Two hundred and sixteen bottles. That’s how much pilsner came out of the virgin French oak barrel it was resting in. An ex-organic red wine barrel yielded 202 bottles of saison, and another red wine barrel yielded just 172 bottles of a wild ale. And with those three barrels – just shy of 600 bottles of product – Wild Barrel announced themselves to the world.
“At the moment I’m just doing single barrel releases,” brewer Shane Kent tells The Crafty Pint. He's one of the two founders of Wild Barrel, a barrel-aged beer and wild fermentation project based in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
“I’m tasting them and picking the best one, and that’s what goes into bottle when we’re doing a run.
"So much different stuff in each one. They’ve taken on their own life.”
It’s different to what many other brewers do with their barrel-aged beer programs, where blending a few barrels together is common practice. But Wild Barrel have a tiny brew kit, a skeleton crew, and a love of small batch beer done slowly. So for now at least, single barrels is the way they’re handling their releases.
Shane is in charge of brewing and barrels at Wild Barrel – as well as social media, ordering of materials, and sales. His introduction to the world of professional brewing was a baptism of fire. During a four year stint at the always-busy Terella Brewing, Shane worked under head brewer Brandt Bamford and was tasked with coming up with hundreds of recipes, as well as doing some work in their barrel program.
“He just threw me in the deep end. He was so busy with the business side of things, he was like, ‘You have to sink or swim.’ From day one, I was getting beers on the board," Shane says.
“Brandt gave me free rein to brew what I want, when I want. We had around 20 taps on, including trailers, so we were pumping beers out… I was coming up with three or four recipes every week.
“It was an awesome experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better place.”
The other half of the Wild Barrel team is Scott Frew, an entrepreneur with a passion for sustainability projects. Wanting to move out of his career in IT, Scott bought a property 15 minutes out of Cooroy where he could manage a few businesses all revolving around working with the land rather than fighting against it: a cattle farm, a honey production, and a syntropic food forest.
“The property on its own is just this stunning piece of landscape,” Shane says. “All these rolling green mountains, expansive fields…
“This huge cattle regen project: they planted all these seeds, gone from a monoculture to seven different grass types, capturing carbon, turned all the pumps from electric to solar.
“They’ve put in all these different measures to turn it from what it was – this monoculture, struggling farm – to this powerhouse that it is now.”
Shane’s wife had worked in one of Scott’s businesses in the past, so the two had gotten to know each other over the years. The idea for Wild Barrel itself came as many new brewery ideas do: when the pair were chatting over a beer one day. Right from the beginning, Scott and Shane were simpatico. Scott’s plans for his sustainable businesses aligned with what Shane wanted from the beer side of things: to use organic ingredients as much as possible, to catch yeast locally, and to slow down each part of the process.
Currently, Wild Barrel don’t have a taproom, which means they have to work that much harder to connect with and share their story with Sunshine Coast locals.
But Scott and Shane have a vision of bringing people to the property in the future: hosting long table events with beef from the farm, produce from the syntropic garden, and honey from the onsite beehives. And, of course, this would all be paired with Wild Barrel beers to show people how it all works together.
“They’ll see all the barrels, the whole story of the Belli Beef and the Wild Barrel thing; I think people will understand what we’re trying to do here.
“At the moment, it’s trying to get that story out without getting people up here!”
For now, Wild Barrel are shipping their beers up and down the East Coast. While he has people contacting him from all over to order his beers, Shane’s well aware they’re not mainstream.
“What I’m doing is so polarising,” he says; he’s had a few XXXX and Great Northern drinkers taste his beers and get an unpleasant surprise. “But I’ve got a lot of excitement with it for beer nerds!
“People who know about [this kind of beer] know it’s a little bit harder to get your hands on it. It’s what I like drinking. I love Wildflower, Sobremesa, what Will’s doing down at Van Dieman… they’re doing great beers, they’re different, and I’m trying to jump onto that so the Queensland and Sunshine Coast market has an opportunity to taste those beers.”
Wild Barrel keeps Scott and Shane busy, but they were kind enough to give us a little time to contribute to our Who Brews...? series.
Who are you?
Scott Frew, an IT entrepreneur, who now owns a working farm on the Sunshine Coast with multiple sustainable startup businesses running from it.
Shane Kent, a joinery tradesman, who moved to the Sunshine Coast to start a new career, and worked at Terella Brewing as a brewer for about four years, before starting Wild Barrel with Scott.
Where do you brew?
We brew on a 375-acre regenerative agriculture farm. Since it was purchased in 2019, the farm now houses a number of startups including Belli Beef (grassfed and finished beef cattle), Belli Bees (honey and bee products), Syn City (a syntropic food forest), and of course Wild Barrel, our barrel-aged beer and wild fermentation project.
Why do you brew?
I brew because I love the outcome.
I've always had a strong passion for beer and trying new and different flavours from all over the world, even when I was in high school. A friend and I used to go to the local bottleshop and try all the different European beers on a Thursday afternoon; this is before craft beer became a big thing.
Then, later on in life, I was going through a stage of learning about fermentation, and fermenting everything I could get my hands on. Beer just folded into that mix.
Then, once I started learning about wild fermentation and all these different bacteria and yeast, my mind was blown! It just fascinates me.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Yeah, I’ll have to give a shout out to Brandt Bamford for this one. He's one of the owners and head brewer at Terella Brewing. We became mates through homebrewing, and he got me started as a homebrewer and professional brewer.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
We had a bunch of words down on paper that we thought would best describe what we do. "Wild" and "barrel" sounded pretty good together. Simple as that!
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
I guess Wild Thing is the beer that has the flavours and techniques I want to steer our brewery towards. It was fermented with a host of different bacteria and yeast, including some wild stuff we caught on the property.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Always different! I guess just like the wonderful flavours of beer, I like to try the same with music. Generally, it’s just me in the brewery, so I get to listen to all the random stuff i’m discovering, from bossa nova to psychedelic Japanese noise to some good old thrash metal or punk. Be sure it’ll always be different.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
Oh man! There are so many people I could learn so much from. I think the deeper you get into brewing the less you feel you know.
Jean-Pierre van Roy is the current brewmaster at Cantillon – be great to pick his brain... Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River... Topher Boehm of Wildflower would be great to chat to... Anybody that has brewed at Jester King or 3 Fonteinen.
Shit, get them all in for a brew day!
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Coopers Sparkling Ale, La Trappe Blond, Kilkenny, Pilsner Urquell, some Wild Barrel. Then a Terella Pale Ale and a Wild Barrel Saison both on tap.
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
That’s a tough one! I had one of the table beers from Wildflower a while back and remember thinking to myself, "I could happily drink a lot of this." I also used to drink a lot of Coopers Sparkling Ale when I was a bit younger, and have been enjoying drinking that pretty regularly again.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Both Candy Paint and Gold Teeth by Dollar Bill. Awesome beers!
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
We’re all about experimenting with barrels: I’ll continue to play around with different styles in them. But we have so many plans as we grow. I'd love to get a coolship in the near future to start making some spontaneous beers.
This is just the beginning.
What beers have you released to date?
- Pilsner, aged in virgin French oak.
- Saison, aged in ex-organic red wine barrel.
- Wild Thing, a wild ale aged in ex-red wine barrel.
Where can people find your beers?
At this stage you can buy our beers direct from our website. Taproom to come.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
With a passionate team of people getting as much from the brewery as I am.