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Interview: Hawthorn Brewing

If you thought that Australians couldn’t give a XXXX about real beers, you could probably be forgiven. Relentless advertising from a small number of big brewers over the years has cemented brands like Fosters as market-leaders, virtually ubiquitous.  Those in the know would tell you real Australians know how to make awesome beer, and like us, they like a real brew.

Two such beer aficionados are Peter Willis and Hamish Reed, together they make up two thirds of The Flavour Merchants.  They founded Hawthorn Brewing Company to craft world-class Australian Craft Beers, and tip their hats to the greatest beers the world has to offer.  They’ve lived all around the world, tasted many brews along the way, and been inspired by the diversity of artisanal brewers from Belgium to South America, England to America.

As they say, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

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They’ve had huge success since they started brewing back in 2008.  Last year alone, they snagged a listing with us for their excellent Pale Ale and Pilsner, and even managed to smuggle a container of their beer to France – whose opinion of foreign beers is about the same as foreign wines. We caught up with Peter and Hamish to find out what kicks off their ferments.

What made you decide to get in to brewing? Were there any brewers you took inspiration from?

HR: I started brewing at home as soon as I turned 18 and haven’t looked back since. The mix of science and art was and still is a big attraction for me. Developing a new beer in your head, brewing it and finally tasting it never loses its appeal.

US homebrewer John Palmer wrote a fantastic book called, ‘How to Brew’. I’ve read it cover to cover and still refer to it. This book helped me take my knowledge and brewing to the next step.

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When most people in the UK think of Australian beer, they think Fosters – or if we’re lucky they’ll have tried Coopers. What makes Hawthorn different?

PW: Having lived in London for many years we are acutely aware of the public perception of what Aussie beers are, and it started and ended with Fosters (which funnily enough isn’t even sold in Australia). Thankfully with the explosion of craft beer, there is now an expectation that there is more out there and this is where Hawthorn Brewing Company comes in. As an independent producer of small batches, we can offer a variety of preservative free great brews which are hand crafted by the brewer with quality the primary goal. We are also able to engage with our consumers and tell our story, as well as react quickly to changing styles and/or tastes, all of which adds value to the consumer and sets us apart from the large international breweries.

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Where did the name ‘Hawthorn’ come from?

PW: All 3 founders live or have lived in Hawthorn which is an upmarket inner city suburb of Melbourne, and hence we decided to name the company after this “home town”. We have a pilot system in Hawthorn and this is where all beers are conceived, developed and refined so Hawthorn is truly the birthplace of all our products. Hawthorn was originally where a lot of coffee/grain merchants set up shop in the late 1800’s and it has an old world charm and architecture that we love, and it is this “old world” feel that we have continued in the branding and marketing of the company.

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What does a regular day in the brewery look like?

HR: Production is scheduled well in advance so in a perfect world everything runs smoothly. Unfortunately with many moving parts there are always little tweaks that need to be addressed. Whether its late grain deliveries, a few missing kegs, or a small mechanical issue, everyday is different and always throws up a challenge to keep the team guessing.

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Britain is in the midst of a revolution in brewing, with about 200 craft or micro-breweries opening each year. Have you experienced a similar phenomenon in Australia – and why do you think that is?

PW: Like the rest of the world, Australia is experiencing a craft beer boom. We feel it is driven by consumers now realising that beer is more than the traditional 2 or 3 mainstream breweries with their limited offerings. Craft breweries can really stand out with their small batches, great local stories and hands on brewing, and this has real appeal to consumers. Add really interesting styles, flavour and aroma to the mix and it all adds up to exciting options for consumers who are demanding more from their drinking experiences. The ability to directly engage with consumers and tell out story also really helps build brand loyalty.

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People often mistake Pilsner as being no different from a Lager. What defines the styles for you?

HR: Pilsner, as a style, is still a fairly high level description as there are multiple examples. To further complicate this there are now also new world (craft) versions, which sometimes break a few of the rules. To me a Pilsner needs that little extra bitterness, more hop character and super clean. Some people still see the Czech Pilsner as the ultimate representation.

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What’s your favourite beer from outside Australia?

PW: I was recently in London and was able to taste some of the local craft. The beers coming from Kernel Brewery and Beavertown were the stand outs for me.

There’s a real thirst (excuse the pun) in wine to explore food matches, have you tried the same with your beers?

PW: Yes we have. With consumers demanding more from their drinking experience there is a real opportunity to educate and highlight that beer is more than just a drink. We offer all our venues our food pairing suggestions and work with venues to develop food options. It is also great to see venues now embracing beer and food matching and giving it the same importance on the menu as they do for wine matching.

Try the Pilsner with lighter and salty food: chicken, salads, fish, salmon or fried snacks; it’s great with salty cheeses like feta, cheddar or chevre too.  Pale Ale works really well with a wide range of food; meat pie, burger, pizza, and the hop flavour is good with Asian dishes like a cold Thai salad.

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And finally, what’s your favourite way to enjoy a brew?

HR: Sharing in glasses with friends.
PW: For me nothing beats sitting on the beach watching the sun set with a cold beer in hand. Perfect.

You can find Hawthorn and our fantastic range of craft beers in your local Majestic, or browse online here!