Strawberries and cream paired with marshmallow and biscuits. Seaweed, smoked-mushroom salt, chipotle oil and squid ink. They’re not off-menu items from Noma. They’re some of the more outlandish examples of craft-beer brewing culture.
It’s this experimental streak that first attracted Josh Uljans to craft-beer brewing. The co-founder of Melbourne’s Moon Dog Brewery has shifted his beer-making efforts from a backyard hobby to a fully-fledged brewery and bar in the back streets of Abbotsford.
The Abbotsford site also has a trial brewery, where Moon Dog produces experimental blends to try out on the brewery bar. Successful brews have included ingredients such as watermelon, truffle, chilli, pumpkin and wild yeast, and the bar rotates one to two single kegs each week. This adds up to around 75 one-off brews a year, and proves an exceptional way to trial new ideas.
“Anyone in the brewery can come up with a concept for a new beer and have a crack at producing a single keg,” Uljans says. “Some of them don’t see the light of day, but many of them go on the taps at the bar. It’s awesome to get feedback from customers about the new beers. If they’re popular then we’ll scale the beer up for a short keg run and send out a few around Melbourne. If that goes well, we’ll look to bring the beer out in more volume and bottle it.”
Uljans has been inspired by experimental breweries in the US such as Rogue in Oregon and Dogfish Head in Delaware. “They are real pioneers in the craft-beer world,” says Uljans. “They’re doing crazy things and I reckon they make some of the best beer in the world.”
Rogue’s experimental beer brews have also proved inspirational for Doug Bremner of Victorian operation 7 Cent Brewery. Bremner began as many brewers do, mucking about in a garage with some mates, attempting to brew their own beers for personal consumption. “The key objective from our home-brewing days till now is always to produce a great-tasting beer, whatever the additional ingredients and no matter how odd they might be,” says Bremner.
Bremner started brewing with 7 Cent’s co-founders, Bakes (Brendan Baker) and Bousa (Matthew Boustead), while they were studying engineering at Monash University. “Our initial motivation was simply to produce alcohol for ourselves,” admits Bremner. “But it soon morphed into a hobby we all loved.”
The trio found themselves brewing batches they thought tastier and bolder than those they could find on the market, so the idea of 7 Cent Brewery was born. They built their 500-litre brewery on a property in Gisborne South. Hops are grown on Baker’s parents’ farm in Timboon.
7 Cent has made a name for itself with its unbridled experimentation and unorthodox flavours. Like Moon Dog, 7 Cent will run a small test batch before production, either by steeping the ingredient in beer or brewing it in a small five-litre batch.
Its most recent experiment might also be its most outlandish. It launched a beer at the recent Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular that was made using yeast strains sourced from the belly-button fluff of the three brewers. The idea came about after trying Rogue’s Beard Beer last year, which was fermented with yeast captured from a beard and cultivated on agar plates.
Using wild yeasts in beer is neither new nor spectacular, but it’s certainly never been this personal before. “Although Belly Button Beer is an odd idea, it really came to fruition the same way all our experimental beers do,” says Bremner. “One of us had a funny idea and we thought we’d run with it.” The resulting beer is actually quite palatable, with fresh orange zest and toasted coriander seeds giving it a kick.
Alongside the Belly Button Beer, 7 Cent also makes a beer brewed with clams, green tea and pepperberries, as well as one called Beer Is So Over, with ingredients including quinoa, chia seeds, French lentils, kale, goji berries and blueberries. While the shock value is fun, Bremner says making a great-tasting beer is paramount.
“The last thing the industry wants to do is turn off future craft-beer drinkers, because the first one they taste is something completely unpalatable,” he says. “It’s all meant to be a bit of light-hearted fun,” Bremner says. “For us, that’s what craft beer is all about.”
This article is part of Broadsheet’s [Craft Beer Quarterly], produced in partnership with James Squire.