With more than a quarter century of home brewing experience behind him, Dr Mark Rivers finally made the leap into his own brewery in late 2015. And, while his is a familiar tale of a champion homebrewer turned pro, the road that led to Three Rivers Brewing Company launching in Mandurah, about an hour south of Perth, had the twists and turns of a soap opera.
After winning multiple medals, including the prestigious James Squire Trophy for Champion Amateur Brewer for his Duck’s Nuts nut brown ale at the Perth Royal Beer Show, Mark decided to turn his dream into a reality with a business partner on a site that was granted an unrestricted tavern license: a rarity in liquor licensing in Western Australia.
With the brewpub plans finalised and recipes ready, he resigned from his job as an environmental consultant ready to start his new life. Then the very next day he was hit with a bombshell: his business partner decided not to go ahead with the venture, leaving Mark unemployed without a brewery.
Over the following two years, further sites and solutions were explored; Mark narrowly missed out on three locations before he and wife Trina Youchak found their home in a light industrial area on Mandurah’s northern fringe.
The resilience shown to get Three Rivers to where it is today bodes well for its future. But, while the trials and tribulations endured before opening make for am interesting back story, it’s the resourcefulness the couple has shown once inside their brewery that puts their passion in sharp focus.
Over the past few years, there has been much debate about what "craft beer” actually is and whether the term still has relevance. Yet standing in a former mechanical workshop where up-cycled milk tanks operate as fermenters and the only switch in sight turns the lights on and off, there can be no debate about where Three Rivers is positioned.
“It’s hands on. There are no buttons anywhere. Our mash tun is stirred with a Canadian canoe paddle,” says Mark with an affable laugh.
While the aforementioned debates about defining segments of the beer market rage, the team here has taken a step back and pursued a slightly different view.
“Craft brewing can be all about being extreme and experimenting and we will probably do a bit of that. But I think it’s more than that,” says Mark, whose background in environmental science means there is a zero waste mentality at Three Rivers, while his focus is on making well balanced, approachable beer.
"Being English, I have this heritage thing; I feel like I’m connected to people that have been brewing for hundreds of years, so we tend to do more traditional stuff and we do it craft.
“Batches will be slightly different and that is part of the beauty of it.”
Through his past work with the Department of Agriculture, he has been able to foster simple sustainability ideas and relationships.
They include the commonplace: spent grain is collected by a local farm that uses it for pig and chicken feed; sausages and eggs are returned to the brewery at the next grain collection. And they include the more innovative: clever engineering solutions mean that cooling water is kept at food grade quality and used either for cleaning, in the next brew, or is recycled and used to cool the next batch. Industrial cubes of water are held in the cool room to help maximise the room's efficiency while this cold water is also used to maintain temperature in the fermenters. Taken together, such measures are resourceful and sustainable.
The 10 hectolitre brewhouse pumps out a range of eight beers in 20 keg batches with the Tomahawk Pale Ale and Rudeboy ESB quickly becoming fan favourites. Most of the range is also packaged on the brewery’s handmade and hand operated counter pressure bottling machine, one they say can do 120 bottles an hour with zero waste.
“We have to bottle beer because we can’t get enough kegs out there,” says Mark. “This also works well for the small bar and restaurant market.”
Having overcome many obstacles to get where they are now – their website describes their journey as “amazing, exciting, frustrating, depressing, uplifting, expensive and sometimes ridiculous” – we’re pretty sure not being able to keep up with demand for kegs is one they’re happy to take on.
Perth locals will be able to sample some of the Three Rivers range at the Brewers Loft event at the The Queens Hotel, Mt Lawley, tomorrow (April 5, 2016)
For more on Three Rivers, which is located at 2/6 Harlem Place, Greenfields, check out their website.