Thursday, 3 September 2015

Member's Profile - Scott

Wolf In The Willows 
Interview by Craig Ditcham
With Wolf of the Willows being found in good beer stores I thought it worthwhile to ask Scott McKinnon about his new label and his involvement in homebrewing. 

How did you get into brewing?

It all started with brewing ginger beer with my dad as a teenager. The first time I actually brewed beer was when I was a poor uni student, typical kit and kilo stuff. I had some wins and some, well, pretty terrible outcomes. I then went to Colorado to take up the prestigious role of ‘ski bum’ for a few years and that’s where I really fell in love with beer. We’d go to breweries such as New Belgium and try weird and wonderful beers such as double IPA and sour beers. This was before 99.9% of Aussies knew beer other than the big boys. Even in the states ‘craft beer’ was still pretty young. Unfortunately when I came back the need to make actual money and living in small apartments meant that my homebrewing went by the wayside for a few years. About eight years ago it kicked again after my wife seriously encouraged me to get back into it. Renae was working in the wine industry at the time so was a good fit.

If you were in a good beer store what 3 beers would you buy?

First and foremost, I look for a local brewery that has some fresh stuff. We’re massive believers ‘think global, drink local’. Of course we have vested interest here ;-). I then look for a ‘true’ sour that I have not tried before. I would then pick a random beer that I would not normally gravitate to. I think consumers as a general rule go for what they know. The beauty of craft beer is that you can break this mould and challenge yourself. As homebrewers we have that luxury of finding a beer we love and taking this, tweaking it, and aiming to make it as good as or better than the commercial version.

Your Smokey Porter was a good drop in last year’s Case Swap – was it something you’ve been working on?

You’re too kind Ditch. Yes, the Johnny Smoke Porter has been a long-time favourite at home in the winter months for a few years now. Smoked beers are polarising, you either love them or hate them. I’m a massive fan and I think they’ll start to get a bit more attention in Australia. It’s an interesting beer to brew as smoked malt can age poorly and there are pretty big differences in smoke flavour and intensity between malts from Best Maltz, Weyermann, etc. To me smoke needs a sweet balance. This allows the drinker to either just consume and not be blown away by the smoke or dig between the layers and find the smoke, chocolate and coffee. The beauty of smoked beer is that they go through a definite aging process. I find they also show oxidisation terribly so if there’s an issue with your packaging process you’ll know it.

Regarding becoming a professional brewer, tell us about the moment when you said ‘Yes, I am going to do this’:

Professional by definition means earning money so unfortunately I don’t classify ;- ) Apart from that, there are so many better qualified brewers who have worked in the industry for many years who I respect too much to even consider myself even in their company. I’m more of the ilk of "I absolutely love this, and fuck it, I’m going to back myself to give it a crack". I’ve made sure that I have surrounded myself with some pretty awesome people who have provided support and been very generous with their time. In answer to your question, Renae and I had been full on planning for this for about four years, i.e. looking at various business models, forecasting, etc. Obviously I’d been brewing small batches at home as well. The actual moment we decided to pull more debt from the mortgage was on a business trip to the US in March 2014. We saw that craft beer was booming over there and yet the coffee, food and wine was pretty damn ordinary compared to Australia. Australians have, and are keen to, train there palates. The fact that people pay $5 for a coffee and watch MasterChef religiously is a good benchmark. The ‘righting of the ship’ in terms of beer was/is occurring and we wanted to be part of this. From that moment, we worked non -stop for eight months and then we launched the XPA in November 2014.

Tell us about Wolf of the Willows:

Wolf of the Willows is the English translation for the original Latin phrase for hops - lupus salictarius. We wanted our brand to be different to the typical masculine brand names coming out. We wanted it to be a throwback to the origins of beer. Hops are a huge part of why Renae and I love beer. Not just because of IPA’s etc. but because they are something that every brewer can grow and include in a brew. To me this is the beauty of brewing, and beer in general. We live in such a prefabricated, gentrified world. Taking something that you nurture, watch grow, care for, harvest, and then use in a productive way is what we as human beings have being doing for the majority of our existence. Only in the last few hundred years have we worried about having the newest phone or similar bullshit. Beer is still something that has been produced in the same way for millennia, well, craft beer anyway. The whole ‘paddock to plate (or glass)’ is something that I want my kids to know about. Planting a hop rhizome, watching it sprout in spring, stringing it up, trimming the shoots, choosing the right moment to pick the hops, and then brewing with them is a pretty damn cool thing. We also love dogs.

Has it been hard juggling brewing, your primary job and family?

t’s been an absolute nightmare. I kid you not when I say that I work at least 70 hours a week at the moment. Brewing is the easy and fun part. What takes the time is the admin, such as sourcing ingredients (don’t ask about hops), having your logistics company completely stuff up, processing orders, chasing debtors etc. etc. Add on top of this the old saying of "making good beer is the easy part, selling it’s the hard part". On that front, I’m lucky enough to have a wife who worked in hospitality and wine sales/marketing for over ten years so we had a big head start. Without this we would have been in dire straits. If you can’t sell your beer it ends up costing you money because of storage etc. and of course then spoils. All this aside, the hardest part has been parental guilt. I love my kids to death and obviously you never get back the moments you miss. Chasing a dream at the possible expense of those ‘once in a lifetime moments’ is an interesting thing to grapple with. Renae just reminds me to ‘be present’, i.e. if I’m with the kids, or her for that matter, then give it 100%. The short answer is, if you’re thinking of making the leap just make sure you are ready to have zero time for yourself.

Any advice for other home brewers thinking of taking the big step?

You really need to make sure you understand where you want to be in five years. Yeah its cool to think that you can have a beer being served at a bar but the reality is that if you don’t want to waste your kids inheritance you have to think of it like a business. Brewing is only 20% of it. That may sound too capitalist for a few people but it’s the truth. The margins in beer are small compared to a lot of industries. Add in a product that sells rather quickly and has relatively small order volumes from individual customers means it’s logistically challenging. It’s really a case of toe in, all in. This said, it’s also damn satisfying when you see that first pint of beer ordered by a complete stranger. You need to make sure this satisfaction is what you are seeking as it’s this that will keep you going. I know for us we have found this to extremely rewarding.

Do you have any philosophies in life that guide you or you live by?

"Be present" "Think global, drink local" "What goes around, comes around" "No pain, no gain" "When you dig be careful where you throw the dirt" "Wisdom is the ability to choose the lessor of a number of evils" "Quality over quantity"

Final thoughts 

I may have painted an interesting picture for a few people but I’d prefer to give the reality - it’s tough. However, the soul satisfying reward you get from it means that it’s all worthwhile. We wouldn’t change a thing.

And of course… drum roll…we’re building a brewery on the corner of Reserve and Bay Rd in Cheltenham. We’re sharing this with another brewing company called Bad Shepherd. Brewer/Owner Head shepherd is a fellow home brewer you may know from competitions - Dereck Hales. It will be a 100 seat bar/restaurant, smoke house and full production brewery. Hopefully open around Sept/Oct. I’m really keen to do some Bayside Brewers / Wolf of the Willows collaborations so watch this space.

No comments:

Post a Comment