When Sunday Road first fired up their brewery in February, it was the culmination of a long road for Brad Walker.
A long-term homebrewer, Brad had hoped to find a home for his venture in Sydney's south far earlier but, unable to find the right site, he instead turned to gypsy brewing and released the first Sunday Road beer in 2016. Since then, brewing has taken place at Wayward as Brad continued the hunt for a home to call his own. Eventually, he found what he was after in Kirrawee, with the brewery set to be joined by a cellar door in the coming weeks.
The person charged with brewing alongside Brad is head brewer Mick O'Rance, whose beer-making CV is an impressive one. Back in 2009, Mick joined the Kosciuszko operation in Jindabyne soon after it was built by Chuck Hahn as a home for the Lion-owned brand.
“I was watching them put the brewpub in when I was working and living in Thredbo," Mick says. "I was in a tiny one bedroom apartment and had about 240-odd longnecks on rotation for my homebrew setup."
While on a tour of the Malt Shovel Brewery in Camperdown a short while later, Mick offered his services to a brewing team already becoming tired of making the five hour trek from Sydney to Jindabyne.
"I said, 'If you need anyone local to help you out, send back a temperature reading or anything, I’m happy to help out, I’m a keen homebrewer and would love to be involved'," Mick says.
A plumber by trade, it was Mick's first chance to brew professionally and soon saw him move back to Sydney to take a full-time role at Malt Shovel Brewing. For eighteen months he'd brew at both Kosciuszko and Malt Shovel, a situation that led to many hours in the car and much time spent in Canberra, which was where he met Richard Watkins, then head brewer at the Wig & Pen before moving on to launch BentSpoke.
He joined Richard as they were commissioning BentSpoke's production brewery in Mitchell in 2015, helping oversee production, until he was offered a new role by the world's largest brewery. Goose Island had been introduced to Australia by AB InBev midway through 2017 and the plan was to build a brewpub in Melbourne for the Chicago-based brand.
“It again sounded like an opportunity that I’d regret if I didn’t take it,” Mick says.
Initially, after five weeks at Goose Island's original brewpub, main production brewery and Barrel Room in Chicago, he started supervising production of their beers at Cascade Brewery in Hobart.
“There’s six full-time brewers just in the barrel room and it’s beautiful too, people get married there,” Mick says.
But, as delays kept the proposed Goose Island brewpub from opening – and he was getting close to a year as a brewer without a brewery – Mick decided it was time to move back to Sydney and put down some roots. Ultimately, those roots took hold at Sunday Road, a brewing company operating on a rather different scale to AB InBev.
“Brad came through with Chuck at Malt Shovel when I was working there," Mick says. "We had a beer and a chat and we’d catch up whenever he was in the city.”
That led to the pair brewing together on what's now their pilot kit, with the first beer forming the basis for the brewery's flagship Enigma Ale. So, as they prepare to open the Kirrawee brewery doors to the public, we invited Mick to feature in our Brew & A series.
Why are you a brewer?
I love beer and homebrewing got me hooked on the creativity of brewing new beers.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
Probably still on the tools plumbing.
What was your epiphany beer?
Back in 1999. Black Sheep on the hand pump as my nightly knock-off pint at The Yorke Arms, about ten miles from the brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
I homebrewed for a few years, and then I noticed a brewery was opening at the local pub, so I found out who was running it and asked if I could help. That was Chuck Hahn and the brewery was the Kosciuszko Brewing Co in Jindabyne.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
I hope every batch I brew is the best but, as for my favourite beer I’ve brewed, BentSpoke’s Sprocket is hard to beat.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
HOPS! I am US and New World biased.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
Yep, a Squid Ink Black Pils on the pilot kit at The Malt Shovel Brewery… It went straight down the drain.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be and why?
I am forever grateful for the few months I spent at Goose Island in Chicago but, being a lover of sour beers, I would have to head to Belgium. Maybe Rodenbach or Liefmans; a bit of beer and brewery history wrapped up together.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
Newstead Brewing Co for giving back to both the local and brewing community. Garage Project for trying just about everything and anything you could think of.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
Rodenbach Grand Cru.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
A total mixed bag of everything.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
That it was an actual career choice back when I was leaving school all those years ago!
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
The brewing, surfing, then drinking with mates day is just a myth; mostly it is just solid hard physical work.
You can find other entries in the long-running Brew & A series here.
And to keep up to date with Sunday Road Brewing, head to their Facebook here.