When the team behind Prickly Moses took over Queenscliff's Esplanade Hotel, it offered a unique opportunity for Mattias Isaksson.
As one quarter of the team behind the gypsy brewery Old Wives Ales, Mattias was keen to find more work brewing and, having just moved into the area, saw the opportunity to head up the brewing side of the operation, which was being reinvented as the Queenscliff Brewhouse.
“Me and my partner wanted to move out of Melbourne and settle down a bit so we headed out here to be closer to her home turf,” Mattias says.
“Old Wives was very much an emerging passion project for all of us and I wanted something else to let me work in this industry when this job came up.”
It means Mattias has been working away on Queenscliff Brewhouse's 300 litre system since it launched towards the end of 2016. His time there is largely spent developing and making the brewery's approachable core range, made up of a cream ale, a steam ale and an English mild plus an Aussie lager name after the local sports club, the Coutas.
The brewery and his beers – which pour alongside the wider Prickly Moses range plus other local offerings – are just one part of a multi-faceted venue. As with the sibling venue in Apollo Bay, the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse, you'll find a Tastes Of The Region cellar door and tasting room next door, home to more than 100 Australian craft beers plus a wide range of wines, spirits, cheeses and other produce sourced from the wider region.
The most recent addition is found upstairs: the Whisky Bar & Restaurant, which is home to more than 400 whiskies, gins, vodkas and rums. Add in a still in the cellar plus a beer garden at the rear – complete with a wall lined with barrels namechecking dozens of beer styles – and you've got a combination that has made the Brewhouse a popular stop on the Peninsula's tourist trail.
It's a far cry from the other brewing company in Mattias' life. Formed with three fellow homebrewers – Nathan Keatch, Shannon Brooks and Justin Spicer – at Old Wives Ales the focus is a little different. In the last 12 months alone, the foursome have released a berry-loaded sour (in collaboration with the frontman of Swedish punk rockers Millencolin), a double NEIPA and a raspberry liquorice stout.
“That was always my approach for beer making as a homebrewer," Mattias says, "and Old Wives became the channel for that.
"Trying to merge spectacular flavours together in unique ways: I love that about beer and those are the kind of beers that have always blown me away."
So, while Mattias hopes to get Queenscliff locals drinking more diverse beers – he plans to push sours hard over summer – most of his time is focused on the core beers.
“With the Queenscliff side of things, it’s been a great experience trying to get better at repeatability and make sure these beers taste the same every single time. As well as trying to lock down the little tweaks and make small adjustments to make a recipe better.”
It means Mattias isn't just brewing different beers for two distinct operations but also making beer for two fairly distinct groups of people: beer geeks and the uninitiated.
“I love both of those aspects," he says. "I love getting people that aren't into craft and trying to convert them and try something different.
“But I love being able to please the beer geek crowd. Beer is being pushed to such a high level at the moment; everyone’s brewing great beer around Melbourne and Australia in general. It really pushes the envelope on how those crazy one-offs need to be delivered.”
Now, without further ado, here's Mattias to us what he loves about brewing as part of our Brew & A series.
Why are you a brewer?
I’ve always looked for an outlet for my creativity. When I was first introduced to the world of brewing it was love at first sight: I found a way to implement my passion for music and visual arts into the art of forging flavours.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
Probably a sound engineer or a bass player in a punk rock band. Or a bit of both.
What was your epiphany beer?
A 500ml bottle of Epic Armageddon IPA; it was the first beer to get those arm hairs elevated. I couldn’t believe the flavours coming out of it.
It wasn’t my first IPA but definitely the one to seal the deal; my love for hops was real and there was no turning back.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
I started obsessing with beer making on a basic homebrew level back home in Sweden. It completely consumed me and I desperately wanted to learn more.
When moving to Melbourne in 2011 I eventually connected with likeminded people via the homebrew club Merri Mashers. It became such a great forum to exchange ideas and get really good feedback from much more experienced brewers.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
It’s probably the White Chocolate Raspberry Saison I brewed at home back in the days. It was a really fun project playing around with so many flavours. It all came together really well in the end and I'm still waiting on the right moment to repeat it.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Hops. It’s the ingredient that had most impact on myself as a brewer and beer lover. As far as varieties go, it’s hard to go past Citra.
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
I’ve brewed some pretty average test batches. One that comes to mind is an IPA I brewed with manuka smoked malt. It didn’t turn out that great and was not the best combo of flavours. I still finished the keg though.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be and why?
Russian River. Vinnie Cilurzo is an absolute brewing legend.
He’s brewed some of the best hop driven beers and sours I’ve ever had and is a vault of knowledge. To be able to pick his brains for a while would be priceless.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
I've always been a huge fan of Garage Project. They push boundaries and pull it off with flying colours every time. Amazing beers in equally amazing packaging.
On home soil KAIJU! have always been an inspiration; they really set the bar high early on with hop driven beers in Australia. Great branding and great guys too.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
A never ending supply of Rodenbach Caractere Rouge would certainly help maintain my sanity.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
A collection of Trojan Records ska/rock steady from the 60s and Desmond Dekker especially. I’m on an island after all, right?
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?
Invest in a really good pair of work boots from day one.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Embrace your passion and enthusiasm. Be persistent but humble. Listen and take note of what the experienced ones have to say. Wear sunscreen.
Sorry, it got a bit Baz Luhrmann-esqe there.
Queenscliff Brewhouse is at 2 Gellibrand Street, Queenscliff.
You can find other entries in the long-running Brew & A series here. And you'll find Queenscliff Brewhouse and hundreds of other good beer venues across Australia by downloading the free Crafty Pint app.