The phrase ‘good beer movement’ gets thrown around a lot at Balter. We like to talk about what we think good beer is, what kind of mindset goes into making
it, and who is doing the best job out there at delivering consistently great flavours.
For us it’s as much about the community of beer makers and lovers who really care about what goes into their favourite drink, as it is about the drink itself. After all, beer is a social lubricator. While we’ve faced some skepticism about our intentions in the beer game because of our roster of elite surfer owners, but creating the best beer we possibly can, and using that to connect with like-minded people, has always been out top priority. That’s why the real superstar at Balter is our head brewer, Scotty Hargrave.
Scott passion and dedication toward crafting ‘good beer’ has seen him win a swag of awards during his career, including Best International Pale Ale at the AIBA Awards in 2017 for the Balter XPA. Given he lives and breathes this stuff every day, we thought it would be worth sitting down and picking his mad scientist brain about what the ‘good beer movement’ is, who is living up to its ideals and what that means for beer lovers out there.
Firstly, Scott, what got you into brewing in the first place?
I’ve had this long term love of German and Belgium beers - pilsners, hefeweizens, dunkelweizen. These elegant, precise beers. When I drank ones like Schofferhofer and Hoegaarden it opened up my eyes to what beer could be. At the time I was working as a concreter in Canberra and was swatting beers out of my mates hands, the same old tinnies, and trying to get them to try something new. Eventually I saw this adult education seminar at the Wig & Pen, which is an iconic brewhouse in town. During that half day course they made this brew mash in a lunchbox. When I smelled it, it was like it changed my brain chemistry or something. It was like the most primal, turbo-charged thing I could have smelled. Everyone had left and I was talking to the owner Lachy guy, asking if you be a brewer without a chemistry degree. Lachy said “sure, you can, but really get your homebrewing into order”. I wasn’t even homebrewing, but it sowed that seed to dare to imagine that I could be a brewer. It’s almost like that smell sparked off the idea that brewing was what I was genetically designed to do.
I joined the Canberra brewers club after that and just fell in love with it. The obsession spiralled up.
What tipped your decision to make it into your daily job?
It got to the point where I’d simply had a gutful of concreting and realised that I’d been a concreter for over a decade and thought maybe I’d become a viable candidate for a brewing job. I’d become stricter with my techniques, more disciplined. I’d treat the beer I was giving away like people were paying top dollar for it. I was starting to win some gold medals, and eventually I won the best wheat-beer at the Australian championship.
So, I started sending around some resumes. I said to my wife, if “I’m going to apply for these jobs we’re going to have to have the courage to actually take it”. I went for a few jobs and one was on the Sunshine Coast, I’d shown the ad to my wife and was like, “nah, this one is too far away, we can’t go there”.
But, my wife was into it. She sent me a bunch of messages one day at work constantly asking if I’d called up the brewery to ask them. After I’d said “no” a bunch of times, eventually she was like “don’t come home until you’ve rung that guy”. So I was bullied into it, thankfully. That was almost 2 years into home brewing and I got the job on the Sunshine Coast.
What in your own words is ‘The Good Beer Movement’? Is it a formal thing, or just a collective mindset?
It’s kind of an informal thing we talk about a lot at Balter. Really it’s about doing everything you can to make the beer as good as it can be, and turning away from industrial beers that are driven more by the bottom line. We’ve steered away from the term ‘craft beer’ because it’s lost a lot of its meaning. Like Jim Beam white label says ‘hand-crafted’ on it, or the Woolies in-house supermarket beers are now labelled ‘craft’. So, we wanted something that captures more of the love that goes into making a good beer. I had used the term thoughtful beer for a long time, because there’s a lot of deliberate effort people put into making good beer. To me it’s about trying to convey an experience. Not like “that’s wet, and alcoholic”, it’s more about when it’s right and has that x-factor it can take your breath away. Beer is this catalyst for human interaction. It’s about staying true to those ideals and making sure it’s epic beer.
What makes a great beer?
Using good ingredients and good techniques and the best technology that you can afford. Good intentions are important as well. Any brewing company that wants to be around for the long haul will be connected with their local community and the people who drink their beer. They have to give a shit about that. That’s all a part of it. Education is always key too. Getting people to understand that having two really good beers is better than having fifteen of a XXXX gold or something. Like Matt Kirkegaard says, “Drink less, but drink better”.
