Not only has Bootleg Brewery been around longer than almost every other microbrewery in Australia, it's done a remarkable job of holding onto its brewers for a long time. Past head brewer Michael "Brookesy" Brookes was there a decade and a half and the man that stepped into his shoes has now been there a decade.
As he prepares to launch a beer marking his ten years at Bootleg, Pia Poynton caught up with Ryan Nilsson-Linne to find out more about his life in (and out of) beer.
Bootleg Brewery in Margaret River is more than two decades old. There are people of legal drinking age now visiting the brewery who can recall being there as kids as their parents supped Raging Bull, Bootleg’s legendary 7.1 percent ABV strong ale – certainly a far cry from the beers us older craft beer geeks remember our dads drinking.
It was a trailblazer in the South West, established in 1994 in a time when the Margaret River region was almost exclusively about grapes, hence the brewery's original slogan: “An oasis of beer in a desert of wine”. Head brewer Ryan “Pizey” Nilsson-Linne (above left) has been with the brewery almost half its life, celebrating his ten year anniversary in December 2017.
Before he was a brewer, Pizey worked in machinery and commercial fishing but, in his mid-twenties, decided to look for a career that would be a little easier on the body. With an interest in beer, he found himself at Cowaramup Brewing, where he became their first official employee. After a year working mainly on groundskeeping, he was offered the opportunity to work at Bootleg and step into the brewhouse.
When asked about his very first day at Bootleg, his memory is a little fuzzy, and fair enough too – a lot of years and a lot of beers have passed since. But, one thing he's pretty confident about is that it involved a hell of a lot of cleaning.
He says a career highlight is, unsurprisingly, the time in 2016 when Stone Brewing founder Greg Koch hand selected Bootleg to be part of the "Arrogant Bastard Hits The Road" project. This saw a small handful of breweries from around the world given the famous Arrogant Bastard recipe to brew. Though Greg had visited the brewery on a trip to Australia earlier, he hadn’t mentioned this project at the time, so when the phone call came through to say Bootleg had been selected it was a pleasant, and rather large, surprise.
It's been a big couple of years since Arrogant Bastard, so much so that, when recalling the brewing of Arrogant Bastard during our chat, Pizey initially guessed it took place some time shortly after 2010... In part, it's been a big couple of years for him as, in late 2016, Michael stepped away from the head brewer role and Pizey took over, joined a few months later by assistant brewer Dillon Hunter.
Since stepping up, he's continued brewing the beers locals and regulars know and love, staples like Raging Bull and Speakeasy IPA, but has also been experimenting with new styles and ingredients. The brewing duo built a small pilot system using equipment from their own homebrew kits upon which they've been trialling 15 litre batches poured exclusively at the brewpub, with recent pilot brews including a Boysenberry Sour and a Barrel Fermented Gose.
Though his anniversary was on December 14, Bootleg already had a couple of limited releases out and were in the middle of their usual summer madness. So now, with little breathing space, they’re celebrating a decade of Pizey with a double IPA weighing in at a perfectly appropriate 10 percent ABV.
“No sense in making a 9 percent beer for the occasion,” says Pizey, laughing.
The beer is called Sawbuck – Prohibition era slang for a ten dollar note. It features the brewery's first use of Simcoe lupulin powder and the birthday boy has declared himself very happy with the result. Less than 1,000 litres will be available and it will be released in 330ml bottles and on tap.
Sawbuck will debut when Bootleg takes over the Brewer's Loft at The Queens on May 1 and will be served alongside three other Bootleg brews with the man himself on hand to lead celebrations. Before then, here he is to tell us a little more about himself as the latest guest in our Brew & A series.
Why are you a brewer?
I love beer! I was a bad homebrewer but loved it and had seen the rise of the craft industry. When Cowaramup opened, I jumped at the chance to be their first employee, helping set up and work in the restaurant and doing general grounds work.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
Still living on the family farm and would probably have created an agricultural venture there. We just lease it out at the moment.
What was your epiphany beer?
Pretty standard response, but Hop Hog and Creatures Pale paved the way for hops in WA. Colonial's Dr Quick was a huge standout and so different at the time.
Cowaramup Brewery, Bootleg and Colonial opened my eyes to the big range of different beer styles in the early 2000s.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
I had played cricket with Brookesy and Bear (ex Bootleg Brewers) and when Bear moved on I jumped at the opportunity.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
I love opening bags of fresh hops and having a big sniff of the different smells. That just never gets old.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Not yet! Everything is a learning experience, no matter what.
I have made beers I wasn’t 100 percent happy with but it is all a learning experience and helps you grow as a brewer. What I love about our industry is that we are able to regularly produce new and different beers and experiment with new ingredients.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be and why?
Tough ask. I love the broad range of beers 8 Wired make in New Zealand. If I could brew the iStout, that would make me a happy man!
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
The people in the WA craft industry are amazing to talk to and each and every one of them has something to inspire you. From the passion for beer and his company in Jeremy Good to the unbridled enthusiasm of Will Irving and the fresh enthusiasm entering the industry currently, you don’t have to look far to find inspiration.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
Wow, never really thought about it!
Can’t say I typically drink one beer but War Hog seems a good choice to fuel me…
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
A big 90s garage music playlist. From Frenzal Rhomb to Nirvana and everything in between.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
I'm not sure I understand this question?
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
How fat beer will make you!
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Be prepared to do anything to get a start; be happy to just clean and package before you get a chance to brew or create your own recipes.
Live and love the industry.
Thanks, Pizey. And good luck with the Sawdust launch. You can read other entries in our Brew & A series here.
About the author: Pia Poynton is the girl behind girl + beer.