Last month's trip to Perth for the closing weekend of WA Beer Week was a fruitful venture. Not only did it allow time to catch up with the site's contributors in the west, call in on old friends and check out many of the newest, shiniest venues and breweries, but it offered a reminder too.
It was a reminder that there's a small group – a cartel or cabal, perhaps – that seemingly spends as much time sourcing remarkable and rare beers from around the globe as its members spend doing anything else. Over the course of one evening, a veritable Santa's grotto of such beers made their way to and from our table at The Dutch Trading Co (DTC) with one man above all conducting their march (when not waxing lyrical about Twin Peaks or the benefits of flotation tanks, that is).
So we figured he was as good a person as any to invite to take questions for an entry in our Behind Bars series, where we ask those in the know what's hot, what's coming and how to make your enjoyment of beer better. Guy Southern caught up with Adam Lesk, Certified Cicerone, Cellarbrations Carlisle manager, Beer Sucks podcaster and Gary Oldman/Lord Baelish body double, to get the lowdown.
Your background hasn't always been beer related. How did you come to be the Manager of Cellarbrations Carlisle?
AL: It was just great timing to be honest. For the past eight to nine years, I’d been working for a builder in Kewdale and struck up a friendship with some of the guys in the shop through multiple lengthy visits and attending their Grain Cru events. During this time, I became an avid homebrewer and just threw myself head first into learning about all things beer related as well as dragging my partner across the USA on technically a beer holiday.
Cut to July of 2016 and I’d seen that the guys at shop were after a casual to help fill in on weekends and jumped at the chance. After a few shifts, Tim "Gunslinger" Hoskins, the manager at the time had called to let me know he’d been poached by Black Brewing Co to take up the reigns as their sales manager and asked if I’d be happy to leave my office job and go full retail.
Can you tell us about the beer that led you down the rabbit hole, so to speak?
It would have been around seven or eight years ago, when a mate from work had found a bottleshop that was selling imported Heineken and, during a lunch break, he took me there as they had the biggest range of beer he’d seen at the time. Turns out this was Cellarbrations Carlisle and the manager at the time, Joel Beresford from DTC, took time to chat to me about what was what, pointed me towards a Green Flash Double Stout and I ended up leaving with that.
Until then, I’d never really enjoyed stout all that much but this blew me away, so I went back as soon as I could and picked up a Rasputin from De Molen and have been hooked ever since.
What’s the Carlisle team drinking after work?
As we’re heading into the scorching summer months here in Perth, the gang has been getting stuck into beers such as Hop Nation’s The Punch Mango Gose, Otherside Brewing’s Anthem IPA as well as our year round guilty pleasure, cans of Jever Pilsner. There really is nothing like a great, clean and crushable Jever after a long retail Friday.
What are your customers asking for at the moment?
Hazebros are gonna haze at the moment. The latest craze of New England IPAs have our customers messaging us at all hours of the night asking for when new batches of beers like Juicy from 3 Ravens will be landing at the shop.
Apart from that, the next big thing here in WA at the moment is mid-strength craft. Within the last two months, we’ve had new releases from Mash Brewing with their Little NEIPA and now Nail Brewing’s MVP, a 3.4 percent ABV session pale ale, which both have not only sold really well but have received a lot of praise from the online community here in Perth.
How has this changed over the past year?
With the local breweries here in Australia putting out some incredible beer recently, we’ve started seeing our customer base become more switched on in terms of freshness and quality. Back in the old days, when beers from American breweries were being brought in via the grey market, they were mostly incredibly oxidised but most of the general public had nothing really to base this against and loved the beers. Now, with Australia and NZ killing it with bright, hoppy beer at the moment, the public are cottoning on to how these beers should be tasting and going for the fresher options.
As I touched on earlier, the rise of lower alcohol session beer is one to watch as these aren’t the watery pale lagers of before but full flavoured tours de force that don’t break the bank and won’t leave you sleeping in a tree after too many.
Further to this, what have been the Australian and International standout beers that you've tried this year?
