When Modus Operandi opened in July 2014, it did so with little to no fanfare. Then, just three months later, in front of a packed house almost stunned into silence at the inaugural Craft Beer Industry Association Craft Beer Awards, its owners and brewer were invited to the stage to collect the trophy for Australia’s Best Amber/Dark Ale. Then the trophy for Best IPA. Then Champion Small Brewery. Then Champion Australian Craft Beer. Now, how does that happen?
The first significant part of the tale began when husband and wife Grant and Jaz Wearin travelled to America on an extended vacation, touring, working and drinking at every brewery their campervan would take them. It was a holiday mixed with R&D during which they studiously noted all the things that made breweries good and bad, then brought those ideas back to Sydney ready to open their own brewery.
Equally important was something (or someone) else they brought back in their luggage: a brewer named DJ McCready. Having cut his teeth at the iconic, can-pioneering Oskar Blues brewery, DJ was not only experienced but also up for the not insignificant challenge of moving halfway around the world to head a new brewery in Mona Vale – an area as renowned for good beer as his native North Carolina is for its balmy winters. Together, the three set about bringing the best of American craft beer to Australia.
One of the key things they highlighted was the old idea that first impressions go a long way. So, on day one, they launched with seven beers: cream ale, pale ale, porter, two IPAs and a couple of saisons – and all of them made to an excellent standard and ready to make a statement to whoever walked through their door. And that’s more or less how it has remained since, with that core range being supplemented by a diverse range of limited releases, anything from coffee lager to passionfruit saison and whiskey barrel-aged porter.
Yet, despite a beer list seemingly angled towards those experienced enough to sniff out the hop profile on an IPA at ten yards, that isn’t necessarily their target audience. They wanted their community – one hitherto hidden from the the joys of craft beer – to come and support what their little brewery was about; namely, keeping things honest, local and fresh. That means Modus Operandi isn’t necessarily all about the beer, but about creating a nice environment where you want to hang out with your friends or family. It’s about games of corn hole in the driveway, movie nights and live bands playing in front of the tanks. That and some damn good food.
Everything on the menu, you won’t be surprised to know, goes beautifully with beer. The hearty options go hand in hand with it: sticky ribs, pizza, buffalo wings and a burger dripping in so much decadence that you know you shouldn’t but couldn’t possibly refuse. Lighter options include the platter of cheese, bread, chutneys and lavosh where everything bar the cheese is made from scratch on site with their own beer as an ingredient. If you’re up for something a little more intense, you can order yourself a nice pint of bacon (yes, a pint glass full of bacon rind...), or take the Carolina reaper chilli buffalo wing challenge where, for the pleasure of consuming the world’s hottest chilli, you can earn yourself a couple of beers to douse the fire.
When you invariably decide on a favourite beer, you’re able to take it home fresh in one litre squealers, two litre growlers, or – in what was a first for Australia and second in the world – one litre cans. Called CANimals, these silver beauties are filled directly off the tap then sealed using a turn-of-the-century food sealer. That said, as the brewery has grown, they've moved into cans for their core range and limited releases and you can find both in more and more places across Australia at all times.
When DJ departed – he's since launched Mountain Culture with wife Harriet – another Oskar Blues alumni, Dennis de Boer, took charge, helping Modus' reputation continue to rise, and even when he departed for a period of travel before helping get White Bay Beer Co off the ground, their brewpub has remained busy (COVID lockdowns notwithstanding), their championing of cold storage from brewery to glass has won many admirers and their trophy collection gets fatter after almost every major awards ceremony, showing they're nothing if not consistent.
In 2020, Jaz launched NORT, which has been one of the brands leading the way for non-alcoholic beer in Australia, and in spring 2021, following pandemic-related delays, they opened the stunning brewery and venue that is Modus Merewether in Newcastle.
When the Wearins set out on their American adventure several years ago, their idea was to create a brewery that had the best of everything. A few years on, it's hard to argue they haven't achieved that.