New Kid On The Block – The Hobart Brewing Company

Brewing Beer Is a Lifestyle Choice!

Hobartian's enjoying a few beers on a chilly evening.

Hobartian’s enjoying a few beers on a chilly evening.

Recently, Hobart Tasmania, celebrated the opening of a new craft brewery in the heart of the city…it was a very cold night, but us Hobartians are used to that!

Situated on Hobart’s picturesque waterfront, in an area that has everything from a University Campus, to high end accommodation, a shipping yard and a new inner city home for a night market, and the many food trucks that flock to it…some may say that the only thing missing from the area was a brewery…until now.

The Hobart Brewing Company was opened by the Minister for State Growth, Matthew Groom in March, and so begins their journey into craft brewing. In saying that their journey begins here is a bit of a fallacy, as in actual fact, their journey started over two years ago when now co-founders Scott Overdorf and Brendan Parnell met over a beer, of course. Spurred on by their like-minded thoughts on the Hobart beer scene… no local craft brewery (at the time), easy access to amazing local ingredients, and the under-representation of some great beers styles on local tap banks…they decided they would do the typically Aussie thing and “have a crack”.

Look at all that stainless steel!

Look at all that stainless steel!

For Scott, a former resident of Colorado, well he was already working in the industry at a local iconic brewery, Moo Brew…his career path to owning and operating his own brewery seemed like a natural progression for him. For Brendan, a very accomplished barrister and solicitor who had practised law in England, Victoria and hos home state of Tasmanian, the jump to owning a brewery didn’t seem as natural a next step. However, when you find out that Brendan’s work in England was merely a front for him to be able to discover the wonders of the Belgian and Dutch beers…the decision to start a brewery doesn’t seem so left field.

I went down to the official opening for a bit of a sticky beak and grabbed Brendan for a few questions over a pint of their Saint Christopher Cream Ale, which was very tasty by the way!

Beer Healer: So we know that you were a Lawyer and Scott a brewer…seems to be an unlikely partnership?

Brendan Parnell: You could say that, but we shared the love of beer, and the more we talked, the more we realised we had similar thoughts on opportunities for a local craft brewery. We both wanted to concentrate on Tasmanian produce, starting with barley and hops of course, and for some beers, using a particular spice, botanical or other local ingredient that works well with beer. We also liked the idea of modernising some of our great 19th century ales and porters and having fun delving into other great (and sometimes forgotten) styles from across the globe.

BH: It takes a lot to run a brewery, more than just two guys, I expect?

BP: Oh yes, Scotts background in brewing naturally led to him being head brewer. My background is as a commerical lawyer and now general manager, and so I was naturally charged with putting the whole thing together. Donald Gallagher and his wife Dominique Hurley are also key parts of the team. Donald designed and built most of our shed and furniture/fittings by hand and Dominique is focussed on events and managing the bar.  Simon Will and Scott Williams both helped us get started and provide support along the way at key milestones for the business.

BH: I like the fact that you have lead with a beer that “has a bit in it”, as opposed to a gateway style beer. Was it a hard decision to choose the first beer for HBC?

Watch my Harbour Master Pale Ale while I play with the stainless steel.

Watch my Harbour Master Pale Ale while I play with the stainless steel.

BP: We settled on this style early as soon as we pilot brewed it. The beer, The Harbour Master Pale Ale, isn’t brewed to any particular style but rather a combination of what we like in a beer and something for Tassie’s four seasons.  It’s hop profile is rich, copper colour interesting, and ABV is sensible at 4.4%. Still to this day we find ourselves going back to it for our knock off which tells us we hit the mark we were looking for.

BH: Glass half empty, or full…have you missed the Summer volume period by launching now, or are you just giving yourself a long lead time for the next one?

BP: Definitely missed it!  It was always on the cards and tough watching the city constantly abuzz with tourists and locals alike, but despite being in our premises straight after Dark Mofo 2015, we had to wait for a host of equipment and much of the building works couldn’t start until we had dealt with the multitude of Council planning/health/building and other levels of government requirements.  We believe we can still make a great start for the brewery this winter and will be set up with a bag of great beers for next summer and Hobart’s best beer park to drink them.  Our winter brew plans and a local collaboration brew are too exciting to worry about summer!

