Last month, we went behind the scenes at The Indies beer awards, peering inside the world of the stewards without whom such events couldn't run.
Now, as part of our occasional The Story Of... series, we take a deep dive into the story of Moff's Summer Ale, the little beer that can – and does.
Completing a trilogy of sorts, next week we'll look at what it takes to claim a champion trophy at a beer competition, tracing the journey of the Champion Juicy-Hazy at this year's Indies.
The previous two beers we featured in this series were an imperial barrel-aged smoked porter and a double IPA with cult favourite status. While we’re not of the mindset that bigger has to mean better when it comes to good beer – whatever Untappd or Ratebeer might tell you – it’s hard to argue against the notion that bigger stands out more. So it’s always good to be reminded that it’s not the size of the beer that counts: it’s what you do with it.
And what have Matt and Shaz Wilson done with Moff’s Summer Ale?
Collected seven trophies in three years, that's what.
We should point out that's not the total trophy haul for Moffat Beach Brewing overall; the Sunshine Coast brewers have won way more than that. Little ole Moff’s Summer Ale has won seven of its own – and if you know of an Aussie beer of recent vintage that can compete with such a record, we're all ears.
This run of triumphs came off the back of a few years of markedly less awards success too. We’ve written before about the humble origins of Moffat Beach’s beer: how Matt and Shaz Wilson squeezed a tiny brewhouse into the corner of their beachside café, and how Matt started entering beers into awards as a way to get feedback and grow his skills as a brewer.
It was during these years that Matt first brewed Moff’s Summer Ale on his 300L system in the café at Moffat Beach. He knew it was a good beer. He liked it. The punters liked it. But when it came to awards, it was hard for Moff’s to find its place. Because Matt didn’t brew it to fit one particular style, it was difficult to know how to categorise the beer.
“For years, we’d enter it and never did any good with it," Matt says. "Because if I entered it as an Australian-style pale ale, we got marked down ‘cause it’s got American hops in it. And if we entered it as an American-style pale ale, we got marked down because there wasn’t enough malt in it. So for a long time, we were going, ‘Where does this beer belong?’”
After a few of these false starts, Matt decided to take a methodical approach to figure out how to categorise the beer for future awards.
“I actually went through the style guidelines, looking for a spot for this beer, and session IPA – it fits in there perfectly. The colour, the hop profile, the alcohol. [In 2020] we entered it at the Royal Queensland Beer Awards into Session IPA category, and it won Grand Champion Beer.
“OK – this is where it belongs!”
From there, the trophies started rolling in. Champion Session Beer at the Queensland awards was followed up by Champion Session Beer at the 2020 Indies (Independent Brewers Association awards). Then it took the same trophy at the 2021 Queensland awards. And again at the 2021 Indies. And again at the 2022 Queensland awards. (At the 2022 Australian International Beer Awards, they had to make do with Champion Small Australian Brewery, Best International-Style Pale Ale for Shadow Of The Moon, and Best Traditional IPA for their Trilogy.)
It’s worth remembering at this point that these awards are all assessed by blind tasting. Previous winners don’t get any special consideration. There’s no opportunity for nepotism or confirmation bias, and it’s not a popularity vote. The judges – all industry professionals – have no idea what beers they’re tasting, and simply judge each beer on its merits within its category. And time and time again this session IPA took out the session beer category.
After that many trophies, it almost became unsurprising each time Moff’s won an award. But that changed in 2022, when the IBA dismantled the session beer category and replaced it with "NoLo (No or Low Alc)". Suddenly session IPAs were moved into the IPA category, meaning everyone, including Matt and Shaz, received a shock when their little session IPA took out Champion IPA at the 2022 Indies.
“That one took us by surprise,” Matt says. “We thought it had no chance in the IPA category. Up against all those bigger flavoured beers, we would’ve been happy with a gold medal for it. But when it won champion IPA… whoa.”
The awards Moffat Beach have won over the years have seen Matt’s confidence as a brewer grow, but he’s retained his down-to-earth humility. When I asked him why he thought Moff’s shone in the IPA category, he shrugged.
