A Q&A session with Tim Thomas, brewer at HopDog BeerWorks in Nowra.
How did you get into brewing?
I got started in brewing when I went in with a couple of mates at uni for a home brew kit. It was literally a way to make cheap beer on a very limited budget. Our first couple of batches were nasty, but I kept at it. I ended up getting a part-time job at the local home brew shop, then after finishing Uni, I decided to get into brewing professionally.
Is brewing beer a dream job?
Oh, hell yes. It’s got all the classic romantic and awesome rock star styled things rolled into what is for me a passion. But, of course there’s a lot of hard work and the behind-the-scenes stuff that the public doesn’t see. I get to make and drink awesome ales and talk beer 100 hours a day. I don’t have any hobbies.
What’s one bit of advice you’d give to someone brewing at home?
Ditch the kit and the heat belt. Sorry, that’s two bits of advice. But seriously, kit beers are just that, there’s more to brewing than mixing in sugar and topping up with water – try a fresh wort kit. Heat belt/pad: don’t ferment your beers over 20ºC unless you’re doing Belgian ales.
What’s the best thing about brewing beer?
Apart from drinking it? The design and brewing process, coming up with something new or unique is great, plus seeing or hearing of how much people enjoy the finished product, and sharing my love of beer.
What’s the worst thing?
What’s the weirdest ingredient you’ve ever put into a beer?
This could be a tough one – I’ve used skull candy, pumpkins and Wonka bars in Halloween beers, Redskins too, coffee in coffee stouts to accentuate the roasty character, Schezuan pepper in saison to add spiciness, apple juice and maple syrup to make breakfast beer, and I’ve even infected beer with brettanomyces to intentionally sour it.
Where’s the best place you’ve had a beer?
One of the best places I’ve had a beer would have to be in to glass-fronted coolroom at the Potter’s brewery in the Hunter whilst brewing in a 40 plus degree summer. It was over 50ºC in the brewery I’m sure. Also maybe the Wig & Pen in Canberra. Awesome ales, awesome venue.
How hard is to break into the beer market in Australia?
It is quite difficult as you could imagine with so many new micro’s and craft brewers popping up all the time. But with the likes of craft-beer focused venues in a lot of Australian cities now the task of getting your beer out to a thirsty audience is getting easier. On the other hand there’s still a lot of issues with publicans and store owners, etc who have venues tied to the Big Guys who can’t or won’t give you a go, or the local outlets who just won’t take the chance on a small locally owned brewery because it’s not what they’re used to, it’s “weird beer”.
Are more people getting interested in craft beer?
Yes, it’s a growing market, and with Australians now drinking less per person that we used to, we’re now also looking at what we drink as being something special or unique too. People are wanting more than ‘‘wet and fizzy’’ from beer, in the same way that someone goes out to have a waygu steak, they’ll look for an American IPA instead of the T-bone. Evidence in the new love of craft beer can be seen with Good Beer Week in Melbourne recently and October’s Sydney Craft Beer Week.
What’s your favourite beer – other than your own?
Eau Benite from Unibroue. Canada. A 7.7 per cent ABV Belgian styled tripel. Ten times awesome, and a rarity nowadays.
What do you wish people understood about beer?
The difference between ale and lager. That there’s more to drinking than bland, pasteurised, sterile, filtered, mass-produced lagers. That barley wine and big alcohol beers aren’t designed to be drunk by the schooner. Beer matches way more food styles than wine (but I am biased). Beer is not fattening. English beers are not served flat and hot. “Draught” is not a style of beer. Low-carb beers are a fallacy. Super hoppy beers rock!
Working in a brewery, how do you stop yourself from indulging too much?
There’s sampling and quality control, and then there’s drinking. At HopDog we need to sample our beers regularly from batch to batch to check quality and consistency, and this can be tough when we have up to six beers available. But there’s a time and place for enjoying a few large ones, and that’s after work, and normally at home for us. Drink driving is not an option.
What happens if someone turns up to your house with a six pack of VB?
We have a ring of salt around our house that forbids anyone from entering the yard or stepping over the threshold with VB. If they get past that, the attack dogs will be released, and they’ll kindly be asked to leave.