5 Minutes with Russ Gosling: Head Brewer at little Creatures

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"Craft has done a tremendous amount in this country over a short period of time to educate drinkers, and to introduce and let people explore different beer styles."


Liquor Barons Head Quarters: Tell us a bit about the most recent single batch release.

Russ Gosling: That’s the extra pale ale.  Why did we choose that?  Good question.  Basically in market we noticed there were lots of XPAs which pretty honestly is a made up style.  Normally the X is for ‘extra’, so what’s so extra about it? We wanted to do something that had extra malt, extra hops, extra alcohol, and extra flavour. So we took the skeleton of an American Pale Ale and decided to amplify the core components to produce something that was extra.  And we called it an EPA instead of an XPA.

LBHQ: The first of its kind in the world…

RG: Well… not really (laughs) but we were just having a bit of a play around.   With the single batches we try to do something that is fun, original and a little bit different.  Initially we decided to do them so we could provide something new, some ‘new news’ for our customers and consumers.   We decided to use them as a vehicle to play with new materials, hops, and create beers that had never been done before, so that we could learn and hone our craft as brewers.  That was the original concept and it still applies today. It’s a bit of fun and we try to make a beer that we enjoy drinking.  There’s not too much thought beyond that.

LBHQ:  You have no restrictions placed on you by the brewery; you can make anything that you like?

RG:  Correct, we have no restrictions when it comes to the single batch beers, we can brew whatever we want.  At the beginning of every financial year we try to build an innovation calendar.  If I’m totally honest with you, we’ve never stuck to it because we’ve always changed our minds as the beers have unfolded.

LBHQ: Are you still tripping over yourselves to brew enough Single Batch to satisfy the craft beer lovers in Perth?

RG: I believe so.  The challenge for the business is to make more.  But then the problem is how do you make more in a brewery that’s at capacity?  And then also, in brewing more, you dilute the potency of the single batch.

LBHQ: How much do you make?

RG: It depends on which one it is, and when it is brewed.  The split between keg for on premise venues (bars) and small pack for retailers changes too so it depends on what it is.

** We have to stop talking as a tanker reverses into the brewery beside us.  It's loud.  We ask Russel about it **

LBHQ: What is happening here? (We have to almost yell)

RG: OK so we put beer in to that 200 hectolitres, or 20,000 litres tanker there, and we ship it to another site that we run, it’s about 7 or 8 k’s away in O’Connor, near Gage Roads.  From there we bottle it in to bottles and kegs.

** The tanker parks up.  We can return to talking **

LBHQ: Talk to us from your perspective where Little Creatures sits on the craft beer spectrum.

RG:  I would say that we sit in the middle.  That’s where we like to be.  Ever since we started, the ethos has always been: flavour plus refreshment equals balance.  When we started, perhaps it (the Pale Ale) was a flavour that people weren’t used to or hadn’t had before so were looking to explore.  But now, there are lots of other breweries that have gone beyond that, and so we now sit in the middle.  I suppose, fundamentally, we always try to be inclusive.  You really see that when you come to the hospitality venue.  You’ve got grandma and granddad, you’ve got some hipsters, and you’ve got some people having a business conversation. We welcome everyone.  We hope our beer does as well.  It should be a beer that’s accessible and inclusive to everyone, and opens people up to a new world of flavour.  You do get craft guys who make 8% beers with 100 IBU beers - which are great, I drink those sorts of beers - but that’s a challenge for a lot of people.  So I would say we sit square in the middle.

LBHQ:  Can we discuss hops for a minute. We know your production is big so we assume the local hop farms don’t make the volume that you require.  Is WA too small for your needs?
 

RG: Yes, that’s right. We import from Australia and New Zealand and the US, and from Europe as well.

LBHQ: When we asked you before we got started about wet and dry hops, you said ‘they’re all dry’.  Can you walk us through that?

RG: Hops are harvested, and then they’re processed and dried in order for them to become stable.  But they are processed in different ways.  We use something called whole cones, or leaf hops.  Type 100 or T100. That is to say, 100% of the harvested material is kiln dried and packaged into a format that then comes to the brewery.

