Warrnambool's Middle Island might not have the same population or name recognition as Phillip Island but in the eyes of locals, the small rocky and uninhabited island by the city's iconic breakwater couldn't be more special.
Like Phillip Island, Middle Island is home to colonies of little penguins but for these birds, their future looked particularly threatened a couple of decades ago. Due to the island's close proximity to the shore, low tide left them vulnerable to predators like foxes and by 2005, there were just ten breeding pairs left. So to protect them, some guardians were brought in.
Enter the Maremma dogs - typically they keep watch over sheep but with penguin numbers critically low, the local council was willing to try anything and decided to listen to a local farmer who had noticed well the breed looked after his free-range chickens. Today, the penguin population is thriving, while the unusual bit of wildlife conservation was captured in the 2015 film, Oddball.
Considering Warrnambool's pride in that story, when three local families - the Adams, the Howells and the Munros - came together to launch a brewing company last year, Middle Island Brewing Co was an easy pick. Sam Munro says before launching, each of them really got to know each other through homebrewing together and when COVID's impact dragged on, they made the decision to launch something professionally.
“None of us knew what would eventuate and we all wanted to do something a bit more in line with what we like to do,” Sam says.
Although the brewing company is still young, collectively, those three families have a fair bit of brewing experience; the Munros have been brewing for several years, the Howells for around a decade before that, while the Adams' homebrew experience goes back some three decades. Indeed, in the case of the Adams, beer seems to run in the blood with Carolyn’s father, Gordon Clark, having founded the Amateur Brewers Association of Victoria (which is now The Melbourne Brewers) in 1972; the year homebrewing became legal in Australia.
The first Middle Island beer was an XPA called Southern Ocean that was released in November last year and brewed at Prickly Moses, while they've subsequently brewed other beers, like Howling Hefe and the midstrength Guardian at East Bendigo Brewing. Sam says while they're still working through the finer details of how it will look, they're all keen to have a proper home in Warrnambool and he adds that the support they've received across Victoria's west has been really encouraging too.
“So we’ve managed to become really widely spread, including cafes, to a lot of the IGAs and local bottleshops,” Sam says.
As their latest release - Get Shuck'd Oyster Stout - makes its way into those retailers, we asked Sam and Camille Munro, Simon and Carolyn Adams and Briony Howell to join us for our Who Brews? series.
Middle Island Brewing
Who are you?
The Munros: Sam works as a teacher and Camille works in agriculture. We got into brewing through friends and family and Simon Adams. We love craft beer and trying assorted styles – due to COVID we thought why not make our own.
The Adams: Simon is Boilermaker and Carolyn is a nurse, while both of us are ex-dairy farmers and have both worked in hospitality
The Howells: I'm Briony and I currently work in the health industry, while my husband has been brewing for years too.
Where do you brew?
We have brewed at Prickly Moses and at East Bendigo Brewing. We just recently just finished brewing our fourth beer - Get Shuck’d Oyster Stout - which has just hit shelves.
Why do you brew?
Sam: It is therapeutic and I love being able to put my own spin on different beer styles I like to drink.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Sam: At a staff Christmas party that Simon hosted in 2018, he showed us his Grainfather setup and tasted his delicious home brews. After that night, Camille and I bought a home brewing kit for Christmas, and it exploded from there.
Simon: Carolyn’s father was the founder of the Amateur Brewers Association of Victoria which got me started.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Briony: We wanted something that would resonate with the locals since we love the vibrancy of the Warrnambool tourism and hospitality scene.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
Sam: It would be hard to split our current beers apart. Like asking a parent who is your favourite child. Our flagship beer the Southern Ocean Ale was our first release, and we are so proud of it. The Guardian mid-strength ale is a beer I am immensely proud of as well since I always wanted an ale that was a middy that tasted like a full-strength beer, so chuffed with what we produced.
Simon: The Howling Hefe is my baby I have been playing around with the recipe for a couple of years now.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
Sam: I honestly would not know but I would be happy to have anyone walk in if they were keen to learn and swap stories or teach us about brewing and hopefully they enjoy our brews.
Simon: Carolyn’s father.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Sam: The three brewers have a vast range of music tastes so it could range from old Aussie rock classics to Smith Street Band and Boo Seeka to Karnivool. I guess, mostly music from the 90s to 2010s is an easy go-to.
Briony: I like my 80’s music so usually it's a random 80’s playlist on Spotify so I can sing along.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Sam: I have home brews in the fridge ranging from cider to stouts along with beers from Holgate, Deeds, East Bendigo Brewing, Sailors Grave, Noodledoof and Prickly Moses. Our local craft beer scene is going off! It is an extremely exciting time for our region and craft beer.
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
Sam: Our Guardian mid-strength ale. It is a cracker of a beer and a style I always go for.
Simon: Any good wheat beer.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Sam: Prickly Moses XPA and Chainsaw are amazing beers! The Noodledoof Soft Haze IPA is epic!
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
Sam: I really want to go down the sour path and learn about the chemistry of what is happening within each step. It is very fascinating, and the end results are amazing.
Where can people find your beers?
Sam: We currently have close to 30 amazing stockists from supermarkets to cafes. IGA supermarkets from Portland to Camperdown, bottle shops in Warrnambool to Bannockburn and cafes and restaurants from Warrnambool to Lorne. You can find the stockists here.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
Sam: We hope to have a physical presence in town with our own brewery and tap house. We are learning heaps about the business side of things as gypsy brewers. So, when it comes time to run our own tap house we will have a great idea of how it will all go together. We want it to be a fun, relaxing and an epic place for people to enjoy cracking beers and local produce.
Briony: We would love to have a taproom by then for sure, something where people will come and share our love of beer.
You can keep up with what Middle Island Brewing are up to on Facebook and Instagram.
All past Who Brews...? features are available here.