Sometimes the best incentive to start a brewery is because everyone told you that you couldn’t.
It’s something we hear frequently, amongst other such gems as “it’s too hard”, “it’s too expensive”, and it’s “the easiest way to lose all your money”.
So how true are all those statements?
We recently met up with Lee McAlister-Smiley of White Lies Brewing Co at his brewery to discover his route from dreaming about owning and operating a commercial brewery to now actually being proud to call himself a brewer.
He talked us through the sometimes confusing process, and how he did it.
We also got a chance to try his range of four beers at source, including one straight from the bright beer tank.
The Worlds Shortest Brewery Tour
When we met, Lee asked if I was prepared for “the shortest brewery tour you can take”. All brewers like to joke, but when he said it was a short tour, Lee wasn’t kidding.
The brewery is in his garage at his home.
It may be small (less than 50 square metres) but it has all the same equipment as any brewery and even a chiller room to keep everything ready for distribution.
The 3hL plant churns out four beers: Amber Ale, Hefeweizen, IPA and Decadent Chocolate Stout which are all either kegged or bottled for local distribution. There is also a new beer, Nut Brown Ale in development.
How did Lee do it?
Lee, having been told it wasn’t possible, wasn’t to be deterred. In fact it made him more determined to succeed.
Lee set out the five key areas to set up a similar brewery:
Having brewed a few beers before at home, Lee decided to look around and see whether there were any technical qualifications he could study. It was his wife that found the answer, so off he went and took the University of Ballarat brewing course. This lasted two years, and at the end he gained a graduate certificate in Brewing.
A key part of the course is attendance in Ballarat at the University microbrewery. Luckily for Lee, the year he attended it took place just after the annual Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA). Meaning that he was fortunate to try a vast number of the entries and contrast and compare the beers.
Lee has regularly volunteered as a steward at the AIBA. This helps you get close to the judging process and understand the key elements the judges are looking for in each style of beer. You even have to ensure that the beers are poured correctly.
This year Lee has been lucky enough to have been selected as an associate judge at the AIBA awards which takes place in May.
Whilst the basics of a brewery seem fairly simple, it has taken the year since starting the process for Lee to finally get everything almost right.
The equipment is a combination of off the shelf products sourced locally and self made solutions. Even with the bought products Lee has had to make adjustments here and there to make the process easier.
The self made elements have been undertaken when the cost of buying seemed far in excess of similar products you can make yourself, such as a keg cleaner. “Why spend $8,000 when you can make it yourself for $2,000?”
Everything has been self financed and bought along the way. Luckily Lee has a understanding wife, who acts as banker, and releases funds where needed.
Lee estimates that all the base equipment has cost around $25,000.
Licencing and Approvals
The biggest hurdle has been dealing with government bureaucracy. And this is something we hear from every brewery!
Under his local council rules, Lee didn’t need to go through a formal council planning approval process as the size of the business feel under the home business planning laws. But the licencing authority needed to see a planning approval as a part of the liquor licence application. Lee was then caught in a Catch 22 loop: no liquor licence without planning approval, but no planning approval was needed.
After several months of going round the circle, which included options such as paying $600 to the council to write a letter to say that they didn’t need to give approval, Lee finally managed to convince the liquor licencing authority that this sort of approval had already been given to similar breweries in the country in exactly the same situation.
Making the beer is one thing, but selling it is another.
“Luckily, there is a great craft beer community in and around Brisbane, and they were willing to stock my beers. They are great supporters of local businesses”.
Lee also convinced some local bars and restaurants to take his beers in bottles, as well as in kegs.
The White Lies Beers
There are four beers:
Amber Ale (4.8%) – A malt driven beer with an aroma of biscuit notes followed a citrus/mandarin finish. Balancing the strong malt characteristics is a medium hop bitterness, making this a very easy drinking session beer.
Hefeweizen (4.8%) – The aroma is full of banana and bubble gum, with a hint of clove coming through. A great version of a wheat that looks and tastes like it should. The higher level of carbonation makes this one you can sit drinking all day. Very refreshing.
India Pale Ale (6.5%) – A lovely deep golden colour, coming from the Crystal and Munich malts, coupled with the striking aroma driven by the dry hopping makes this a star of the range. Full of passionfruit and citrus flavours, balanced by a malt profile that allows the high bitterness not to overpower you. Another easy drinking beer that makes you come back for more.
Decadent Chocolate Stout (5.0%) – My favourite of the range. The aroma is dominated by sweet chocolate, with rounded roast and biscuit notes coming through. A velvety smooth mouthfeel brings those aromas to your taste. There is just enough bitterness to balance the sweetness which means you can easily drink more than one.
All four are very drinkable and perfectly balanced. A great range.
Production and Availability
Since opening in July 2014, and already on Batch 19, White Lies has developed a loyal local following, especially for the Decadent Chocolate Stout.
This means that this small brewery will soon become a bigger brewery in stand-alone premises. Plans are currently in place to establish White Lies on a commercial site on the west side of Brisbane, adding to the growing number of Brisbane breweries established in the last 18 months.
If you are looking for any of the White Lies beers then your best bet is to contact Lee direct or visit Malt Traders bottle shop at 10 Market Street, Brisbane. Brewski on Caxton Street also have stocks.
A number of Brisbane restaurants and bars are also currently selling a few of the beers. These include:
- Seven Stones, Enoggera
- The Nook Café Restaurant, Jindalee
- Scratch Bar, Milton
- Moda Restaurant, City
We recently covered the start-up of Black Hops Brewing who took a slightly different route to setting up their brewery. You can read their version here.