Ken Arrowsmith got into the beer industry by washing test tubes. Granted, they were in the laboratory at Perth’s Swan Beer Brewery. But the cleaning gig set him off on a journey into making beer himself, from working around the country with Tooheys and the South Australian Brewery, as well as a number of smaller-scale operations.
“One thing led to another,” says Arrowsmith. He’s now the head brewer at Northbridge Brewing Co. on Lake Street in Northbridge. “I’ve been very fortunate to have worked all over the place in the business of making beer.”
He says while breweries both big and small are all just trying to make good beer, it’s their differing approach that make them distinctive. Large breweries are most often striving for consistency across product and “trying to make the same beer every day”, he says. Smaller brewers have less volume to create, so more room to experiment.
“The big difference in a small brewery is you don’t have a laboratory analysing 30 different parameters on each batch to guide you,” says Arrowsmith. “So it becomes about experience, intuition and very careful observation as much as anything else.”
Those old-school methods align with Arrowsmith’s approach to brewing. He focuses the Northbridge Brewing range around “authentic” representations of classic European styles – currently a European lager; wheat beer; Australian-style pale ale; easy-drinking German Kolsch; and an India pale ale.
Despite being true to the classics, the brewer does concede it’s the one-offs that excite him most. Case in point: Northbridge have just received a delivery of 120 kilograms of grapefruit. “You can probably guess there might be a citrus Saison in the works,” he says.
This kind of experimentation in the Australian craft beer scene has been partly driven by a charge of new-breed US breweries.
“The American craft beer industry has really fired the channels of innovation over the last 15 years,” says Arrowsmith. “It’s changed the landscape.”
The downside might be the current trend of intensely hopped or high alcohol beers leading to fatigue for beer drinkers. He says the challenge over the next few years will be continuing to make interesting beers less than 5 per cent alcohol. Arrowsmith also thinks sour beers, such as Gose and Berliner Weisse, have great potential in the Australian market.
“It’s about trying to put something out that will tantalise consumers on the bar,” he says. “We’ve got a very broad demographic at Northbridge. Some people walk in and don’t even know we’re a brewery. So we’ve got to keep the range both accessible to the general public and interesting to beer enthusiasts, so that when we have a new beer on, they’ll all come in and try it.”
This article produced by Broadsheet in partnership with James Squire.