Our pilsner typifies what we mean by good beer I think. It’s not out of the box, it’s not new or novelty. Pilsner has been around for a long time and takes a lot of effort and commitment to make well, especially for a small brewery.
What do brewers talk about when they get together and get their beer geek on?
With a lot of my mates these days it’s just talking about who’s doing good stuff, or “I’m upgrading my mill and I heard Johnny has this one, what do you use?”. Equipment and what not. There’s a fraternal thing, checking to make sure everyone’s doing well, the guys and the girls. A lot of the time we talk about gin, or tequilla, or another beer that’s just stunning. Those tips are great. You find stuff you wouldn’t ever find if it wasn’t for some other booze hound.
What’s one weird/interesting thing most people wouldn’t know about brewing beer?
A lot of people think there’s alcohol the minute you mix it all together, rather than a biochemical process that takes time to happen. Or, they don’t realise that it’s all made from natural ingredients that are growing from the ground. Beer doesn’t just pop out of the factory in VB boxes. One thing I always say is “don’t forget your beer is of the land, somebody had to grow this hops, wheat or barley”. If you don’t have farmers, you don’t have beer. Those guys are legends. They stick their necks out for all of us.
As a brewer do you have a favourite type of beer to drink or make? Or is that like asking which one of your kids is your favourite?
It’s all about horses for courses. I do enjoy beers like Pilsners, because as a brewer I know they show off brewing technique. You don’t brew it to show off and say “I’ve got my shit together”, but those ones that display when you have great ingredients and good technique. The really good ones are almost symphonic, like hearing a Strauss Waltz because they’re regal, yet simple at the same time. I also have a soft spot for wheat beers because that’s where I had early success and love to drink them. But, it can just come down to something I haven’t tried for a while.
Who out there in the world of brewing do you think is doing a great job? Call out some of your favourite flavours, or just brewhouses for helping the “good beer movement” in general get stronger.
There’s quite a few. It’s hard because I’ll get shitcanned by whoever I leave out. I have a lot of time for Richard Watkins from Bent Spoke. He was the head brewer at the Wig & Pen and was a huge support for me. He has built a production brewhouse, which I really admire.
The Pirate Life guys over in Adelaide are doing great. They’re professional and hit the ground running. They understand that consistency and quality are foremost.
Obvious ones like Feral, or Two Birds are also doing great. All those guys are committed to good beer and have been at it for a while. They’re right up there. Wayward in Sydney are amazing too. I haven’t been there for a while, but they’ve got a great local thing going on where they’re connected with the people and are making some toasty beers.
If you go into a bottle shop now it’s almost overwhelming the amount of choice there is. Do you see this narrowing down in the future, or just getting wider?
It’s crazy. Right now the young adults are the first generation that can walk into a bottle shop and see 30 or 40 different types of beers. They expect choice, so there’s plenty of hope out there. The market will continue to drive diversity, but it might pull back a bit. There are people starting labels they simply want to get going and sell to the big guys. Or little guys who may or may not make it, because there’s a lot of competition and it’s a tough game. It feels like it might shrink a bit over time but will remain much, much better that it was before this movement happened. A lot of people have worked really hard to get it off the ground and to a point where it survives. We all need to make great beer that people keep buying as well. If you make beer that lets people down, they’ll just move on. To stay in the game you have to have a beer that gets under people’s skin and that they can rely on and is consistent. Not something that is inconsistent or relies on novelty.
Finally, if you have just one piece of advice for would-be brewers out there, what would it be?
I would say brew the beers that you really like. Brew that ‘light up on the hill’ that you just want to get to. For me early on that was just being bambozzled by the German wheat beers and Belgium heffes. That taught me a lot about tradition. So, if Irish stouts is what you live for, then that’s what you should make. There’s a positive reinforcement there when you stick to one thing. The goal posts stay in the same spot, so you can get good feedback and you can get better and better. That changes the way to approach things and encourages you to do more. Get your head around it, understand why it works, how you got there and then branch out into other things. You’ve also got to the point where your wife thinks your beer is better than it is at the shop, so she’ll support you.