses and looking at alternatives to just the gaming aspect of hotels and now they’re looking at a much broader market – and food matching to a range of good craft beers and aligning themselves with good chefs, good menus that their customers will come in and it won’t be just about taking their money and letting them sit their and pour the hard-earned through the poker machines. It’ll be about giving them an experience – a food experience and a beer experience.
Pubs are just getting better aren’t they?
They need to. I think a lot of hoteliers have made a lot of money out of gaming and good luck to them, that was part of the business, but I think we’re seeing a change in culture.
I think craft beer has certainly a role to play. It’s not about throwing jugs of booze down your throat.
The craft beer industry are very responsible marketers. Yes we want people to drink our beer. But we create beers that would encourage people to have two or three – not ten or fifteen. That’s not the way we roll. And by matching that with great food, what a great night out?
SCHWARTZ BREWERY INTERVIEW
Nicely tucked in the centre of Sydney, Schwartz Brewery is not only known for its brews, but the prolific music scene established at its on-site venue – The Schwartz Brewery Hotel. Elliot Clifford sat down with Head Brewer Michael Capaldo for a chat over a few schooners of water [c’mon, it was 9am on a weekday].
What are you guys bringing along to the fair?
We’re bringing our Sydney Cider, which is a delicious cider we make with all apple juice – no preservatives in there. We’ll definitely be bringing our porter, because at this time of year the porter drinks really well. It’s more of an oatmeal stout – technically – the recipe’s slowly evolved over time to be like that. We put about 20% rolled oats in the mash, so it gives it a nice thickness and viscosity.
We will most likely be bringing our pale ale and our Summertime along as well. Our pale is an American-style pale ale and really nicely dry-hopped, we use four different types of hops at about six different stages of the brewing process. And the Sydney Summertime is a nice, easy-drinking sessionable beer basically. It’s a kolsch-style, which is an ale that tastes and drinks more like a lager.
Schwartz has been brewing cider for way longer than just since the recent cider boom right?
It was way before the cider explosion. I don’t want to get this wrong, but I would say around the late 1990’s is when it first came out. The guy who actually came up with the brand is still integral to that brand – Richard, he’ll be there on the day as well – and he’s kept the dream alive.
Were you surprised when the cider boom happened 4-5 years ago?
It never surprised me, because every brewery I’ve worked in has – if they weren’t already brewing cider – they’ve been talking about ‘how are we going to brew cider?’
From a brewer’s point of view, we invest a lot of money in raw materials and spend a lot of money on excise tax, whereas cider – if you make it correctly – you’ll spend less on your raw materials and your tax is much less so there’s actually a better margin. That’s why every brewery in the country is making cider these days.
Why do you think the craft beer industry is experiencing a boom right now?
I think it’s fascinating. I look at what’s happened in Perth in particular in Western Australia and I find that intriguing, because if you look at the start of the 1980’s, something like 95 per cent of market-share for beers consumed in WA were Emu Bitter and Swan Draught. And now it’s down to something like 10-15 per cent. And the craft beer there, that’s one of the best industries in Australia.
I find it quite interesting that for a culture that only 15-20 years ago was drinking purely these really generic lagers, all of a sudden has switched and is going ‘This is amazing!’
So I think in Australia in general over the last 10 years people have gotten more gourmet with their cooking looking for more flavour expression and it’s just a natural progression to pay more attention to beer.
Is there a Sydney influence with Schwatrz’s brews?
Certainly with the Sydney Summertime what we wanted to do was get something which was nice, clean, crispy, slightly fruity but a very easy drinking beer-
-because we’ve got those hot, hot summers…
Well we used to have them. It was unbelievable this year.
Yeah, it was almost three days of summer only this year. So you also have your own venue – The Mac – what is it like to create a venue culture that features your own brews on tap?
It’s really cool and we’re not one of the mainstream breweries in Sydney either. We’ve got a great music scene in The Mac – and the whole venue is being re-branded to Schwartz Brewery Hotel to sort of bring every into line with the beer. But I don’t think there’s a better venue in Sydney where you can go see such awesome music and drink such good craft beer in such a central location. We’ve got a cool little cult following of people that come here and there’s more and more coming now.
Are you still brewing the Bavarian Red?
We haven’t brewed it in a while, but we’re really looking forward to brewing it in the next few months.
What’s the market in Australia like for red?
I think it comes up more in wintertime. In summertime people struggle to drink beers with a bit of colour. As soon as you hit that cold weather, red beer – I don’t know, it just warms you up a bit better and has a bit more flavour complexity to it and I think that’s what really appeals to the winter drinker.
What’s the story behind your dark-style Schwartz Bier?
That’s started from the foundation … that’s been brewed since day one and it’s a constantly evolving recipe, but we haven’t changed the recipe in about 12 months because we’re really happy with where it is. It’s not the traditional heavy – it’s not like Guiness, it’s not like a porter – it’s very different.
What’s a style of beer that you love, but haven’t gotten around to brewing yet?
We got to brew a Belgian dark strong ale about six months ago which was cool.
That was the first one of those I’d brewed at 8.7 per cent, so that was a little dream of mine. Barrel-ageing is great, I’d love to do that sort of thing. I’d love to have a cask room and make some real cask ales. I think that once cask ale and real ales and hand-pumps and all that stuff hits the Sydney market I think people will go ballistic for it.
Is that more a Melbourne scene right now?
