He’s one half of the podcast Ale of a Time, writes regularly for the likes for Broadsheet, Good Beer Hunting and Beer & Brewer and is arguably the Australian beer world’s biggest source of meme-driven content. And, as of August this year, Luke Robertson will also be a published author following the release of Keg Bottle Can: Best Beers for Every Occasion.
Published by Hardie Grant and acting as something of a spiritual successor to 150 Great Australian Beers and The Great Australian Beer Guide, by this site's founder*, Keg Bottle Can uses 150 beers from 150 different breweries to explore the local beer landscape: where it’s at and what makes it so exciting and fun – as well as suggesting when to reach for a pale ale and when a porter might be best.
Indeed, anyone who’s familiar with the two previous books will notice that the last of those is most striking difference in Luke's approach. Rather than separating beers into different styles, Keg Bottle Can categorises them by occasion, from beers for the barbie, beers best suited to cellaring or beers best enjoyed in the shadow of the brewery.
“The reason for that is I’m not really keen on styles anymore," Luke says. "I think most breweries might have an ale that essentially fills the gap of a lager anyway.
“I think most people drink by occasion; they aren’t choosing a beer to choose a lager or an ale, they are choosing what to have with dinner or for the end of the day to share with some friends.”
Luke says his hope for the book is that it becomes a practical resource: a reference point for anyone looking to discover new beers without being overwhelmed by technicalities.
“I think we can be too worried about how much people know and want to educate them too fast," he says, "rather than just celebrating what we are all doing and drinking.”
Having turned a blog that started as university assignment into a full-time career, Luke’s better placed than most to argue beer education should be kept fun.
Luke first launched Ale of a Time in 2010 and, just as there were far fewer breweries in Australia then, so was the beer media tiny. Willie Simpson had been leading the way, with books and a regular Sydney Morning Herald column, with the likes of Vic Crossland (WA) and Mike Gribble (SA) also appearing in newspapers and Beer & Brewer magazine found in breweries and homebrew stores across the country.
But, online, there had been little appearing on a regular basis before then.
Microbrewing.com.au, launched by Nail Brewing founder John Stallwood, was on hiatus, Luke's future podcast coconspirator Dave Ellis ran the From Beer To Eternity blog with Rian Peak, Pete "Prof Pilsner" Mitcham produced his Beer Blokes blog before becoming part of the Brews News team, while James Davidson, now Bright Brewery’s marketing manager, wrote about Beers, Bars, Bands.
Brews News launched early in 2010, The Crafty Pint following that spring, with Luke noting how the growth in local beer was spurring the development of local beer writing.
“It really felt like it was the start of something,” he says. “It was really enjoyable and I felt I was getting the experience I wanted from my degree in this little world so I abandoned it and focused on doing Ale of a Time as a bit of a hobby.”
In time, this decision lead to writing for both Brews News and The Crafty Pint and the creation of the podcast with Dave. Then, when he took out the trophy for Best Media at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2015, Luke decided it was time to focus on doing what he loved.
“I came up to a decade in my job, I had long service leave, a whole lot of holiday leave and I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing,” he says.
Which brings us to his first book. While there are challenges involved in moving from writing for yourself to writing features that are edited by someone else to having a book of more than 200 pages edited and re-edited before your eyes, Luke says he found the process rewarding, if arduous, although not necessarily in the way you might expect.
The harder part of the process was deciding which breweries and beers to include. With some 450 brewing companies in Australia, his initial list was not only large, but constantly shifting as new beers got released and breweries opened or closed their doors.
“It was a big jigsaw,” Luke says. “There were times where I found out beers I had included were no longer being made and it just created a knock-on effect across the book.”
As to who he hopes will buy it, Luke says he's looked to include plenty in the book for those who are just discovering the wider world of beer as well as those with a broader knowledge.
“I think it will appeal to people who have been in the beer world for a long time, because there are so many breweries right now I don’t think anyone knows about them all. My goal is that everyone who picks it up goes and finds a new brewery that might be local to them, maybe one that might not even be in the book.”
The book goes beyond breweries and beers too; each beer comes with suggested food pairings, all of which come from Luke (an avid foodie too) and which he tried to keep fairly left of centre. An example from the book sees him matching Modus Operandi’s Sonic Prayer IPA with Vietnamese coleslaw, a dish he writes is “horribly underrepresented at beer pairing dinners.”
He explains: “A lot of them come from my own love for experimentation and food. We are too clung into this tradition of beer and food matching without stepping outside the realm.
“Even if [a pairing] doesn’t work, if you’ve made some good food and you’ve got a good beer, it doesn’t really matter so you may as well try something fun.”
As to what’s next, as when he launched his blog, Luke’s still figuring it out as he goes along. Some future ideas involve beers, others don’t. But, at the rate breweries are opening and the industry is changing, it’s a pretty good time to be doing what he does.
“There’s so many people out there that are ready to change and learn about this stuff that it’s hard to know how things will form in the next five years," he says. "But it’s sure exciting to watch it happen.”
* Full disclosure: A small number of sections of Keg Bottle Can were written by Crafty Pint founder James Smith. As such, he will receive some royalties from book sales. All the more reason to send it to the top of the bestseller lists, folks!