Who Brews At Hodfellow's?

March 5, 2024, by Mick Wust

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Who Brews At Hodfellow's?

As the craft beer scene grows and evolves, it’s becoming increasingly common for new breweries to focus on emerging styles that push the envelope in terms of flavour. But every now and then you get one that looks to the past, to tradition, to balance.

In an industrial area in Brisbane's Geebung, wedged between a home appliance factory outlet and a garage door supplier, Hodfellow’s is a brewery where you’ll find no hype. Rather than beer nerds flocking in for the newest oat cream or pastry sour, you’ll find it full of locals knocking back pilsners, dunkels, festbiers and smoked lagers.

“We’ve got a good crew of regulars,” Jabin Kirk (above right), Hodfellow's co-owner and brewer told The Crafty Pint. “From the very first day we opened the doors, they’ve turned up every week. And they’re all within a couple of kilometres of the brewery.”

Together with Keith Nothling (above left), Jabin opened Hodfellow’s inspired by the small breweries of Europe. The idea was originally conceived between Jabin and his extended family, but when his family members ended up deciding they didn’t want to go ahead with the scheme, he started looking for someone else to come on board. He ended up asking Keith, whom he’d known for years, and the two complement each other well with their different skillsets: Keith takes care of the business side of things while Jabin focuses on the brewing.

The beating heart of Hodfellow’s is a brew kit bought secondhand from a fully-qualified Bavarian brewmaster who’d moved to Australia and brought his brewhouse over with him, but ended up selling his entire system since it was overkill in his rural Queensland town with a population of 100.

“The fact it was actually engineered over in Europe, it certainly appealed to what I was doing. That was the path I wanted to go down.

“It’s a four-vessel system brewhouse, so you can do cool things like decoctions, which isn’t easy to do if you don’t have a system set up for that.”

 

The European brew kit on full display inside Hodfellow's.

 

With the equipment in storage, it was a couple of years before Jabin and Keith found the right location, signed a commercial lease, and set everything up – all without being able to test the kit first.

“It was a bit of a leap of faith, really. Had to get all this equipment and get it set up, and basically trust that it was going to work.”

But work it did; while there were some teething issues, there was nothing they couldn’t overcome. Jabin now makes incremental improvements to his process each time he uses the kit, honing his craft with every traditional beer he brews.

Jabin fell in love with these kinds of beers over a few trips to Europe with his family. In his early days of all-grain homebrewing, he'd been predominantly making ales, so at first he was frustrated when he was surrounded by lagers in Germany.

“I was under the impression that lagers are terrible, insipid things that don’t taste any good and have no character, no flavour. I had that in my head. This was well over a decade ago, when the only beers available [in Australia] were lagers and they were ordinary.

“We had these trips over to Europe and we’d find these little breweries; I wouldn’t say craft breweries, because they’d been here for 200 years, but they’re quite small. I’d say, ‘Do you serve any ale?’ but they’d look at me and say, ‘No, we only make lager.’

“I remember thinking, ‘Ugh, bloody lagers.’ But they’d pour me a beer and I’d sit down and go, ‘This is amazing!’”

 

Inside the bar; some of Hodfellow's traditional beers in traditional glassware.

 

It made him rethink what good beer could be; he started dedicating more time to working out how to brew good lagers. And as the craft beer scene progressed in Australia, and more brewers and drinkers moved in the direction of extreme flavours, Jabin found himself focusing on the balanced profiles of traditional European styles, and appreciating their broad appeal.

“I think if you can take a well-crafted pilsner or Vienna lager – or just about any lager – you can get someone who’s a rusted on macro drinker to sit back and drink that and think, 'I actually like this.’ But I think you have a more difficult time giving them a NEIPA or a DDH IPA; give the same guy one of these and its too far removed from what they’re used to.”

Now at Hodfellow’s, Jabin still focuses on brewing traditional European styles; not to be niche, but to have broad appeal. These beers that have been satisfying all kinds of drinkers for centuries, and still succeed in winning people over today, whether mainstream drinkers who have never ventured far from their favourite macro brand or hopheads who are skeptical of lagers.

“Quite often from giving them a sample, they’ll taste the pilsner or something else, and say, ‘That’s great – give me one of those!’ It’s changing that mindset, in the same way that I went through years ago," he says.

“We’re in a fairly industrial part of the world down here. And we’ve already had people come in and say, ‘This is one of the first breweries where I’ll happily drink anything off that list.’”

Before you start reading through the tap list, have a read through Jabin’s answers in this Who Brews…?


Jabin Kirk of Hodfellow's

 

Who are you? 

My name is Jabin Kirk – I am an owner and also the brewer at Hodfellow's. The other half of the business is owned by my business partner, Keith Nothling.

Our families have a long history together; both of our wives studied at university together, quite some time ago. Prior to embarking on this adventure, I was a senior data scientist for a medical device manufacturer, predominantly working on developing mathematical and statistical software as well as a bunch of data stuff. I’ve always enjoyed scientific and creative work, and brewing is a great combination of the two.


Where do you brew? 

Hodfellow's is located in Geebung, Queensland – capital of the world.


Why do you brew? 

This is really a passion project for me. Like I mentioned previously, brewing is a great combination of a number of fields: there’s biology, chemistry, physics and maths involved, but really it’s the application of all of these things, along with a bit of creative flair that makes it really enjoyable.

There’s also an element of satisfaction; when you take a sip of a beer that you’ve made yourself that you think is really something... well, there’s nothing else quite like it.


Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer? 

