After three years spent making Belgian-inspired beer in South East Queensland’s smallest brewery, Madocke Brewing have added a new chapter to their story with the opening of a brewery and taproom on the Gold Coast.
Set in the suburb of Ashmore, the new Madocke is a journey that's seen Annelies Nijskens and Jimmy Van Eetvelde cross oceans, having swapped Antwerp for Queensland's Glitter Strip in 2016. Before migrating to Australia, both trained as brewers in their home country, with Annelies saying they wanted to arrive in their new home ready to bring Belgium's brewing tradition with them.
“We have always been passionate about brewing and homebrewing,” she told The Crafty Pint. “So we both went back to school and got our certificates in beer brewing from Belgium and sold our previous business.”
In what could either be a case of nature or nurture, Annelies and Jimmy's 17-year-old son is currently studying brewing at TAFE too; it might be thanks to his parents longstanding love of beer, or the fact their brewhouse is a 170-litre system located in a two-car garage.
Despite the cramped quarters, the beers produced there have won a slew of awards and fans – at least among those who’ve been able to get their hands on what the 10,000 litres per annum brewery could produce. Now their capacity is greatly increased thanks to the installation of a 12-hectolitre brewhouse and new packaging line, while the original small brewery has made the trip from the garage to Ashmore, and now operates as the Madocke pilot system.
And, while Belgian beers – aside from Cantillon imports – don’t always generate the same attention or hype at the pointier end of the local beer world as heavily hopped hazies, Annelies says interest in their take on Belgian beers is high.
“I do believe there is definitely a niche market for the Belgian beer styles and they are highly appreciated,” Annelies says.
“When we arrived in 2016, we did note that imported Belgian beers were rapidly declining on shelves in the bottleshops. But that’s just because the craft beer industry here in Australia was just booming.”
Upon launching, they soon found eager fans looking for locally-made Belgian option.
“One customer became two, two became four, and four became 16,” Annelies says. “People are on the hunt for it.
"We also see that are lot more breweries here in Australia are working with Belgian styles – they’re doing saisons and barrel-aged programs.”
The Gold Coast might be about as far from Belgium as possible – both physically and by most other conceivable measures – but the couple brought a few things in tow with them, most notably an unwavering commitment to Belgian styles and techniques, right down to the use of a yeast strain from the famous De Koninck Brewery in Antwerp.
Whether it's saisons and strong golden ales or quadrupels and raspberry witbiers, the brewery’s offering touches on most of the many and varied Belgian styles. It means that, even set against the ever-busier landscape of breweries in Queensland, and indeed Australia, Madocke remain unique.
Belgium's beers aren't UNESCO World Heritage listed for no reason, and the perfectionism at the heart of the country’s brewing culture exists in this corner of the Gold Coast. At the launch of the new brewery, despite its popularity, a cherry witbier was not tapped because, as head brewer, Jimmy was “unhappy” with the quality of the Morello cherries.
While the focus is absolutely on Belgian styles, Jimmy is not planning on shying away from experimentation. Malt- and yeast-driven Belgian styles can become, he says, more interesting when liberally dry-hopped – and there are plans to roll out fusion styles too.
“We bring the best in both worlds,” Annelies says. “It’s not to say we are here to wave with our Belgian flags and say ‘Everything about Belgium is the best,' – that’s not who we are. We are here to integrate in Australia and we are also doing hybrid beers; Belgian beers with an Australian twist or Australian beers with a Belgian twist.”
It’s an ethos that’s tied to their tagline of being “Belgian born, Coast crafted”, and having rebranded just ahead of their taproom opening, their Madocke logo still pays homage to their roots by referencing Reynard the Fox; albeit more subtly than their first. Stories involving Reynard are common in the part of Belgium from which Annelies and Jimmy hail, as well as in other parts of Europe; when it comes to Madocke, their name specifically refers to a collection of stories from one author.
“Every town has got a reference to the story, or a street name, or every market square, or corner of the street there’s a statue referring to Reynard The Fox,” Annelies says.
The stories are focused on the anthropomorphic Reynard, a trickster type figure who in some ways – particularly thanks to Disney’s 1973 film – resembles Robin Hood.
“A lot of people do know the story by heart already because it’s very similar to the story of Robin Hood,” Annelies says. “He does things wrong, steals, tricks people, but he does get away with it because he does it for a good cause.”
Now, with a welcoming home that also features guest taps from local brewers built around the goal of bringing Belgian beers to the Gold Coast, Madocke’s mission is not only a good cause but one that stands apart from all others in Australia.
Madocke are located at 286 Southportoa Nerang Rd, Ashmore. You'll find them and hundreds of other good beer venues on the free Crafty Pint app.