“I don’t know why it stood out… The batch we sent down was super fresh. Maybe it was a bit more delicate compared to those other bigger beers, like it seemed a little bit more refined, and the hops shone. I don’t know. That’s all I could put my finger on.”
Unless a fairy godmother has put an enchantment on Moffat’s brewhouse, or someone has secretly been dosing batches of Moff’s with illicit substances, we may all have to accept that Moff’s Summer Ale is just a damn fine beer. So while we’re all trying to work out what the X factor is in this little brew, let’s hear more of The Story Of Moff’s Summer Ale from Matt himself.
MOFF'S SUMMER ALE
When was the beer first conceived? Was it a recipe from your homebrewing days?
In our core range we do have two beers I designed in the shed at home, but this one I designed on the little kit at Moffat Beach. The brewery started in 2015, first time we brewed it I think was 2016.
How did it come about?
I was just after that beer that was easy-drinking, but full-flavoured… not an insipid lager, basically.
Probably quite selfishly I was brewing stuff I liked to drink, and doing different stuff all the time to keep myself interested. We didn’t have a core range then; we just kept rotating the beers. But this one naturally found itself on the taps all the time, and became part of the core range. It was one of the first ones we put in there.
What expectations did you have for the beer when it was first released?
Down at the beach in those early days, I was finding my groove and brewing a lot of different beers all the time to see what worked and what didn’t. When we first started the bar there in 2012, it was a bit of a hard slog getting people to try the different beers – we had Moo Brew Pilsner on, and one of the customers said: “It’s more ‘moo’ than ‘brew’!” – but I reckon around 2014 or 2015, people really started getting into the hops.
I sort of knew this beer would be popular… if I could execute what I wanted it to be. I knew it was going to be easy-drinking, and people were starting to get into hops. It took a little bit of refining, but it’s been a pretty popular beer since day one.
Was it inspired by any other beers?
I drew inspiration from a lot of these beers from back then.
I wanted the sessionability of Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale, but I wanted it to have more hops in it.
Young Henrys Newtowner was popular, and we had that on from time to time, so definitely that.
But also the beers that Green Beacon were putting out. Their 3 Bolt was a pretty solid pale ale, but [I was also inspired by] the hop utilisation in the beers Johann was putting out across the board, not just this beer.
I wanted it to be sessionable, but I wanted it to have an elevated hop profile, to be full-flavoured.
What were the early batches like compared to the beer today?
I went back and had a look at some of the old recipes. The grain bill hasn’t really changed at all.
Initially, we were changing the hops in this beer all the time… it was more for me to educate myself on what each hop was tasting like. And some [batches] were better than others. And then we hit on this version, which was in 2017, and it has stayed pretty much the same ever since. There’s only two different hops in this.
There’s one thing: we’re now using Cryo hops on the cold side, which we weren’t doing originally. From about 2019. Purely only for dry-hopping.
Has it always been called Moff’s Summer Ale?
Yeah. I designed it to drink at Moffat Beach, while you’re looking at the waves draw in.
Moffs is what the locals call the suburb, and I just wanted that beer that resonated with the locals, and the tourists, and everyone: “Let’s go down to Moffs and have a Moff’s.” But mostly people just call it Summer Ale.
The weird thing is, the venue next to ours changed hands a couple of years ago, and they called their venue Moffs! And they’ve got this beer on tap.
Why do you call it a summer ale?
Originally, we were just gonna have this beer as a seasonal beer in the summer, just the drink in the summer time, but having done so well with it almost from the get go, we’ve had to keep it on all the time. But we do still find that with the name Summer Ale, the sales of it do go up exponentially in the summer time and drop off in the winter months.
My sales rep probably hates me saying that! But I do it too: probably drink more Passenger in the winter time, and have this in the pool in summer.
Putting aside any kind of marketing or customer expectations… what kind of beer is it?
I don’t know. Session IPA wasn’t what I had in my mind. I probably would put it into its own category.
I just wanted to brew a beer for the Queensland climate. Probably an Australian style pale ale, with a bit more "GO!" about it. I wanted the drinkability of a fairly light-bodied beer, but I really wanted a good kick from the hops. We serve a lot of seafood over there [at the Moffat Beach venue], so I wanted it to go with that.