I had it in Canberra the other day at the Wig and Pen and it was phenomenal. Have you been there?
It’s just one of the best beer venues in Australia. I mean, it’s phenomenal. So I’d love to brew real ales in cask rooms, I love my lambic beers which are cool, I love my Belgian beers – I mean, I wanna brew every style of beer in the world so it’s hard to say!
I just brewed a really cool one, actually with a guy called Anders Kissmeyer and he’s got a pretty good CV. For 16 years he was the Master Brewer of Carlsberg in Denmark, so he’s the man. And he came into our little brewery and we decided to do a collaboration. We said ‘let’s do something just weird – let’s do something odd’.
So we decided to make a French Saison – which isn’t that weird – but then we said ‘okay, let’s put a few herbs and spices and a bit of an Aussie touch into it’. So we used pepper berry, wattle seed and bush tomato and a whole lot of them – put them in the boil, boiled them up for the last ten minutes and took that big bag with all those things straight from the kettle into the fermenter and let it ferment with that in it for about two weeks.
And the result?
It’s still conditioning, but really complex, really cool, really weird beer but very well balanced – there’s a little bit of pomegranate as well. And that’s the cool thing that’s happening with beer right now.
What do you think of these single batches and collaborations?
I think it’s great man! When you get the Master Brewer from Carlsberg coming in, you don’t say ‘let’s make a lager dude’ – because he knows how to make a lager real good. He wants to be pushed and you want to be pushed by his knowledge as well.
There’s this crazy class of brewers in the world now, guys like Nøgne Ø, guys like Kissmeyer … they’re the gypsy brewers – they just go round using other people’s breweries and they brew awesome beer in them.
Do you see any other trends on the horizon?
I think the next rend we’ll start seeing – in terms of raw materials in beer – is you’ll start seeing people experimenting with new herbs. So hops originally came into beer – but a lot of pine needles used to be used, a lot of wormwood which is what you use in absinthe.
What they were looking for was one, something that gave flavour and two, something that helped preserve the beer. Hops came around and hops provided beer with that stability that nothing else could, so that’s why hops took off so well. But back in the 14-1500’s they couldn’t achieve the sterility that we have today. Now that there are such awesome procedures I think you’re gonna start seeing people use a lot more weird raw materials in their beers, so back to wormwood or pine needles or bush tomatoes – there are guys in Melbourne who were chucking waffles in the beer, you know to get that caramelized, candy sort of flavour.
What are you thoughts of the Government’s excise relief and the lifting of the cap?
Hopefully I’ll be able to ask for a raise now [laughs]. For that to be lifted, it means for small guys like us – who produce between 80-90,000 litres of beer a year – an extra $30,000 really helps. We are an underpaid industry, there’s a lot of guys out there who are very skilled, very dedicated and have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders working in a brewery and are on very basic wages because they love what they do. So the government chipping in and helping I think will hopefully help get a lot of those guys onto better salaries as well.
MOO BREW INTERVIEW
Oak Barrel is chuffed to be having Tasmania’s Moo Brew in attendance at the Craft Beer & Cider Fair. Elliot Clifford had a rapid-fire chat with Moo Brew’s National Sales Manager, Jon Burridge.
What are you bringing to Oak Barrel’s Beer and Cider Fest?
Scott Cameron [our new NSW Area Manager] will be there with our Moo Brew Pilsner, Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Dark Ale and Belgo.
Any new releases coming up for winter?
The Belgo is new to the range and our Seasonal & Imperial Stout are being released in June and July respectively.
Your bottle and label are quite striking – tell us the story behind them.
We wanted to create a synergy between our beers and art, so John Kelly was bought in for the labels and a different bottle shape turns the product into an art form itself.
What are you drinking at the moment?
Belgo, being the new kid on the block it takes at least one month of tasting to fully appreciate.
There’s been a boom in craft beer over the last few years – why now?
People are finally getting options and drinking what they want based on taste not a constricted range.
Is there a Tasmanian influence in your beer?
We use Tasmanian hops and water of course but we don’t like to play the Tasmania card.
Does being positioned alongside Mona have an influence?
Yes, our whole outlook is parallel to MONA, they are amazing to be a part of and the art synergy really works.
What’s the craft beer scene like in Tasmania?
Really good. Whilst the excise has confined some other breweries the recent change of legislation will allow more growth and opportunity not only for existing but future Tasmanian breweries.
Having an aged stout going for $25 a bottle obviously isn’t the norm – where did the desire to offer that kind of beer experience come from?
Have you tried it? It’s worth every drop, we put a lot in and keep it exclusive. It’s a way we keep in touch with our direct customers.
What are your thoughts on limited batch releases and collaborations?
Limited batch releases are great but what happens if you love the beer and want it again? Collaborations seemed to be a fad that has come and already started showing signs of decline.
What’s a style of beer you love, but probably won’t be making any time soon?
IPA – because everyone is making them and there are plenty of great ones out there!
We’ve had a boom in overly-hopped beers and saisons. What new trends do you see on the horizon?
I think the summer season will see rise to a ginger beer growth and I think lambic styles will make a small resurgence.
What would you say to someone who has been drinking the same beer all their life?
Get better life! [whilst handing them a craft beer].
What’s the future of Moo Brew?
Just the usual same as every other craft brewery, GLOBAL DOMINATION!
What’s something interesting about your beer that nobody knows about?
It’s ‘not suitable for bogans’.