Recently three friends from the Gold Coast decided, over a beer of course, that they wanted to start brewing beer commercially. When we say recently, that conversation was 3 MONTHS ago and their first beer, Eggnog Stout, has already taken Brisbane by storm.
So we asked the Black Hops Brewing guys how they started a successful brewing company, and can anyone do it?
Who are you?
Black Hops Brewing are Michael McGovern who has been brewing commercially for many years, first at Pickled Pig in Tweed Heads then Burleigh Brewing and now Fortitude Brewing. Dan Norris runs a WordPress Support startup, is very handy online and loves to write and drink craft beer. And Eddie Oldfield has a boring office job in Brisbane but loves anything craft beer, from the actual beer, to the bars & people.
What makes you think you can start a brewery?
Three months ago we were sitting at the pub having a few beers and we got onto the topic of brewing. Eddie had an idea to brew an Eggnog Stout and he’d been trying to get it off the ground for a while. Michael (Govs) had just set up a 3 vessel home brew system and we all decided to come back in a few weeks and have a crack at the beer. Having the right mix of skills between us has been the key.
We made the Eggnog Stout, it tasted even better than we hoped, so we handed it out to friends and others in the industry for feedback. Everyone loved it so we kept the momentum going and decided to brew an 800L commercial batch.
At the launch 10 weeks later, our first keg sold out in less than two and a half hours.
We would love to open our own small brewery on the Gold Coast. We’ve started talking about how we can make that happen. As for the short term, we’ll just keep making great beer and sharing what we learn along the way.
How do you choose that first beer to brew?
We chose a stout because that’s how this whole thing started. It was Eddie’s idea and Govs made it real. But at the same time we were all comfortable to do so. There are so many great Pale Ales and IPAs being released, we didn’t need to throw another in the mix so early on. The Eggnog Stout is interesting enough without being too far out and wacky, but also as far as we know not something that has been released commercially in Australia?
We wanted the Eggnog Stout to first and foremost look and taste like a stout. Eggnog is kind of a weird thing, it’s basically custard, but all of the flavours are so subtle & well balanced. We wanted this in our stout.
The base is a dry Irish. We weren’t after a sweet thick stout and we wanted this to be sessionable. It’s got 11 bottles of Brandy in the 800L brew, it had 30 something vanilla beans, and of course nutmeg & cinnamon, both really strong spices to tread carefully with. We were really happy with how it turned out.
How do you brew a commercial batch?
After the pilot brew on Govs set up, we had three options: do a collaboration brew, brew at an existing brewery by contract, or start your own set up. Each has pluses and minuses, but we went for the contact brew option with Chris at Beard & Brau in Tamborine.
It took us a long time to iron out all of the details of the contract, and we should’ve done more of that in person rather than email. Most of the time and effort is in the planning before brew day.
The big issues were agreeing the detail of scaling the recipe which isn’t just a case of multiplying everything up, the ordering of ingredients and whilst Chris got get hold of the basic ingredients, it was up to us to source the yeast and the special ingredients. That included French brandy, spices and Madagascan vanilla beans. We also needed to agree when we would do the yeast, when we would mill, when we’d brew, when we’d add spices and when we’d put the beer in kegs. There were a lot of visits to Tamborine.
Then there are the legal requirements and logistics. In the end we decided to use Beard and Brau’s kegs and we delivered them ourselves. This also allowed us to talk direct to those bars taking our beer.
All in all it was quite a lot of thinking, talking and emailing prior to actual brewing.
How did you raise awareness of Black Hops?
If you want to start a business in this space, cultivating support among the community is a must. Brisbane is such an amazing place to be a craft beer drinker. It’s such a supportive community.
Eddie took on the duty of heading out to the many craft beer bars in Brisbane to meet the guys personally and some got to try the bottled sample of the beer from our pilot brew. All of these amazing venues agreed to take kegs before the brew was even done.
We’ve also been documenting, in detail, our progress and sharing what we’ve learnt via our website and in particular the blog, interacting with the Brisbane beer community via our social media pages and keeping everyone up to date with each stage through our email list.
Where to from here?
We’ve been working on a number of different pilot brews, a hoppy American black, hoppy American Red, a couple farmhouse Pale Ale’s, a Scotch Ale, a dark Belgian and an Aussie Pale Ale.
We will most likely choose the next beer shortly and hopefully brew another small batch just after Christmas that we’ll keg.
We’re locked in to a couple of Brewsvegas events in March next year, which we are pumped about. We had lots of fun drinking at it last year, we can’t wait to be involved this year.
As for expanding, we’d love to open a small facility to help us take it to the next level. We feel that would be great for the craft beer community on the Gold Coast, so that possibility has us excited at the moment.
Can anyone do it?
Of course, but there are some absolutes you must have first:
1. Someone with brewing experience, ability and confidence to create recipes.
2. A great team with a variety of skills.
3. Some brewing equipment to brew test batches.
4. Some money as a commercial batch is not cheap.
Then there are the technical aspects:
1. An ABN and a business name.
2. Partnership agreements between the team.
3. A brand and online presence (website, social media channels).
4. Some point of sale and packaging material.
5. Somewhere to store the kegs as in Queensland they must be kept on licensed premises.
6. A vehicle to transport the kegs to the bars.
Would you recommend it?
Of course. What’s better in life than seeing your beer being served in a pub and being enjoyed by the customers.
And finally, how good is Black Hops Eggnog Stout? I have no idea as everywhere sells out before I can get there to try it. Based on that fact, and everyone online review raving about it, it must be good.
If you see it anywhere around then let me know – and save some for me.