Only in Tasmania would you find a new brewery housed in a 1950s steam train. The Devils Brewery cellar door, in Carriage 1 of the Margate Train, located little more than a 15 minute drive south from Hobart, opened in September and since then a steady stream of locals and visitors alike has been enjoying beer under original 50s lights and wooden slatting.
“A cellar door has to offer something different to a bar,” says Devils Brewery founder David Tottle. “If you’re drinking cider you want to be sat in among the apples, if you’re drinking wine you want to be surrounded by grapes. It has to be an experience, not just a tasting.”
David refers to Devils as a gypsy brewery: one that doesn’t have its own premises, but instead uses the downtime at another brewery, in this case Morrison in Launceston.
“I like that idea of freedom and movement,” he says. “I think having the cellar door in a train connects well with the theme.”
The Margate Train is an established tourist spot, perfectly positioned to attract visitors on their way down to Bruny Island. It has been slowly upgraded in recent years and the newly consistent signage and decorative paintwork on the exterior of the carriages have left it looking much sharper.
Well aware that many of his drinkers will need to drive following their visit, David offers a paddle of the four core beers, which equates to 1.7 standard drinks. There’s a fridge well-stocked with bottled products too so that when customers have chosen a favourite they can buy a four-pack to take away or, if they haven’t come to a decision, can opt for the Devils’ Quartet, containing one of each.
The four core products are a pilsner, a pale ale, anEnglish IPA and a smoked porter. Each comes with distinctive branding and a story that David is keen to share.
“The pilsner is made entirely with Enigma hops [one of the more recent Australian grown varieties], and we do 100 percent whirlpool hopping so we retain some of those oils that would normally escape [if the hops were used earlier in the brew],” he says. The result is a clean, crisp, slightly grassy tasting beer with very little bitterness – one that was awarded Top Lager/Pilsner at the 2016 Taste of Tasmania festival.
The Pale – charmingly named Not Another F#&%!!! Pale Ale – also uses Tasmanian-grown hops, a combination of Cascade and Galaxy. It’s the Devils’ biggest seller and took out second place at last year’s Taste. “The F stands for Foreign,” laughs David. “It’s definitely F for Foreign.”
Kiss Me Hardy is the IPA, coming in at 6.8 percent ABV. It’s the Devils’ tribute to Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, whose famous last words were either “Kiss me, Hardy” or “Kismet Hardy”, depending on which version of the tale you prefer. Either way, we reckon old Horatio would have enjoyed the fruity notes of this English style IPA, originally brewed for the Wooden Boat Festival.
The last of the four core products is Smokey Moll, a smoked porter brewed with molasses and produced in collaboration with the Bruny Island Smoke House (BISH). It has a subtler taste than traditional German smoked beers but a richness from the molasses and was another hit at Taste, taking out Best Beverage overall.
The work that David does with BISH on the Smokey Moll is just one of the partnerships he has established since setting up Devils Brewery, and he says creating local connections was one of the first motivations.
“We put a seasonal beer on the fifth tap at the cellar door and then the cider that we always have on the sixth tap is made from Huon Valley apples,” he says. “They come from down the road in Cradoc.
“But, over the last year, we’ve also had some other great partnerships. We worked with Spring Bay Mussels to create the Mussel Bound Brown, which was inspired by the brown ales you get from North East England. We also worked with Villino Coffee to do a Midnight Expresso for DARK MOFO back in July.”
David confesses that, even with the strong local links he has established, not everyone in the industry is a fan of the gypsy brewing model.
“There are definitely some people who think that unless you’re there throwing in the hops by hand yourself, it doesn’t count,” he says. “But I know that the product is mine: I’m the one who does all the work on the pilot system, who sources the ingredients and refines the recipes. It’s only when we move into large scale production of a product that I contract it out, and at that stage I don’t need to be so hands on.”
He is confident that the agreement with Morrison is a strong one and has allowed Devils Brewery to expand at a healthy but not overwhelming pace.
“We’ve moved from only doing kegs in pubs to hand bottling 640ml bottles and now we’re machine filling 330ml bottles,” he says. “We can do 2,500 an hour. But even at that scale, you keep finding challenges you have to deal with.
“At the moment it’s cold storage. Morrisons have already quadrupled their refrigeration space. They’ve doubled their fermenter space and put extra elements into their kettle. They have a great reputation and I’m confident that we can keep building and strengthening our relationship.”
There is also a pragmatism about David which can sometimes be lacking in the creative world of craft beer.
“Actually making the beer is only about 10 percent of the business,” he says. “The experiments and the recipes are the fun stuff – the romantic bit. The less fun stuff is sitting there with an Excel spreadsheet working on the numbers.”
Fortunately for Devils Brewery customers, there are no spreadsheets to be seen at the Margate Train. Just a beautifully refurbished carriage, a brewer who’s keen to chat, and some really good beer.
About the author: Ruth Dawkins is a writer who comes from a tiny island in the north of Scotland. She moved to Tasmania, where the cold winters, beautiful light and generous measures of whisky make her feel very much at home. She tweets as DorkyMum.