On an evening in early February 2011, one of the few gatherings of the Australian Beer Writers Guild took place in Josie Bones, the beer-centric Collingwood restaurant opened by Masterchef contestants Chris Badenoch and Julia Jenkins.
The Guild – a collection of beer bloggers and writers of the time – may have proved to be short-lived but the evening remains memorable.
There was the dinner itself: we put ourselves in the hands of beer sommelier James Greenfield and Julia’s sister Jess, who now has her own barrel-based brewery Penyllan on a Danish island and is married to Beer Here founder Christian Skovdal Andersen, and allowed them to surprise us with a series of beer and food pairings. There was one in particular – a strong Belgian golden ale with a bone marrow cigar – that stopped us in our tracks as it wove magic upon our palates.
And for me, then a few months into running The Crafty Pint and involved in the conversations that would lead to Good Beer Week, it proved fortuitous. Among the diners was Alister Robbie, a videographer, editor, homebrewer and blogger going by the name of The Wobbly Thong.
At one point, as we discussed an event coming up that weekend – the Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda – I mentioned I was planning to take my camera down to do some filming as it felt like this was going to be a significant moment in craft beer’s rise. Quick as a flash, aware I’d never filmed at an event before, Alister stepped in to plead: “Please don’t!” insisting I’d only hurt the reputation of my fledgling site if it was done amateurishly.
So he did. And just as well he did. Instead of something half-arsed, we ended up with a fine document of that moment in time, featuring many of the key players in the rise of craft beer in Australia: Brad Rogers of Stone & Wood, Jayne Lewis, now of Two Birds, comedy duo Dave Golding (Red Hill) and Simon Walkenhorst (Hargreaves Hill), Sam Füss, now of Philter. Even one of the beer geeks we spoke to, Justin McPhail, has gone from saying he wanted to make love to Holgate’s first batch of Empress to running Flight Bar & Bottleshop and Hustler in Bendigo.
But this story isn’t about them; it’s about the man behind the camera.
“That still rates as one of then most amazing beer-food experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” he says of the dinner. “[James] went nose to tail at that tasting and matched it all the way.”
This year sees Alister celebrate ten years of filming in and around the beer world, mixing projects for some of the country’s best-loved indies with those for bigger breweries within a career that’s frequently taken him around the globe for a diverse array of industries. Along the way, he’s put out the occasional funky beer developed as a homebrewer under the Cobalt Brewing banner too, winning best new brewery and best new beer (for an 18-month-old keg) at a past Good Beer Week New Brewer Showcase.
He has tallied around 50 breweries across Australia and NZ over the decade of filming, and reckons he’s created more content for breweries than anyone else in the world.
“I’ve met a lot of people who specialise in craft breweries who’ve done five or ten,” he says, adding: “For the last ten years I think I’ve been one of the custodians of craft beer industry along with The Crafty Pint and Brews News and everyone else, and I still think that there’s a need for what we do.”
It’s a fair point. While his company, The Post Project, won’t be known by name in the same way other media platforms are in the beer world, he’s brought many stories to life over the years and continues to do so, these days with Pete “Prof Pilsner” Mitcham of Radio Brews News and more festival and beer hosting gigs (and dad jokes) than anyone else in the industry often at his side.
But it turns out Alister came late to beer, even if film and computers were always part of his life, starting out at school where he got to work with half a million bucks worth of gear thanks to the generosity of another pupil’s dad who worked at Sony.
“For two or three years after I left school, I didn’t drink at all,” he recalls. “I was born in Cairns and grew up in Central Queensland – there was no craft beer 200 kilometres inland from Mackay.”
Once beer did make an appearance while at uni, it was a fairly typical progression from cases of “shit beer” then Coopers red or green. It was a move to Melbourne, however, that proved the turning point when a mate of a mate introduced him to two guys called Cam and Dave.
“They were the second people I met in Melbourne,” he says of Mountain Goat founders Cam Hines and Dave Bonighton. Straight away, he became a regular at the legendary Friday night parties at their Crown Street site after enjoying one of many beer epiphanies.
“‘Oh shit! That’s what beer can taste like!’,” is how he recalls his first visit, one that led to “a lot of lock-ins and birthdays there.”
Via a job at a computer shop he moved into the world of production, where he “did a lot of crazy big productions – worked in Japan; did documentaries for Deep Purple and crazy rock bands” before, in 2008, going out on his own.
By that stage, a friend from boarding school and past housemate, Karl Curnow, had moved to Melbourne too and suggested they started homebrewing.
“Things started to intersect,” Alister says, with the first beer shoot once he’s formed The Post Project featuring Bridge Road Brewers’ 500th brew. “In Australia, no one was using video to tell their story. I credit [Bridge Road founder] Ben Kraus with being so forward-thinking.”
Soon afterwards, he was shooting at events all over the first Good Beer Week, including a music video for Elbowskin’s Beer Song (see below), and scored his first gig with Little Creatures after a friend from high school suggested their marketing team chat to Alister about video work.
“They flew me to Freo to do a video for Puffing Billy, one of their first Single Batches. Then all of a sudden things got very serious with Creatures – more structured, greater expectations, serious budgets.”
The work took him overseas to film at Emerson’s when the two breweries collaborated, with collars becoming a significant part of his career in beer due to the short films he’s made each year featuring Australian International Beer Awards winners. Add in work with GABS on the breweries featured in their mixed packs and it’s easy to see how the number of breweries he’s worked with has hit the half century.
“There have been promos, brand stories, new beer launches, collab beers, venue launches,” he says. “And a lot of time in breweries learning how to shoot stainless!”
He says the work he was doing outside beer, with global car companies, banks and real estate agents “with their different approaches to content”.
“Combined with work for both big breweries and one / two person breweries I was learning from all those different spaces to create better content for all of them,” Alister says, while pouring a three-year-old bottle of one of Cobalt’s beers: Into The Woods, a kettle soured, Brett fermented ale featuring cherries.
“I worked the big end of town and the small end of town. The work we did with Little Creatures – they had the budget to get stuff out there. A rising tide lifts all boats so it helped create an audience for it, so people were more open to seeing the stuff we did with smaller breweries.”
Looking back over the decade, he says: “The industry has matured a lot. Everyone has realised that making good beer isn’t enough on its own; ten years ago it was.
“New breweries have got more sophisticated. Branding and labelling design have just improved so much. People are more committed to it. People understand that to start a brewery you have to to chuck in a decent amount of money and you have to spend on marketing. It’s grown remarkably and that’s fantastic.
“We’ve seen the industry go from fledgling to fully grown. Where it goes from here is self-determined.”
As for his own role in that, he says: “I think I’ve given the industry a voice. I’ve helped to put a face to a name, to all the stories behind the label in a personal and emotive way.
“It’s all been about giving the beers a personality and celebrating the breweries.
“Some people are well known for making amazing beers and doing amazing stuff but the work we did certainly helped to broadcast that to a wider audience.”
Photo at top features a shoot for Bridge Road Brewers.
You can view other entries in The Collaborators series, which focuses on businesses operating in tandem with the beer world, here.