Make way for Nailraiser VJA, Feral and Nail’s juicy new joint venture Subheading
From trialing cheap homebrews to writing a thesis on brewing, Feral and Nail Brewing’s founders Brendan Varis and John Stallwood were always destined for careers in beer; establishing themselves on the Perth beer scene at a time before craft beer was considered a craft.
Together purchasing a 50-hectolitre brewhouse under joint venture ‘Brewcorp’ in 2012, the pair have been partners in crime for ten years this August, collaborating on everything from brewing, business and now, beer.
Nailraiser Very Juicy Ale combines the best of Biggie Juice and VPA, two craft beer crowd favourites that are even better together, according to John Stallwood Feral’s Head Brewer, Ryan Harris. We wrangled some time with the pair to sus out all things Nailraiser VJA and how it was born.
Q&A with founders Brendan and John
When did you realise you were in love with craft beer and wanted to turn that drive into a business?
John: I started as a homebrewer in 1994, enjoying the marketing behind making beer labels and selling t-shirts and from that, my passion for beer grew. I studied an Honours in Science, writing my thesis on the ‘Development of a Full Strength Ale’ in 1998, so I knew how to make good beer.
When did Nail first begin production?
John: Nail started in 2000 and my first beer was called Nail Ale. Craft beer didn’t exist then and it was really, really hard work – one day I actually worked 32 hours with 20-minute power naps in between. In 2004, I had a really bad accident and had an option to get out, but my passion was so strong that I decided Nail is my life.
How did you first get into brewing, eventually becoming Head Brewer at Feral?
Ryan: The first time I brewed beer was for my 18th birthday, when I threw a party at my parents’ house with two 50L kegs of the cheapest homebrew I could make and my homebrewing hobby grew from there.
I recruited a few friends from uni that were also interested in homebrewing and we ended up starting a university club, where we’d meet once a month to critique each other’s creations. There were some very good beers made and some horrible ones, which we drank anyway.
I started brewing at Gage Roads, working for two years in their lab in quality control, before moving to Feral in 2015 where I developed their quality control program from scratch. This gave me the chance to learn every part of the production side of the Brewcorp business and after three years, I became Head Brewer.
Tell us a bit about your history with one another. When did Feral and Nail first become mates and partners, and what has that partnership looked like over the years?
John: Brendan Varis helped install my first kit in 2000 and Brewcorp started in 2012. Feral was bigger than Nail, and I learned a lot from Brendan on not just brewing, but business too.
Ryan: Feral was actually producing and distributing kegs out of its brewpub in the Swan Valley before Brewcorp days. The Nail brand had been dormant for some time and John was working hard to build the brewery up again using the Degrees Brewery at ECU, all by himself.
Brendan and John then decided to pool their resources and start Brewcorp in 2012 because neither of them had enough money to build a production facility large enough to keep up with the demand for both breweries. In the beginning, Brewcorp was a 50/50 operation producing both Feral and Nail beers, with two individual brewing teams on the same equipment.
By 2015, Feral was producing five times the volume of Nail. It became obvious to both companies that producing volumes of this scale was too difficult so the decision was made to consolidate the Brewcorp teams into one. This was the first time both Feral and Nail beers were produced by the same people, as they are today.
John: Brewcorp then got bigger and we moved to a larger site in 2016. When Feral changed ownership, Brendan made the transition to make sure I moved forward as well. Today, Ryan and the brewing team brew consistently better than I ever did and the Feral and Nail partnership is still going strong.
How have the last 10 years shaped the growth of Brewcorp?
Ryan: For the last 10 years we have had many people work at Brewcorp, some for Feral and some for Nail and even one that left Feral to work for Nail. Nail and Feral have always shared a unique business relationship. Brendan and John for many years worked across the same room from each other, mocking each other relentlessly every day.
Nail and Feral employees work to continue that relationship and it’s commonplace to see us crash each other’s events or Christmas parties. We have learnt to work together incredibly well over the years, improving each other’s businesses and beer as we go. This partnership has certainly come to fruition in the Nailraiser VJA as we combine the best parts of our two brands!
What’s so special about this collaboration for Nailraiser Very Juicy Ale?
John: Ryan and myself united two great beers (VPA and Biggie) and Ryan’s team brewed it to the highest level possible. And it has turned out amazingly.
Ryan: It’s very rare for Feral or Nail to do a collaborative beer with anyone, having never produced a beer together. We’ve been working together since the launch of Brewcorp in August 2012 and we wanted to showcase what we have achieved during this time together.
