One of the most drunk beverage on the planet—beside water—is of course, beer. We all love it, there's no denying in that. But decades of mass production, billions of dollars of advertising campaigns and product placements have taken our eyes from the essence and the true potential of beer to consuming what some might call, muddled down flavourless lagers. Then comes craft beer, small batches of keenly brewed beers by various brewers around the world seeking to create the best and most delicious of beer. Making their appearance for the Better Beer Festival 2016, we speak to a few brewers, Mazen Hajjar of Hawkers Beer (Australia), Dave and Andrew of 2 Brothers (Australia), Crystalla of RedDot BrewHouse (Singapore) and Dina of Albens Cider (Bali) about their brews and why they do what they do.
ESQUIRE: So how did you guys get into brewing craft beer?
HAWKERS BEER: I've always been obsessed with flavour, and I come from a country with a rich culinary tradition (Lebenon). Lebanese food and wine are famous around the world, but for 85 years, we pretty much only had the one beer—Almaza, which is owned by Heineken. I studied in the UK when I was younger, and during that time I became really interested in the diversity and depth of flavour that could be found in beer. When I started experimenting with brewing, I actually knew very little at all. But I had to start somewhere.
2 BROTHERS: Both Andrew and I lived and worked in the US for several years and saw the explosion of craft beer over there, particularly on the north west coast. Andrew had been a homebrewer for several years and started brewing on the weekends with a small brewery just located outside of Seattle. When we were both back in Melbourne in 2005, we felt that the local marketplace lacked interesting beers and we thought it was a great opportunity to set up a brewery and and produce interesting craft beers that were still easy drinking. We sourced our brewhouse from a brewpub in New York City, and shipped the equipment back to Melbourne, and spent the next two years planning and setting it up. We produced our first batch of beer in December 2007—"Growler" our American brown ale.
REDDOT BREWHOUSE: As a kid, I would also hang around my dad when he was brewing and would help about. I love brewing and cooking back then but I was not serious till I was 16 years old. It was the combination of many factors; RedDot just opened our doors when I was 16 years old. The tipping point in almost every 16 year old’s life was when we had to choose a career path.
ALBENS CIDER: We actually make cider not beer. The founders had always been interested in making cider and saw an opportunity in the market in Indonesia to be the first and only cider producer there. After a lot of hard work and sweat we finally started out making our very own cider at our cidery location in the foothills of the beautiful Bali mountains.
ESQ: How would you guys explain the benefits of craft beer to someone who has never had it?
HB: I'm going to sound dramatic here— but it's a fight against the mass-produced, monolithic, industrial, light, fizzy, flavourless lager. It's an expression of flavour heritage and experimentation, and it gives the drinker an opportunity to discover their own palette.
2B: Craft beer is an extension from your regular mainstream/domestic beers. It tends to be small batch and handcrafted in a way that gives rise to more interesting flavours and characters. There are over 100 different beers styles, so I guess the main benefit about getting into enjoying craft beer is that it opens up a wide category of different beers (not that dissimilar to the broad range of wine styles you can access). There are some really fantastic, deep and complex beers out there, and across all of the styles there is usually something for everyone.
RB: Craft beer has a lot of health benefits. I think what most people fear is a beer belly or in general, they think that alcohol is unhealthy. That is not true at all if beer is consumed in moderation. Craft beer is a relatively affordable mood enhancer, stress reliever, promotes sleep and it is packed with a lot of B vitamins and other minerals, so why not drink it? Drinking a moderate amount of beer can reduce the risk of heart disease by 25 percent. The reason for beer belly is not the beer but the big amount junk food that people pair with the beers.
AC: Our cider is far from commercial ciders and we use only the best ingredients. The benefits of our product is its fairly healthy with low sugar and gluten free. We also can claim to be ‘Paleo’ friendly also. Not only that it tastes great.
"It's a fight against the mass-produced, monolithic, industrial, light, fizzy, flavourless lager."
ESQ: Can you tell us the first time you had a beer and how was it like for you?
HB: I don't remember much about drinking beer when I was younger, just because it was crap. I do however have a fond memory of the first time I had a Belgian Trappist beer. It opened my eyes to what real beer could be.
RB: As a kid, I would also hang around my dad when he was brewing and would help about. At that time, I have started to taste beer brewed by him. It was more on feeling proud of having a father that knows how brew rather than really enjoying the beer at that time.
2B: The first time I had a beer I was probably 16 years of age or so, and probably just drinking to get drunk! So my appreciation levels for the liquid were probably quite low, and I'm sure the product was some type of cheap happy hour lager. It was probably not until my mid to late 20s that I was a bit picky about what type of beer I drank. This perhaps started when I was in the UK and then I probably got more specific about what I wanted when I moved to the states where I was spoilt for choice.
ESQ: What are some of the challenges for a brewery like yours?
HB: Keeping up with growth is a big issue for us. We have just undergone our sixth expansion in 19 months since we started; capacity has gone from 600,000 litres a year to 6,000,000 a year. As a result, our team has grown from a tight group of four, to 30.
2B: We are a microbrewery so our batch sizes are small. We face the challenge of output: keeping up with our tap beer customers' demands is tough. Over the next year we will probably approach the point where we need to operate the brewery around the clock. Other challenges that small breweries face is consistency of their beers. My brother Andrew who runs the brewery and production, and his brewers, are extremely meticulous with their processes, so we have had a great run since we started.
RB: One of the main challenges is to maintain the high standard of all the beers we brewed. Managing a brewery require a person to be very meticulous, you have to be knowledgeable to deal with the science part of beer brewing and at the same time you have to also take care of the hygiene of the brewery.
AC: Distribution has always been a challenge, finding the right partners for this. Luckily we have some great distributors now so that helps a lot. On a technical aspect controlling the temperature when fermenting had its challenges in the early days but no we are equipped with a great cooling system which helps greatly.
"Keeping up with our tap beer customers' demands is tough."
ESQ: How has the culture of drinking beer where you're from evolved over the past decade?
HB: As overall consumption of beer in Australia keeps dropping, craft beer volumes continue to grow in double-digits. Over the last decade or so, Australians have drank less beer, but certainly better beer. The average Australian consumer can now access hundreds of different exciting beers from a multitude of brewers very easily.
AC: It has changed dramatically and the whole scene is exploding. People are now more open to different tastes of cider and beer. The drinkers are exploring many new exciting products and acquiring a greater palate for change.
RB: The craft beer scene in Singapore and Southeast Asia is only growing one way and that is up. More people are now expose to craft beers. People are also hungry for a variety of craft beers. Craft beers is not just a beer but a lifestyle and people associate it with the finer things in life. There is nothing better then ending your day with a delicious craft beer and friends. Craft beer becomes a talking point.
ESQ: What’s the best way to enjoy a beer?
HB: The best way to enjoy beer is out of a glass. As simple as that.
2B: It depends what type of beer you are talking about. Your crisp clean lagers and pilsners are best served ice cold in a tall chilled glass. We have some dark beers in our range such as the Growler (brown ale) and voodoo (porter), that are best appreciated in a balloon style glass at about 8°C.
RB: Drinking and eating is all about engaging the senses. Therefore, we would recommend you to admire the foam, look at the carbonation and smell the aroma.
AC: Ice cold with a group of good friends. A cider or beer can be enjoyed anywhere.