A hoptimistic bunch

With over 50 craft brewers, 18,000 people, 70 venues and 130 events (including the odd axe-throwing contest), Sydney Craft Beer Week is happening now!

To celebrate Sydney’s fifth annual beer festival, Camperdown’s Wayward Brewing Co. is set for its grand opening on October 24th. Visitors can expect not only to sample some of Australia’s most outstanding boutique beer, but also to succumb to the romantic journeyman ethos informing it.

“The motif that we present is one where we encourage people to take their own journeys and invite them to join ours,” Wayward Brewing Co. Ambassador Mikey Lowe says. “We want people to come and try our beers and tell us about their journeys and their travels with beer.”

Inspired heavily by Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, the spectacular venue boasts four 40-hectolitre tanks, two 20-hectolitre tanks, a one-hectolitre tank and two experimental brew vessels, giving the facility the potential to produce half a million litres of beer per year.

The journey from homebrew enthusiast to an independent state-of-the-art brewery began 15 years ago when founder Pete Philip left his career in superannuation fund markets to pursue his passion – beer.

“Once you are very confident as a home brewer, you can then become what’s known as a gypsy brewer, basically a beer nerd who will brew about 10-20 kegs at a time at whatever tank space he or she can get. Then you sell it under the umbrella of that brewery,” Mikey said.

After forming as a company in 2012 and its enormous success as a gypsy brewer, Wayward is now ready to graduate to an outright brewery. For that, they enlisted the help of (head brewer) Shaun Blissett, formally of Illawarra Brew Co. “Pete and Shaun, with the help of a number of volunteers, have built this site over the course of about a year,” Mikey says.

Where your clean-tasting ale comes from

The popularity of craft beer has become a much-publicised phenomenon in Australia. The industry has seen 10 per cent growth every year for the past five years. It’s estimated that it holds around five per cent of the market share and is worth $180 million a year. By 2020, craft beer in Australia is forecast to be a $250 million industry.

But according to Mikey, the glamour of having your own independent brewery isn’t always as amazing as it sounds. “If you ask any brewer, they will say it’s 90 per cent cleaning,” he said.

“People can romanticise because it seems like such a fun job. They only see us at events where we are talking to people, drinking beer and having fun. But as a salesman, there are a lot of knockbacks which can dent your confidence,” he said.

“There are also a lot of issues with legality and trying to set up the business and you often spend about a year or two field testing to make sure a product is right for the market. But if at the end of the day I can sit at my own bar and drink my own beer, it’s all worth it.”

In some ways craft brewers have been a victim of their own success. The incredibly high demand for ingredients has created world-wide shortages. “There is a potential hop crisis,’’ Mikey says.

Similar to grape vines that produce wine, “You can reproduce hops in a different location, but there is a dynamic, binary relationship between the earth’s minerals and the hop. So you can’t necessarily grow European hops in Australia and produce the same results.”

Australia, and especially Sydney’s Inner West, is known for using native Australian galaxy hops, most commonly in our iconic pale ales. “A pale ale is the style that everybody knows,’’ says Joel Connolly, who is the director of the Sydney Craft Beer Week.

“It’s a bit sweet, but it’s got a bit of a malt back to it and it’s also quite hoppy. It’s often got bitterness to it that is countered by being quite fruity and floral. It’s really an American beer and we’ve kind of made an Australian version of it, evolved to suit our climate and our market’s expectations of beer,” he said.
For the more seasoned beer drinkers looking for other styles of brew, Sydney Craft Beer Week does not disappoint.

There are over 50 brewers participating this year with countless styles of beer on show.

“The festival is held all over Sydney. We have 70 venues in total. We have a ton of events happening throughout the week, over 130 events that have craft beer as the hero,”
Joel says proudly.

“The style of events ranges from things like certain brewers releasing something special that week, all the way through to degustation dinners matched with beers. And there is even wacky stuff going on like an axe-throwing contest in the city.”

There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker in Sydney. National and international recognition for our own unique styles of craft beer has cemented our place on the cutting-edge of the industry.

“I think the Inner West has become a Mecca for beer,’’ Mikey says. “There is almost a straight line you can draw on a map from us at Camperdown to Willie the Boatman at Tempe and every kilometre there is a brewery. You can almost walk a straight line from Wayward to Young Henrys to Grifter to Batch.”

But Mikey and the team at Wayward relish the opportunity to go head-to-head with other brewers in such a crowded marketplace. “There is definitely a competitive side to it, but it’s a positive competitive side. We’re all making each other, and our beer, better,’’ he said.

For now it seems craft beer is here to stay and the old-style, mass-produced lagers are perhaps a thing of the past. “I see it as a return to artisanship and a drift away from consumerism,’’ Mikey said.

Wayward Brewery is located at 1 Gehrig Lane, Camperdown. Their bar is open from Friday afternoon all through the weekend.