A six month trip to the States motivated long-time beer lover, Jaz Wearin and her husband Grant to start their own brewery in Sydney's Northern Beaches. And it seems their hard work was worth it: they won a ton of big awards in their first three months, including Champion Australian Beer at the 2014 Australian Craft Beer Awards.
Jaz talks to us about sacrifice and flavour, what she learned from the US craft beer industry, how beer drinking is like wine drinking, and what she loves about beer.
by Erin Ogilvie
Co-Founder of Modus Operandi Brewing
How did you get your start in craft beer?
I’m a country girl so I grew up around beer, and I always liked it. Back then it was about having a pretty standard cold beer at the end of a long, hot day, because it was refreshing. And then I started trying craft beers and couldn’t believe how much scope there was. It’s not just about one style, there’s hundreds. Craft beer opened us up to this new world.
We were fortunate enough to be able to take six months off so we went over to the States and bought a 23-foot motor home and drank a lot of craft beer, met a lot of brewers, brewed, and ate a lot of chicken wings. We had a lot of fun but we also got a hell of a lot of inspiration. We’d had the idea [to open a craft brewery] but didn’t know if it was feasible. After we came back to Australia, we decided to have a crack and see what happened! One hurdle was that we were home brewers, not commercial brewers. Our solution was to pack a couple of really well awarded craft brewers in our bags from States. They were vital to getting us started.
We took lease of an industrial building and spent 18 months turning it into a pub with a fully operational brewery, so people could enjoy some grub and fresh beer whilst sitting amongst the brewery tanks. The upper Northern Beaches is kind of starved in terms of venues, and we knew that we had to be somewhere that we could make an impact.
What are the key differences between the North American and Australian craft beer industries?
In the US, you see people visiting breweries with their dogs and kids, and it was very family-orientated. They have this really nice community based around craft beer and the honesty in it. We tried to bring some of that culture back here, and I think we’ve succeeded.
In the past, beer in Australia has had a bad rap because we have been reliant on multi-national companies producing beers that are pretty simple in flavour. Wage costs and manufacturing in Australia is a lot more expensive than in the States, so people contracting their beer out to avoid the intensive capital outlay that comes with a brewery. We went down a different route - we sold everything we owned just so we could brew on our own equipment, because we wanted to get it absolutely right from the start.
In the States, it’s also quite common to see cold storing and cold transporting of beer. We’ve got three cool rooms on site and a few more offsite, but we’re one of only a handful of breweries doing it in Australia. When you’re adding all those lovely hops in, but not delivering it to the customer as fresh as it came out of the tank, I just don’t see the point. It costs us a fortune to cold store, but we think it’s worth it.
You’ve done some great collaborations. How did your trip to the States help to inspire these?
The American brewers are so supportive of each other. You’d often see them running down to another brewery to give them some grain or hops they were missing. Any industry is competitive but to be able to handle it in a manner like that; we were really impressed. They're always collaborating together.
We did a collaboration with Ben from Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth, who I really respect. We basically did two of the same malt-based beers and then once it went to tank, to the fermentation stage, we added our different hops. It was a fun “battle of the beers” with two quite different tasting beers, but with combined branding.
We also did a coffee lager with local coffee roasters Coffee Brothers, and one more recently with Prodjuice, which is a local cold-pressed juice company.
Your mantra is “Beer first, No shortcuts”. If someone walked into your brewery and asked you to explain who you are in a beer, which one would you pour for them?
The beer we are known for is called Former Tenant Red IPA, and has a great story. It was named after our former tenants who had a massive hydro set up downstairs, growing… well, you know what! Since hops are actually a cousin of this plant, we wanted to honour our former tenants and call our most aromatic and juiciest beer after him. He’s in Goulburn jail now!
It’s 7.8% [alcohol], so it’s got a bit of a kick to it but it’s very well balanced. We use Mosaic and Galaxy hops which give hints of mango and passionfruit on the nose, and with its huge malt bill, it has a lovely caramel malt body. We have people who aren’t sure about beer but they love it, which is amazing considering it is quite complex. Within the first three months of opening, it had won Champion Australian Beer at the 2014 Australian Craft Beer Awards, and still continues to receive awards.
Why did you want Spiegelau’s IPA glassware to be a part of your International IPA Day event?
Personally, I’ve always drunk my beer from nice glassware; I’m a bit of a glass snob. We’re known for our IPAs, and it’s a particularly fragrant, aromatic style of beer with so much of the experience on the nose. When you compare your IPA glass to a typical beer glass, it’s pretty obvious what a difference it makes. We definitely want to do a Spiegelau beer glass tasting here because a lot people still think – well a beer is a beer – and we say, just wait until you have it in this glass!
Our beers are in cans, and they look sexy and do taste great straight from the can, but it’s a bit like a wine bottle. Do you ever drink wine from a bottle? No, because you miss out on the aromatics. It’s the same with beer: it should be put in a nice glass, especially hoppy beer. We’ve got five IPAs at the moment and they should be experienced at their best, and that means in the right glass.
Do you think the craft beer drinker is the new wine drinker?
There are so many similarities between wine drinking and beer drinking – although I know some wine people who wouldn’t want me to say that! We did a degustation dinner with beer and wine, looking at how both beverages can compliment food. We wanted to highlight that you can drink beer with fine food, and it opened people’s eyes. We want people to think, we can bring good beer to a nice restaurant or a dinner party. It can be enjoyed with dining, not simply as a starter.
Take aroma for example. It’s almost impossible not to talk about aroma because you can smell some of our beers when they’re being poured from the tap. People barely need to lift the glass to their nose before they’re saying: “You know what, that does smell like mango or passionfruit!” It’s really exciting to watch people get involved in beer. Instead of just chugging it down, they actually smell it and taste it.
Where do you see the craft beer industry going from here?
The industry is growing tenfold. We can’t keep up with demand and we know a lot of breweries that are the same. People have a hunger for craft beer; it’s definitely a bit of a movement. Five years ago, it was more beer geeks, but now it’s reaching a more general market.
We had a lot of customers, who normally drink Corona or Carlton Draught, and now they come in and they actually smell their beers. Whenever we’ve got a new release – which is about every two months – they want to taste it. They have a new passion for craft beer.
What’s your next project?
We’ve just released our 500ml cans to the market. Some people prefer glass bottles but we’ve gone for cans because it’s better for the beer. Less UV, no oxygen contact, they’re better for the environment, and they’re cheaper for us to transport. They’ve been really successful within the first three months, so we’re ramping that up.
We’ve also just started releasing limited edition beers. The last batch we did, we produced only 3000 cans and sent them to three states, so it is certainly limited! There has been quite a bit of excitement about whether people can get their hands on one. We’ve really enjoyed the anticipation; there’s something really special about knowing you’ve gotten your hands on a one-off.
What do you love most about the craft beer industry?
Craft beer is not about excessive consumption. A lot of our customers come in with a book or the paper and have a pint or two. Dads and Mums come in with their kids and have a pint and a laugh. It’s this lovely community that is about the appreciation of a handcrafted product that can be shared anywhere with family and friends.
I just love the flexibility and creativity of this industry. Some of the beers we’ve created are pretty out there. We did a chilli chocolate stout, with organic cocoa nibs, chocolate, and two different types of chillies, – a habanero, and an unnamed sample chilli – and it was HOT! A few thought it was too hot but most people just loved it – we have had people emailing us saying it is the best beer they have ever had. Since we’ve opened, we’ve done over 32 different beers in two years. To have that flexibility, to group together with our brewers and say, okay, what do we want to brew this month? That’s pretty cool.
To find out more, go to www.mobrewing.com.au/