BH: The Beer Park idea sounds pretty cool…tell us more?

Looking through the hop bines, out to the beer park.

Looking through the hop bines, out to the beer park.

BP: Oh yeah, it’s more than just your average beer garden mate! It’s Hobart’s Best Beer Park, may even be the only one? If you head out the front door of our brewery, it kids of starts there, and then spills out into the block next door into the bright red outdoor carpeted area…think astro turf, but very red! You have views of Mount Wellington, a fire pit, heaps of space to spread out, food trucks catering for your every culinary wish…all within a few minutes walk of Sullivan’s Cove.

BH: Beer Park next door and a smashing looking building, how did this opportunity come about?

Which way to the bar? View from the Beer Park.

Which way to the bar? View from the Beer Park.

BP: Phone calls, emails, meetings, document drafting, repeat. To cut a long story short, we had to convince a number of parties that we could make a success of the building, make it interesting and bring people to the site. This was important because of the larger plans over our back fence in Macquarie Point, they needed to be sure that we had sufficient capability to pull it off.  It was thorough and looking back I’m glad we did it.

BH: Have you relied on the help of some of the other start ups around town?

BP: Absolutely. We were always just a little bit behind Shambles’ progress and we worked together on the brewery equipment side of the business to trouble-shoot. It helped that we both used the same Canadian brewery supplier.

BH: Ok, now the serious stuff. I ask all the local guys about this, and wrote about my thoughts the other week. I think we are up to 20+ breweries in the state at the moment. Considering the size of the population, the share of the market that craft beer commands, and how expensive it is to ship your beer interstate…how is everyone going to share in the small pie?

BP: Challenging. I consider the market is three-fold.

– Events: some breweries sell retail through events such as market/beer festival/seasonal events. We generally won’t attend these apart from the big festivals as we can’t do everything.

Co-founders Brendan and Scott (also head brewer) Picture: Nikki Davis-Jones (courtesy The Mercury)

– Wholesale: the wholesale market in Tasmania is relatively small but quickly growing as more venues realise they need a couple of craft taps at the very least. This should continue to grow for the next couple of years. Two of the main craft breweries in the State sell much more beer interstate that they do in Tasmania. They’ve found a reliable market and have managed to set it up so they only need to deliver to a couple of set points (rather than to every venue that will sell their beer).  As you note, this can eat margins with freight but is still a workable market.

– Retail: The newer breweries on the scene appear to mostly have retail outlets. This will provide a separate revenue stream and some of them will be competing with other bars (particularly in North Hobart), rather than other breweries. They’re offering a different experience to direct customers. For the most part these breweries have sized their steel predominantly to cater for that market.  We’re probably finding in these early days that a third of our customers are not from Hobart. With a million tourists per year and growing, this is another strong market for breweries/wineries/distilleries to work on. Tourists are looking for these type of experiences so it is likely that breweries will get a higher portion of tourists visiting their taprooms.

BH: Nice insights, you have obviously really thought about this as a part of your business plan, which is great to see.  Is the local scene a competitive one with all the new guys, or is a collaborative one…maybe both?

BP: Certainly both. To believe there isn’t competition would be naïve. But our focus is growing the market, not trying to work hard only on bars that already have a strong independent beer line up. The reality is that the most significant competition is not the Tasmanian independents, but the large interstate brands and the big local breweries owned by multi-nationals. That’s where the whole independent industry can make hay.  There are also a few craft bars only selling interstate and international craft beer and I think they just need to try a few of the new local beers.

BH: Yeah, I agree with your thoughts, and it is tough for the smaller breweries. But let’s put that aside for a minye and talk about your dreams for HBC? Is it slow and steady, or rapid expansion now that you are up and running?

Brendan working the crowd at the opening. Photo Credit: Hobart Brewing Company

BP: Our projections for our first 3 years is for pretty rapid growth. We don’t package beyond kegs as yet, but when we do we intend to do it on a scale that will allow us to support a nationwide market (i.e. focus on supplying one national bottle/can retailer). Packaging can double output for a strong independent brewery.  Distribution in Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane will also allow us some quicker growth when we’re set up to deliver.