Moff’s has been such a consistent trophy-winning beer. Do you think of it as your best, or one of your best, beers?
Sort of like asking you to pick a favourite child! I’m pretty proud of most of the stuff we put out.
Passenger I really love – that’s one of the beers I brewed in my shed at home. The Deadbeat, that’s another beer I brewed at home… I don’t really drink much of this, but I will have one of those when I’m really hot and thirsty. The Social Jam was the first beer I won a trophy for: an awesome little mid-strength pale ale. And the Trilogy is probably one of my favourite beers.
But definitely this beer, I’m super proud of the accolades it’s got. It will always have a special place in my heart, because we’ve always done so well with it. We’ll keep punching it out.
Is there added pressure brewing this – and your other trophy-winners – to make sure they're always spectacular?
Nah. For the first time in the history of the business, I’ve got other people helping me brew the beer as well. So I’ve been quite particular in making things sure things are done at the specifications I expect them to be done at. Things like making sure the dry-hopping rates are consistent, and the processes are consistent. The other day we had a batch of beer that wasn’t to spec and we put it down the drain. It’s something we won’t compromise on.
We could be pumping out a lot more beer than we do, but for us the quality of beer is more important than pumping out volume. It’s nice to make money, and it’s nice to do that volume, but quality is at the core of everything we do here.
So no, I don’t feel pressure to brew this beer at that level every single time, because it’s something we expect of our beers every time we brew.
Can you tell us a little about the recipe and processes involved in making Moff's such an exemplary beer?
We mash in really low – 65 degrees – because we want it to be nice and dry for those hops to shine. We add some oats to give a bit of mouthfeel as well.
Mosaic is the main hop in this beer. There’s also some Galaxy in it. I think those two hops go really well together.
It’s a little bit different on this big system [in the production brewery] to the little system [at the Moffat Beach location]. We add a few more hops in the kettle on the little system, whereas this one we add a small charge at the start of the boil then we really load it up in the whirlpool, because we do have a separate whirlpool here. Then we get it off the whirlpool as quick as we can, straight into the fermenter, and we ferment it out at about 19 degrees.
We do have a pretty heavy hopping regime on it, moreso than most pale ales. We hop it at about 10 grams per litre. So yeah, we do hop it like an IPA, but it is essentially a pale ale. I suppose that’s probably the secret to it: we just throw heaps of hops at it!
We have had some batches of this come out hazy, and we don’t get hung up on it… but I didn’t want it to be a hazy. We add some Whirlfloc in the kettle and it helps to clarify the beer. We do give it a nice long chill. We don’t uni tank at all, with any of our beers, except at the beach; we transfer into a brite tank, and carb and package off that brite tank. Which is a bit of extra work but, for me, I think it’s worth it.
Have you taken any learnings from Moff's and applied them to other beers in your lineup?
We don’t exclusively use Cryo hops in all our beers – we still use T90 pellets in a lot of them – but this was probably the first beer where we really used those Cryo hops and saw how good the results could be.
I first started using them because you use half as much, and with such a tiny little brewhouse on the beach, it was a yield thing. I’m not sure how much more yield I was getting out of them, but I personally noticed a few of the beers improved from using them. Now we use those Cryo hops in a lot of our hop forward beers.
In your mind, what's the ideal time and place to enjoy a fresh Moff's Summer Ale?
I love walking down the beach and having one of these.
More often that not, because I’m here [at the Production House] more than I am at Moffat Beach, it’s just sitting at one of those front tables, hitting the breeze.
But sitting at Moffat, having a beer and catching the breeze off the ocean, looking at that tree and looking at the water… it’s a pretty epic way to spend the afternoon. Especially when you’ve been working hard all day.
If you’re interested in a food pairing, the Moffat Beach Brewing website has a recipe for Elotes Callejero (Mexican Street Corn) to pair with Moff’s. I’ve also seen them pair it with chilli salted squid at their Moffat Beach venue.
You can find other articles in this series here.