I started brewing as a uni student back around 2003, with a Coopers kit and can of goop plus a kilo of sugar. We’d have a fermenter going off like a rocket in the back room making copious amounts of questionable beer. There was a turning point though – around 2007 I had a thought that this was not how beer should be made, and started trying to figure out the process of creating beer from raw ingredients.

Back then there was not a huge amount of information or equipment available, certainly nothing like there is today. Anyway, I mapped out the general process, ordered myself a few big pots and a thermometer and some raw ingredients and set about producing what would be my first "all-grain" beer, which was a simple English-style ale. I had read that fermentation temperature was important, but I didn’t have a dedicated fermentation chamber, so I was rotating frozen bottles of water in and out of the cupboard that I was fermenting it in. 

Anyway, the day came to take a gravity reading, and I remember lifting the fermenter out of the cupboard, taking the reading and then sipping the sample. Now back at this time, craft beer was basically unheard of – I had only ever tried macro beers – but when I took that first sip of the sample I remember just staring at it and thinking that I was some kind of wizard. This flat, warm sample tasted remarkably better than any other beer I had ever tasted at that point in my life, and from then on I was absolutely hooked. It really started me down the path that has led me to this point.

 


What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name? 

Seeing as I wanted to primarily focus of brewing European beer styles, I was looking into some literature from old European folklore to try and find a name to fit with these beer styles. I came across some literature which mentioned biersals: little gremlin type creatures who were rumoured to inhabit beer cellars, cleaning equipment after dark and keeping an eye over the brewery.

After a bit more research, I found the names of some of these creatures, but they were either too difficult to pronounce, or sounded too similar to other beer brands. Then I stumbled across the story of Hodfellow, and this name seemed to tick all the boxes.


What beer in your lineup best represents you and why? 

I’d have to say the pilsner – I’m particularly proud of this. Realistically, a pilsner is a very simple beer, but there are many little complex details that have to be executed well in order for it to be an exceptional product. I’ve been iterating it slightly (we’re up to the fourth iteration, each one being tweaked slightly), and I couldn’t be happier with how they have turned out.

So I guess to answer the "why" part of the question – it’s because it seems simple on the surface, but there’s a bit going on behind the scenes.


If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers? 

A rather varied and eclectic selection of most excellent music! Most likely a mix of 80s glam metal and pop, from RATT to Bananarama, along with some Danzig, Smashing Pumpkins, Silversun Pickups, some Depeche Mode and a good smattering of Ween.

The "Hodfellow's Brewery" playlist is publicly available on Spotify, so feel free to check for yourself!


If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why? 

Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh. He is a funny man.


What beers are in your fridge right now?

I recently picked up a mixed case of Belgian beers, so currently there’s some Gouden Carolus, Ename Pater abbey beer, Blanche de Bruges witbier and a couple of Brugse Zot blonde ales, which have all been great. Other than that, it’s pretty much just stock from the brewery!

 

Take your pick at Hodfellow's.

What would be your desert island beer of choice?

That would have to be some kind of pilsner – I’d say something like a Radeberger, something that’s just absolutely quaffable and perfectly executed. Apparently, that stuff was originally brewed for the King of Saxony, and they’ve been at it since 1872 so they’ve pretty well got it down pat, though there are so many well-crafted pilsners from that side of the world that it’s hard to pick just one. Some of the Czech ones would certainly also fit the bill.


Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks? 

I visited Fabri over at Fick Brewing a couple of weeks ago; I’m a massive fan of Belgian styles in general, and he’s doing a fantastic job. What blew my mind though was not actually one of his beers (which were all very good!), but rather it was his espresso martini that he had produced in-house. I’m not typically one for this kind of thing but it was absolutely impressive.

I would encourage anyone who gets a chance to try it... I told him he should be proud to have created it!


Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further? 

So three out of the four beers that I mentioned are in my fridge were spiced with coriander seed and orange peel, and I must say since drinking them those particular flavours have been on my mind, so I may have to start some kind of experimentation there. 

Other than that, the last two beers that I have made and am currently lagering are a Czech-style pilsner and a Czech-style dark lager, both of which had a decoction step in the mash. This involves boiling a portion of the mash and then adding it back to the remainder – a step which does a number of things, but most importantly adds some rather authentic flavour to the beer that’s hard to replicate, so I’m looking forward to when they’re both ready.


What beers have you released to date?  

We’ve released our Little Pils, a mid-strength Bavarian-style pilsner; a helles; my personal favourite – a standard pilsner; a Vienna lager; dunkel; rauchbier; festbier; and the latest to go on tap is our weissbier.

I should note that we are predominantly producing lager styles, which as a rule typically have a bad name in the craft beer world due to their association with macro style lagers. But there is nothing macro about what we’re doing, and a well-made lager beer has little in common with a macro, other than the classification!


Where can people find your beers?  

You can find our beers at the brewery taproom located in Geebung, and also at Tapworks, Chermside.


Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now? 

That is an excellent question. I’d like to think that we will be much more established and well known for what we do, and that our beers are known for what we’re trying to do: "simple" beers but of exceptional taste and quality. 

What would be cool is if we could eventually expand our site to include the neighbouring property, an old timber building that has a beer hall feel to it. it would be great to be able to have a place like that, with a fantastic atmosphere, that the community could come and enjoy – all whilst enjoying some great beer.


You can visit the brewery at 10/229 Robinson Road E, Geebung. At time of writing, the taproom is open 3pm to 7pm on Thursdays, midday to 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and midday to 6pm on Sundays. You'll find it alongside hundreds of other breweries and beer venues in the free Crafty Pint app.

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