BH: Again, you seem to have a really solid plan…I am liking this! All of us in the craft beer movement have an interest in educating the public to create a vibrant and enduring scene…do you have any thoughts on the part you might play?

I think, like yourself, we are at the coalface. I know that if I or one of our great staff has a chat to a “newbie” about our beers then they understand what we’re trying to achieve and why we have gone and put salt & pepper into a beer (for instance).  Someone who visits and hasn’t had our beer or much other craft beer before can be a little put out facing a beer list that includes a 5.8% highly hopped Tassie pale and a 5% Gose with salt & pepper. This can mystify them and if we don’t communicate our message they can leave a little confused. To be honest, we’ve already had a couple of unfavourable social media comments about these styles (although I didn’t take it to heart given none of them actually tried the beer).  We just need to do our best to talk about the background to a particular beer and why we brewed it and why (in our opinion) it works as a great example of the style. All our beers to date have been brewed to be drinkable by the majority beer drinkers.

BH: Social media…a blessing and a curse, that’s for sure! Do you hate it when people ask you for “Just a beer”? (I do!)

Not "just a beer" the Saint Christopher Cream Ale.

Not “just a beer” the Saint Christopher Cream Ale.

Nope. I hand them a Saint Christopher Cream Ale and they’re happy.  The Cream Ale is a hybrid whereby we “lager” the ale and end up with a crisper finish that can be reminiscent of a lager. It just has much more flavour!  A great afternoon session beer or a gateway beer. Next time they might feel ready to give the Harbour Master a crack and taste our variety from there!

BH: Aaaah, the Harbour Master…everyone should have a crack at that beer. I remember the first time I tried it with Scott at the Hobart International Beer Festival (when I was working for the big guys), I was immediately impressed! So who is pouring your beers, like the Harbour Master, right now?

BP: The Whaler, The Weldborough, Fluke & Bruce, The New Sydney, Wrestpoint, The Salty Dog Kingston, Peppermint Bay, the Prince of Wales, and we’re often on at the Taroona Lounge Hotel, and will shortly be on at Saint John’s and Cock n’ Bull in Lonnie. It’s time we started expanding our wings to the suburbs and towns of Tasmania. This is the next frontier!

BH: Wow, that’s a great list. The Weldbrough, that’s an interesting tap point! So, what are your favourite beers right now – one from Tas, Aus & International.

BP: For the Tassie one, I will say Shambles Barry White Porter, Aussie would be Mornington Brown Ale, and you can’t beat (probably ever), the champagne of beer, Chimay Blue.

BH: Nice selections! Are you planning on producing a few “out there” beers at any time soon?

The Rye Porter...a nice choice for a chilly evening around the fire pots.

The Rye Porter…a nice choice for a chilly evening around the fire pots.

BP: Yep. Unexpected beers is perhaps how we look at them. 4 really interesting dark beers on the horizon for this winter to be released around Dark Mofo.  I also think our Harvest Saison (at almost 7%) will be a little unexpected too and released at the Hop Harvest Festival in Launceston.

BH: Great Tassie beers made with great Tassie ingredients…match them with another great Tasmanian product?

BP: Tasmania makes it too easy – King Island beef with a Porter.  Harvest Saison with a spicy Wicked Cheese. Xtra Pale matched with Tassie oysters or mussels (Belgian style!).

BH: Sounds like you are all over it, well done!

Well, that’s it for my chat with Hobart Brewing Company this week, I hope you enjoyed it? I would like to thank Brendan for taking the time to have a chat with me…being that he has only been open a few months, and has just had his third child, spare time isn’t something he has a lot of!

As usual, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest beer news, and check out my YoutTube channel or Instagram feed for more fun. I will be posting on Social Media while I am away.

Did you see my SixPoint Brewing #60SecondBeerReview last week? Look out for my review of Sierra Neavada’s Beer Camp Tropical IPA this Wednesday!

If you have any feedback for me, I would love to hear it, please leave me a comment or shoot me an email.

Cheers to Great Beers!