LBHQ: Like whole bunch pressing grapes in winemaking.

RG: Correct.  Then you’ve got something called T90 Pellets: the 90 means that 10% of the material has been removed.  So that might be stalks, twigs, bits of leaf, plant matter.  They’re then pelletised.  That’s done for two reasons.  One it reduces the bulk density.  You can distribute it in a more cost effective way, and it’s better for efficient storage.  Secondly, it’s more a more stable option as they can last 2-3 years. The whole leaf hops that we use need to be used within a year.  You can get something called T45 pellets, where 55% of the plant matter has been removed.  There is also something else called Lupulin dust, which is also pelletised.  Still T45. They’re the options.  When you referred to ‘wet hops’ before, you might be talking about green hops.  This is where the harvest material is sent to the brewery straight away, without being dried or processed.  You can only use those within a small window of time, before the microbiology on the hops, combined with the moisture, start to produce off flavours and deteriorate the overall quality of the hops.  Most breweries, if they use hops in this format, will do only a single brew, once a year.  We’ve done that once before.  It’s a lot easier for breweries that are located geographically close to hop farms.  For us we had to get the hops from Tasmania, they were air freighted over within 24 hours of harvesting - it was a very complicated process.  There might be some smaller breweries in WA who are making wet hop ales using hops from farms in WA.

LBHQ:  Have you got anything exciting coming up that you’re allowed to tell us about?

RG: Yes!  We’ve got a stout in a can coming up, which as brewers we fought really hard over the last few years to get approved.  We’re excited, we like stout, so we have one coming out this winter. 

LBHQ: Were you at the brewery in the years before Lion took full ownership?

RG: Yes, I’ve been here since 2005, so I was here for the transition. 

LBHQ: Was there much of a difference in how you were able to run things?

RG: There were no changes made.  They let us do what we want. The only thing they did was say “look we’re here to help you grow.  You can access capital, expertise and whatever else you might need that we can provide’, and they introduced some back of house processing systems.  This meant we’ve integrated with a bigger line system.  Ultimately, how we make beer and run our business (yeast and hops, procurement etc.), well they’ve left that up to us.

LBHQ:  It’s topical at the moment, when you consider Pirate Life being bought by CUB, and Feral who was recently bought by Coca Cola Amatil.  Is the ‘soul’ of craft going anywhere? 

RG: No.  And they (the breweries) are not going to change at all.  The businesses will give those breweries the capital, connections and development processes that they need to grow.  Why touch a winning formula.

LBHQ: LC was on the front of the craft beer wave in WA, where do you see your future in the beer scene in WA?

RG: Yeah it’s an interesting one.  I would say we were at the forefront of the craft beer scene in terms of bringing the American landscape of craft beer to Perth.    In the beginning, our business was very much centred on an American Pale Ale, which is an English IPA with American hops.  We have a brewery that is very visible – it is a theatre of brewing, so people can come in and experience (touch smell feel) and have conversations about beer.  I think that moving forward we are going to see more guys being bought out by the big guys with better access to money and resources to help them grow. I think we’re going to see an increase in the brew-pub scene.   What you will see is that mainstream beer consumption will change.  We won’t go back to big brand dominance like we had before the craft beer explosion.  It’ll be something else, but it will have come from craft.  So whether that’s pale ales with Cascade hops or a Kolsch with whatever, you’ll see the mainstream is different.  One of the examples I always come back to is this: when I came over to Australia in 2005, I went down to my local bar, and they had 15 taps.  13 of those taps were lagers.  There was no customer in that pub that could differentiate between those 13 different lagers.  So then you say to yourself, does the customer really need the choice between 13 different lagers?  The answer is no.  These days, it’s a different story.  You might see 6 lagers.  Some pale ales.  A Kolsch.  A double IPA, there’ll be a Brown Ale, a Stout.  And that’s great for everyone.  Craft has done a tremendous amount in this country over a short period of time to educate drinkers, and to introduce and let people explore different beer styles.