As part of our ongoing CROFT MAN series, we caught up with Ash Hazell, former brewer at Little Creatures and Barrow Boys turn Head of Brewing at Colonial Brewing Co's (CBC) Port Melbourne location.
After almost a decade at Little Creatures in Fremantle, Ash ventured across the Nullabour with his wife and dog along for the ride, landing in Melbourne to assist in the inception of Barrow Boys Brewing. Fast forward a few years, Ash scored the gig of Head of Brewing at Colonial Brewing Company where he resides today.
Guided by a passionate array of Australia's most talented brewers, Ash included Colonial Brewing Co as one of Australia's most thriving small-scale breweries, with a mission that reverts the process of brewing back to basics.
From humble beginnings on Western's Australia's wild coastline, the Port Melbourne branch of CBC launched in 2015, drawing inspiration from Melbourne's music and laneway scenes and the ever- changing beer landscape evident withing all corners of the craft beer loving capital.
From the inspiring coastlines of the brewery itself, we sat down with Ash to chat about all things, beer, brewery wear and off-duty style.
We hear your foray into the world of beer brewing began young, and that you brewed beer as part of a 'chemistry research project' in your univeristy labs. This is hilarious - please do elaborate on what this involved.
I started home brewing when I was 17 becasuse it was easier than faking an ID, but I fell in love with brewing once I turned 18 and visited Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle for the first time. It was this visit that really set my career goals in stone.
In my final year of my science degree, I brewed beer in the labs as a research project. I managed to rope in the ex-Head Brewer of Little Creatures to 'support my research' (share a beer with me), which then helped me to land my dream job at Little Creatures.
After almost a decade at Little Creatures in Fremantle - what was the catalyst that inspired your move to Melbourne to take up residence at Barrow Boys?
I learned a lot during my time at LC and I was due for a change by the time it was swallowed by a multinational company. I moved to Melbourne to co-found Barrow Boys Brewing, a small Melbourne based gypsy business. I had a lot of fun starting a brand, creating beers and getting amongst the buzz of the Melbourne bar scene.
They say it was the shiny stainless steel that lured you into the role of Head of Brewing at CBC, and whilst we agree that big shiny things are compelling, what was it about Colonial Brewing Co that truly captured your heart?
I was keen to get back into the hands-on side of brewing and Colonial was a natural fit for me. We're all about quality and innovation, being one of the first to can craft beer in Australia using a revolutionary lid design that fully tears off to turn a tinnie into an improvised glass. We've taken out medals in recent beer awards and this year we also released what we believe to be Australia's highest alcohol beer can, the Colonial Inquest at 11.7%. Overseeing breweries in both my home state of WA and my favourite City, Melbourne, is a big perk as well.
Colonial Brewing Co has the capacity to brew up to 10,000 litres of beer a day - could you briefly take us through what the brewing process consists of?
We mill malted barley from a variety of sources around the world and mix with hot water in the 'mash tun' to extract sugars. The next step is to remove the liquid (called wort) and leave the grain behind. This happens in the 'lauter tun' which is kind of like a giant colander. The grain is trapped and we send it to our farm to feed cattle with. The 'wort' is pumped into the 'kettle' which boils it with hops to add bitterness and flavour/aroma (tropical, spicy, fruity, etc depending on hop variety is used). It's then clarified, cooled and pumped into the 'fermenter' with yeast, which turns all those sweet sugars into alcohol, carbon dioxide and adds a light fruity flavour. With our hoppier beers, we add more hops to the fermenter to give it an even more fruitiness and resin-like flavour. Finally, we remove the yeast with centifuge (kind of like a gravitron ride) and fill cans & kegs for your enjoyment. The whole process takes 2-4 weeks depending on the type of yeast we use (ale of lager).
What are your Top 3 must-visit beer destinations in Melbourne and why?
Carwyn Cellars, Thornbury - this place has one of the country's best beer lists on tap and plenty more in the fridges for takeaways. There's a pretty good selection of wine too!
The Alehouse Project, Brunswick - rotating taps with regular mini-festivals, featuring beers from different countries, or specific styles. A rotating pop-up kitchen and major sports on the screens is a bonus.
Colonial Brewery, Port Melbourne - a shameless plug, but there are very few breweries in the country that you can enjoy a beer in, and feel like you're actually inside the brewery (because you are).
What about your must-visit beer festivals?
Two come to mind. In Australia, you can't go past the beer & barbecue festival held in winter in Adelaide. They bring in big bands, delicious BBQ vendors and brewers from across the country for a weekend of tasty fun.
The other is the Great American Beer Festival in Denver every year. It is just huge, featuring hundreds of craft brewers from all across the states. The energy in the place with 60,000 lovers of beer and good times has to be experienced first-hand to understand how great it really is.
CBC releases a seasonal range of beers and project beers each year, fill us in on the editions of both that you are currently working on?
Our next release will be a bold IPA (India Pale Ale) which is a style known for its firm bitterness and intense hop aroma. We've got our hands on an experimental Australian hop variety that no one else has access to and we can't wait to test it out.
We love the idea of project beers - what has been your favourite to work on to date? They are all impressively imaginative, take us through the creative process involved in formulating a new type of beer.
The beer we had the most fun brewing was our Rye 'N Gose Sling, made from Rye malt, Margaret River seawater, two separate fermentations, American hops, lemon peel, coriander, juniper berries and a keg of Westwinds gin. Although it sounds crazy, it turned out to be a beautifully refined, lightly sour beer with sherbet-like flavour and new world gin aroma. It didn't last long!
We usually start with an idea or a special ingredient we want to trial, and (over a beer of course) chat about how to get the most out of it. That could be a matter of working out complimentary flavours or how to best showcase something, such as the Kiwi hopped
IPA we brewed earlier in the year, where we chose the hops we wanted to use and then built a beer around it to support, but not overpower the hops. With the Rye 'N Gose Sling, it was all about combining similar and complimentary ingredients to build a more complex overall flavour, without anything in particular domincating. It really depends on what we're trying to achieve, but every journey is started and finished with a beer in hand!
Attire wise - what do you get around in whilst you're brewing?
Anything I wear in the brewery has got to be tough. We get covered in chemicals, beer, drive fork-lifts and handle malt sacks all day. Brewing is labour intensive work that requires hard-wearing gear, clothes and footwear that will last the distance and withstand pressure.
What about your choice of off-duty style?
After work at the brewery I spend a lot of time at beer events, festivals and leaning on the bar at craft beer venues. Whilst I won't completely change outfits, I'll always change footwear into something a little newer, nicer and less destroyed. I'm a big fan of natural materials in shoes and boots, and will always slip into a pair of these before an event.
On that note, which shoes in particular are you currently favouring off-duty? Do your Crofts make an appearance in your post-brewery repertoire?
My favourite pair of shoes is a pair of Croft Henley's that I pull out for special occasions such as beer awards, high end functions. Otherwise, Cadman's are my go-to for tramping around town.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2017? Any new and exciting beer projects we should be the first to know about?
There's plenty more to come, but you'll have to wait and see!
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