Is Contract Brewing In My Future?

Enjoying a few quiet Golden Ales as we chatted about contract brewing.

Enjoying a few quiet Golden Ales as we chatted about contract brewing.

I was having a pint with some guys from a new brewery in Tassie the other night and we were discussing the multitude of new home grown beer labels popping up in the state and how a couple of them had no physical home, but were actually contract brewing.

If you haven’t heard of this term before, let me explain with an example from the world of big breweries. You know that bottle of Heineken or Peroni, or pint of Guinness you so dearly love…well I hate to tell you but that will not always have been brewed at the brewery in the home country, but rather under licence at a brewery in your local market.

This is what they refer to as “brewing under licence”, but effectively it’s just a contract brew from one side of the world to the other, really. This idea gets all the beer purists pretty cranky, as they are not drinking “the real thing”. Often they seek out the parallel imported beer from the home market that is meant to taste more authentic, but does it?

These beers are brewed to the same recipe, but in two different countries!

These beers are brewed to the same recipe, but in two different countries!

In my opinion, “fresh is best”, that bottle of “real” Heineken you buy because it is imported has travelled half way around the world and been subjected to differing temperatures and conditions that cannot be controlled by the brewer. By the time it gets to your lips, it could be six months old and that’s not what I call fresh! The “authentic” taste you experience with the fully imported beer may actually be a product of it being less than fresh and therefore tweaking the real taste. On the other hand, the beer you drink from the local producer has been produced to all of the technical specs (taste, colour, ingredients and water profile) of the original brew and been signed off by the original brewery to say it is good to go…and is much fresher.

So which beer is better? I will leave that up to your individual taste, but I still prefer fresh beer.

EDIT: when looking for some pics for this post, I stumbled across this tasting comparison by people with far more clues than I have…check it out.

Nice brewery, mate...can I borrow it for a bit?

Nice brewery, mate…can I borrow it for a bit?

But I digress…that’s not what I wanted to talk about today, but somehow it seemed like a good introduction to what is contract brewing, well sort of, on a very large scale. I really wanted to talk about contract brewing on a smaller scale…the kind of brewing that occurs on the craft beer scene to help small breweries pay some bills when they are in start-up mode. The start-ups are able help another aspiring brewer who may not have a physical brewery, but does have a killer recipe, take their beer to the masses…or at least their local pub.

Effectively, the brewer is renting the brewery for a short period to produce his brew on a larger scale. If he is lucky her can even sell the final product for real cash, rather than give it away to their mates. The brewer still needs a licence to sell the beer, but the brewery has all of the regulatory stuff covered off with councils and food authorities which you can’t get by brewing out of your shed.

The Hipster

Around the craft beer industry this goes all the time at various scales. Some embrace it and make a living out of it, referring to themselves as “gypsy brewers”. Two breweries run by estranged twin brothers, Mikeller and Evil Twin, both have labels where they produce much of their beer in various breweries worldwide and aren’t afraid to tell people about it. I am a massive fan of the Evil Twin Hipster Ale, BTW. Others seem to take the opposite approach and try to hide the fact that their beer is not brewed in old copper vessels in a tiny little brewery by a flannel wearing dude with a huge beard listening to 90’s grunge, but rather brewed in a larger quality controlled facility by qualified brewers who diligently produce good quality product. You would be surprised at the number of beer labels that don’t have a physical home to call their own, but I don’t need to call them out here…they know who they are!

I don’t have a problem with this idea of renting brewery space, it serves a purpose for both parties and has seen the birth of some great beer companies in Australia like Boatrocker and Two Birds, who now have homes of their own thanks to getting a start with contract brewing. Two Birds, who now have a brewery in Victoria, have been really smart about their contract brewing and continue to use Gage Roads to service the WA market…smart!!

Back to my beer/rant…

Anyway, back to me…so here I was having a pint with these guys and one of the owners suggested to me as a keen home brewer to give contract brewing a crack. I’d never really thought of it as an option, and to be honest I haven’t reached a level of consistency with my brews that I am happy with yet…but maybe one day it could be an option?

I was thinking about this a little more this week and what might stop me from having a crack at it…I guess it’s nothing but time, money and a killer recipe…three things that I don’t have right now! I have been working on some recipes, but the learning curve for an all grain home brewer is very steep, it is so easy to have a brew fail…let me recount my failures, or learnings like I prefer to call them:

Infected beers
I blame my dogs who like to hang around on brew day, but in reality it could have been one of many pieces of equipment that weren’t completely sanitized. The biggest part of brewing is keeping everything clean, I have been paying extra attention to that lately.

Non fermented beer
I had one beer that just didn’t kick off on fermentation…which I now realise was probably caused by the fact that I boiled the yeast alive when I hydrated it!

Beer that may as well be water
Didn’t hit my Original Gravity reading with one brew due to my grain being milled to coarse…that turned out to be a real beauty of a session beer that you would have had to drink an entire keg of to get drunk!

Overly bitter beer
You have to read the alpha acids of your hops and make sure they match up to the recipe, otherwise you end up with the beer I brewed that looked awesome but was so bitter it left my lips puckered for days!

So pretty, but so bitter!

And then there was the beer that ended up on the floor cos I left a tap open, or my first brew when the lid fall into the pot and totally messed up the boil.

So yeah, I have learned a lot…but there is still much more for me to learn.

Back on why I would choose to contract brew…oh yeah, raking in all that cash from selling your kegs to a local pub. Yeah…nah, that’s not gonna happen…by the time you pay for the ingredients and brewery time you might be making $100 a keg and that ain’t going to fund anything more than a couple of family dinners at the golden arches!

So it would definitely be for the love…once brewing starts to love me back and I get a bit better at it!

I will park this one and mull it over for a bit longer, maybe work at perfecting a recipe and then think about it some more. In the meantime, I might try and get a few more brews in during school nights so that I continue to learn the craft. I just need to make some tweaks to the process so that I am not up ‘til midnight to get them finished.

I would love to know if anyone else out there has some experience in taking that leap of faith into contract brewing, whether it be for love or money…I suspect if would be the former! Shoot me an email.

Cheers to great beers!

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