Oh man, this year has been an absolute cracker, with the giant international haul Joel and myself were able to get our hands on, we were really spoilt for choice with amazing beer. From that haul, I was lucky enough to crack a bottle of the Cascade Brewing Kentucky Peach, a blend of sour wheat and quad ales aged in bourbon and wine barrels for up to 16 months with peaches. This beer had everything in spades: great acidity, really bright fruit and great barrel character.
A little more close to my heart was getting my hands on Evil Twin’s Twin Peaks inspired, Consumed 15 Today, Diane: All Galaxy NEIPA, which I crushed during the finale of the new season of Twin Peaks; it had great drama, tension, plenty of WTF moments... Oh, and the beer was damn fine as well.
Aussie wise, it’s a three-way tie between, Mornington Peninsula’s Old Pumping Station (pictured below), Mountain Goat’s Back to the Brewer and La Sirène’s Cuvee De Bois. These were all outstanding beers and separating them would just be way too hard.
How has homebrewing influenced your experience in the beer world?
Homebrewing has helped me so much with this transition into the beer scene as I came into the role with a decent all round knowledge of beer, how it’s made, styles, etc from reading homebrewing books over the past few years. Not only this, but it’s really helped with more hands on things like playing around/servicing draught systems. Without the experience of building my own home brewery I wouldn’t be anywhere near as confident in pulling apart our Pegas Growler Filler to fix anything that should come up.
Can you talk about your experience in becoming a Certified Cicerone plus the impact that this has had on your team and customers?
Oh man, that was an amazing experience but a stressful one as this idiot decided to jump on board and take the exam on five weeks’ notice. Due to the limited time I had for study, I’d mapped out my study plan for each day, which had me studying both before and after work every day of the week. I was practically a hermit but all the hard work paid off as after six gut wrenching weeks of waiting for the results they came in and I couldn’t have been happier.
Even though the Cicerone program is still in its infancy here in Australia, I could not recommend it more for anyone wanting to expand their knowledge of beer as it is such a great resource to arm yourself with. Ultimately, our goal is to best service our customers and, by having a broad understanding of beer in all its forms, you’ve given yourself the best chance to do so.
The beer landscape has exploded in the past few years; have you seen a change to everyday buying habits?
Considering I’ve only been in the role for a little over a year, I’m probably not the best person to be answering this question. From all accounts, retail is down across the board from years past due to the local economy slowing, which is definitely impacting drinkers, but mostly on the level of Australian macro beer from what we’ve seen.
Aussie craft, on the other hand, hasn’t seem to be as affected by this and is on the up, hence every man and his dog jumping on the bandwagon at the moment.
In your opinion, who is the brewery to watch in 2018 and why?
It’s a close one between La Sirène and Wildflower at the moment. La Sirene’s Avant Garde range has really started to hit its straps with the last two killer releases, Forêt Sauvage and Cuvée De Bois, so I really can’t wait to see what’s coming next out of that barrel room.
Wildflower, on the other hand, is getting better with every new batch and has recently launched The Collective, a fan club, so to say, and will be releasing fruited variants of their core beers plus club only one-offs. 2018 is going to be the year of heartburn and the charcoal tablet.
What advice would you give to a customer who is new to craft beer?
The best bit of advice I could give someone is to chat to the staff at wherever is stocking some great beer – the good ones will listen and steer you towards something that is going to suit your palate. Also, don’t be afraid to revisit a style that you didn’t enjoy all that much a while ago.
Most importantly, hide all the really good beer you’ve bought before a drinking session. We’ve all had that moment of insanity and opened something ridiculous at an ungodly hour, or in some cases over and over again.
[So true. I still weep at the memory of discovering my last bottle of Mountain Goat 2015 Barley Wine in the garden the morning after a book launch – Editor.]
Tying all of this together, what do you think is the next big thing in beer?
Hopefully the next big thing in beer is a continued approach to freshness and treating beer and customers with the respect that they deserve. Craft isn’t the cheapest of options by any stretch, so making sure that the product gets from the brewery to the consumer in the best shape possible should be paramount.
Personally, I’d be lying if I didn’t predict that the Beer Sucks podcast that Brendan from Cheeky Monkey Brewery, Gunslinger from Black Brewing Co and I host will be the next big thing in beer. Well, it will be in the shit talking department anyway.