For the vast majority of the time, The Crafty Pint focuses on the craft beer world within these shores. But there are plenty of Australians plying their trade overseas. So, today, we’re launching a new series called Aussie Exports, which will tell the stories of some of those making a mark elsewhere.
First up, we speak to former Little Creatures head brewer Alex Troncoso, who is busy building his new Bristol-based brewery, Lost and Grounded Brewers, with partner Annie Clements (pictured above) after initially moving to the UK to work at Camden Town Brewery, itself started by an Aussie expat, Jasper Cuppaidge.
When did you leave Australia, and what took you overseas?
Alex Troncoso: I used to work with Little Creatures Brewing for around eight years; my last job was working on the Geelong brewery project – unfortunately it will remain a project that I didn’t see to the end!
In late 2012, I was offered a role as Brewing and Development Director at Camden Town Brewery in London, so we decided to go for it. Annie originally worked in the field of Disability Support – so quite different to brewing – but she used to homebrew with me in the early 2000s, and is passionate about beer.
How are you involved in beer in Bristol? How did that come about?
AT: Annie and I are about to build a brewery here in Bristol, UK. It is kind of crazy the different paths that life takes you down – we found Bristol one day and fell in love with the cultural scene here: lots of music, art and a real community focus. We start construction in April and will be brewing in mid June.
Did you intend to work in beer when you moved to the UK?
AT: Initially, Annie and I thought we would come to the UK for three years. It was in early 2015 that we decided to move to Bristol and start our own brewery. We never in our wildest dreams imagined that we would be doing this on the other side of the world – it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.
How does the beer scene in the UK (or specifically Bristol) differ from home?
AT: Of course, the obvious one is cask beer! That is something very unique to the UK and always reminds a foreigner that you are somewhere different.
I think the most fascinating aspect about brewing in the UK / Europe is the sheer size of the industry. I heard something recently along the lines of there being 7,000 licensed venues in London and only 6,000 in all of Australia!
In the UK, there is close to 1,500 breweries now. I think it is the highest per capita of anywhere in the world. Many are quite small and only supply a handful of pubs in their local area. In the Bristol area (population circa 500,000) there are 26 breweries at the moment, which are producing some absolutely fantastic beers.
We are spoiled for choice in terms of suppliers. For example, some regional brewers here have up to six malt suppliers. Focusing on malt, as everywhere is actually very close, we can source malt directly from Germany or Belgium and it is no problem. A very interesting aspect in the UK specifically is that many regional brewers have survived the industry consolidation of last century and are thriving; these are the original craft brewers!
What learnings / experiences have you been able to take to the UK?
AT: As far as brewing goes, one thing we had at Little Creatures was great training and this has been invaluable here in the UK. On the commercial side, the two markets are very different: in Australia, it seems packaged beer takes prominence, whereas here the volume is in draught beer. The market here is changing slowly, and I think over time packaged beer will become more important for small brewers, and my exposure to the market in Australia will come in handy.
What could Australians learn or do differently to further the beer scene here, or what have you seen in your time away that could work in Australia?
AT: One clear issue in Australia is the beer excise tax. In the UK, we have a scaled duty (excise) rate – less than 5,000 hectolitres it is 50 percent of the full duty rate, and it gradually increases until full duty at 60,000 hectolitres. Brewers here would like this full duty rate increased to the EU maximum of 200,000 hectolitres, which is how it is in countries such as Belgium.
This system definitely helps smaller brewers get started and they can decide to either stay small and remain under the 5,000 hectolitres limit, or go for it. A system such as this in Australia would be fantastic. One thing to note is that our duty rate here is actually the same (more or less) as in Australia now; beer is no longer cheap in England!
Is there much knowledge or understanding of Australian beer in England?
AT: I would like to say yes, but on the whole I think the knowledge is fairly low (excluding people that have obviously travelled to Australia). Unfortunately, a large portion of the population here still think everyone drinks beer out of blue cans in Australia – and I don’t mean Pirate Life!
Having brewers come over to brew beers for the Wetherspoons Beer Festivals does actually open a lot of eyes to the quality of beer coming out of Australia; in recent years, Jayne and Danielle from Two Birds have visited, as well as Dave Edney from Mountain Goat and Brendan Varis from Feral. At least it means we can see a familiar face every now and then.
There is a big buzz about New Zealand brewers here at the moment, which is great, but it is a clear strategy they have taken, and it seems to be succeeding. Currently, Stu [McKinlay] from Yeastie Boys is living here and doing a great job flying the flag for NZ.
What's your most treasured beer memory from your travels?
AT: I have been really lucky and done a lot of beer related travelling for my job; the past few years I have been to Germany about ten times and Belgium an equal number. My most recent special memory was travelling to Tettnang in Germany for the hop harvest. The entire region was abuzz with the harvest, there was an oompah band playing out the front of the guest house I was staying in (which was joined to a brewery), and I was drinking wonderfully crisp and hoppy Kellerpils… It was fantastic!
What beer tips do you have for people visiting your part of the world?
AT: The UK is going through a brewing revolution at the moment, and the hot spots are London, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and the list goes on. There are so many great beers and venues, it is difficult to know where to start! Beer lovers coming to the UK should perhaps plan a visit around one of the new wave of festivals such as Independent Manchester Beer Convention, Leeds International Beer Festival or London Beer City (which coincides with the Great British Beer Festival). There are some incredible breweries all across the country, so visitors just have to get amongst it!
Do you intend on coming back again, and if so, what would you look to do here?
AT: Long term I think we’ll be back… but who knows?
Thanks, Alex, and best of luck to you and Annie with Lost and Grounded.
If you are – or know of – an Australian doing cool things in beer overseas, feel free to drop us an email.