Both beers started from small beginnings and were unexpectedly loved by punters, so much so that we struggled to keep up with demand. I can’t imagine anything less for Nailraiser VJA! If you like Biggie Juice or VPA or both, imagine a beer with the best bits from both with increased alcohol and dry hop.
Tell us a bit about the naming process behind this beer and how it reflects the beer style. Do you anticipate this Very Juicy Ale will be a bit of a hell-raiser?
John: Nailraiser VJA was created by joining the brewery’s brands. Feral’s Jack Davidson was key in marketing, with Nail’s #1 sales manager in the state, Brendan Grima.
Ryan: Both Nail and Feral often have a laugh about beer styles and why certain beers are restricted to beer categories, especially when it comes to beer judging. A good beer is a good beer after all. Nail has chosen to branch away from convention and start creating their own beer styles, VPA for example. A 7.5% NEIPA, made from the best parts of Biggie Juice and VPA, a new style which is a Very Juice Ale or ‘VJA’.
The beer’s name ‘Nailraiser’ came from our joint marketing team Jack Davidson, Dipesh Prasad and Jarod Fuller. Playing off the 1987 movie Hellraiser, they decided this was the best way to represent the two brands coming together and I agree it’s clever.
What are some of the biggest wins vs biggest challenges of being a pioneer craft beer brand in a now booming Australian craft beer scene?
John: Adjusting to the market and to the business. When Nail started, no one knew craft beer and there were 23 breweries in Australia; now everyone knows craft beer and there are 800 breweries. Growing a brewery costs money, so it’s very hard to grow without that. There are always challenges and you have to adjust not to just growth, but to survival.
Ryan: The release of a collaborative beer, Nailraiser VJA, which is the culmination of a lot of hard work from a small group of passionate individuals, is certainly Feral’s biggest win for this year in my book. It has been inspiring to look back on the past 10 years Brewcorp has been in operation and see exactly where we have come from and what we have achieved.
Of course, the market is more competitive than ever before with a lot of new small players in recent years, it’s hard to keep up. However, friendly competition in a growing market is healthy for the industry and consumers as breweries are challenged to make new interesting beers, improve consistency and quality to compete in the space and retain customers. It’s also good for people working in the industry, as experienced brewers are in higher demand in WA than in the previous 10 years.
Any highlights, challenges, interesting concepts or anything worth noting when planning/ brewing this beer?
John: Hops, yeast and malt adjustments are all in development. The economy is tight, some breweries are selling or uniting. Time will tell, but Nail is always planning ahead.
Ryan: Feral always has interesting beer ideas in the pipeline. But these new ideas usually remain secret to the public because they don’t always work. Some work very well and we may end with an amazing new beer like the Nailraiser VJA, but some simply are shelved. Breweries are a place of constant improvement, both for plant operations (boring, but very important) and the products they produce.
The Nailraiser VJA was one of those uncommon ideas that everyone liked from the get-go. Every step of the way, from concept to testing the final product, ended with excitement with very few suggested alterations. In my experience, this usually means that the new beer is going to be a hit.
What does the future look like for both Feral and Nail? Can we expect a brewpub, more beer collabs, or any exciting events coming up…
John: Business is hard, joint ventures and partnerships are harder. Nail and Feral’s relationship is special as we are two totally separate companies, with the same goal. But both breweries consistently brewing the best beers in the world makes it easier, so it’s looking tough, but bright. With the potential for all of the above!
Ryan: Right now we’re working very hard on a collection of new beers, as well as our core range beers to fill our taps at Froth Town. It’s the biggest WA beer festival for the year and should not be missed if you’re a craft beer lover!
We are working on some larger projects too, like installing a new 12HL brewhouse at Brewcorp by the end of the year so we can ramp up our small-scale keg releases. This kit will also allow us to do more research and development on a small scale and bring you even better Feral and Nail beers in the future. Brewpub and more collabs? Maybe…we’ll just have to wait to find out.
Anything else you’d like to mention about the collaborative effort in producing Nailraiser VJA?
Ryan: A big thank you to all the people that have worked to create and contribute to Brewcorp and its success over the past 10 years to produce some of the best beers in the country. We’re proud of what we have achieved individually and as a team, with Nailraiser VJA commemorating our efforts.
Get in early and pre-order some Nailraiser VJA by dropping into your local Liquor Barons store, where it’ll be in fridges from Monday, August 15th. But not for long, we reckon!