Have you ever picked up a hobby to try and save some money, only for it to end up costing far more than you ever could have imagined?
It's a predicament plenty of homebrewers have found them in, including the man at the helm of Lake Mac Brewing Co: Luke Willis. He started homebrewing – as many do – because extract kits were cheaper than beer.
“That was really the only reason I started homebrewing,” Luke says with a laugh.
His cost-saving initiative soon developed into an expensive obsession, as he embarked on a mission to find different flavours with which to fill his glass.
“I didn’t stay with the extract kits for long because to me it just didn’t feel like enough," Luke says. "I wanted to try different styles and make different things. That’s how I got into all-grain brewing.”
Over the next 18 years, Luke honed his craft, often via the time-honoured technique known as trial and error.
"I’m self taught," he says. "There were a lot of things that were scary about brewing, a lot of things I had that I had no idea if they would work or not. I just had to hope.
"If they worked, great. If they didn’t, try again."
This resilience and determination ultimately culminated in Luke's decision to leave his position as an NBN field supervisor to create Lake Mac Brewing Co in Morisset, a town around halfway between Newcastle and Gosford.
The decision wasn’t an easy one, but it's one Luke figures he would have regretted not making.
“I just thought why not,” he says. “I couldn’t do my old job for the rest of my life, and it was probably time I stepped my brewing game up.”
Once settled into the space housing his brewery, Luke battled with the initial learning curve of scaling up from home to commercial brewing, leaning on assistance from those around him.
“It was a lot to process when I started, a lot of huge days by myself," he says. "It was pretty hard going in with only my own experiences.
“I can’t thank Simon [Maxwell] from Bay Road Brewing enough. He showed me the ropes and gave me a lot of tips and tricks.”
After more than 18 months of preparation, Lake Mac Brewing Co opened their doors to the local community in October 2020. Ahead of the brewery's first anniversary, we invited Luke to take part in our long-running Who Brews...? series.
LAKE MAC BREWING CO
Who are you?
My name is Luke, and I am the owner, head brewer and everything else that’s needs doing in the brewery. We have two other staff members, Mikayla and Chris, who man the bar when I am not available.
I was a field supervisor before I started the brewery.
Where do you brew?
Morisset, Lake Macquarie region, NSW, about halfway between Gosford and Newcastle. We are less than five mins from the M1 – a great location for people going past to the Hunter Valley or Newcastle. They can stop in for a sneaky pint then continue on their way.
Why do you brew?
I have a passion for different tastes and flavours that can be created with simple ingredients: grains, hops and water. I love making people happy about beer.
My passion is to make people join and love our ever-evolving craft beer industry.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Not really. I did it for the savings at first, like most people, then I followed the rabbit hole and never returned, and now I am here.
With 18 years experience in brewing, I believe I’ve learned a lot, but I’m always learning from others in the industry.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
I wanted people to see a name they can relate to, a name local to them. This area has great history and amazing people. We give ode to the area we reside in.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
Our Amber Ale, Dance At Dusk, is one of our most popular beers. It represents our business: not too hoppy, not too malty, it’s just right. Just an old style of beer which people can sit down and reminisce on the good times over and over.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Not much really. They can enjoy the sounds of industrial noise. Noises the brewhouse makes, the smells the brewhouse creates. I like to hear the brewhouse, like to feel the brewhouse. I can’t do that with music blaring, I save that for at home, when I can sit down and tastes the fruits of the brewery and what it creates.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
None. I like the freshest of beers. I usually drink whatever I buy on the day/night.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Bay Rd make some phenomenal beer. But there are so many breweries that make outstanding beer that are not too far away from us, like Maltnhops, Six String, Block 'n Tackle – even out as far as Tinshed at Dungog. They all make fantastic beer with different brewing styles.
Where can people find your beers?
In our taproom, at the writing of this, but in the next few weeks we will be doing a massive canning run and supplying to a lot of bottleshops, locally in Newcastle and in the Hunter Valley. Keep an eye on our socials for where our products can be bought.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
Still making quality products, for the locals and the whole craft community.
You can find Luke and his team at 3/2 Brodie Street, Morisset, as well as in the free Crafty Pint app alongside hundreds of other breweries and good beer venues.