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Brewing by the beach

August 21, 2012
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(Part 1 - Burleigh Brewing)

Beer and the beach. For many drinkers it is the perfect combination. Relaxing in the idyllic surrounds of golden sands met by endless blue sea is synonymous with Australia, as is the beachside companionship of a golden brew. A beer by the beach refreshes your heated body and cleanses your sea-salt coated mouth.

The beach beer imagery is most notably used to market Corona, but no foreign beer will ever trump the experience of drinking a beer brewed for the beach on which you sit.

Beautiful beaches exist in many locations right around Australia’s long coastline. One particular stretch, however, is blessed with two small breweries that are quenching the locals’ thirst for crafty beachside ales, while also making an impact on the brewing industry through international recognition and awards. This stretch of Australia’s east coast lies between Byron Bay and the Gold Coast. At one end is Stone & Wood, at the other is Burleigh Brewing, two breweries that are producing nationally available and highly regarded beers that were born to celebrate their local beachside towns.

If you have ever wondered why Stone & Wood and Burleigh Brewing produce the beers they do, a visit to the breweries and their home environments will quickly provide the answer – they are beers inspired by the local character and flavour.

The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s most famous beach and tourist destinations. It is also a region dominated by XXXX Gold and other similar lagers of the multinational breweries. Craft beer is yet to make notable inroads around the home of Surfer’s Paradise. Even the beers of the region’s own brewery, the Burleigh Brewing Company, can only be found on a mere handful of taps throughout the many Gold Coast bars.

Image of a pot glass of Burleigh beerThe Burleigh brewery is located in an industrial business park in Burleigh Heads, 5km from the southern Gold Coast beaches of Miami and Palm Beach. The business began in 2006 as the husband and wife team of Brennan and Peta Fielding sought to bring fiercely independent and traditional brewing to Queensland.

Burleigh Brewing launched in 2007 with a couple of European lagers and a pale ale. Their aim was to supply fresh beer of the highest quality that would appeal to the local lager drinking community, then slowly evolve their taste for more exotic beer flavours.

The brewery has grown significantly since it began and is now the largest independent brewery in Queensland. Burleigh Brewing occupies four of the business park’s warehouses – one for the 45 hectolitre brewhouse plus brewery floor lounge for public events, one for the fermentation and bright tanks, one for bottling and packaging and one for the coolroom and storage. Co-owner and head brewer Brennan is keen to take over even more of the site as soon as it becomes available. This is a brewery in expansion mode as their successful reputation spreads around Australia, along with the nation’s growing market for craft beer.

As a beer judge and a passionate beer traditionalist, Brennan is a stickler for beer styles. He produces very stylistic beers using only water, hops, malt and yeast for his core range. Through his considered selection of each ingredient, he seeks to offer a distinctly local flavour that suits the beachside climate.

Image of Brennan Fielding

Burleigh Brewing’s brewmaster, Brennan Fielding

Born in California and raised in Hawaii, Brennan Fielding knows the beach and beers through a lifetime indulging in both. A self confessed “beer junkie” since his teenage years, he credits his appreciation of beer and beer quality to his father.  His formative brewing years were spent at the large Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, which produces only German-style beers. After a stint at Shinano Brewery in Japan, he returned to Hawaii and was working at Honolulu’s Brew Moon brewpub when he met his Australian wife.

The German influence of brewing at Gordon Biersch, as well as some German ancestry, installed in Brennan an affection for accessible European styles and the historic tradition of European breweries only supplying their beer to towns that could be reached within one day by horse and cart in order to maintain the beer’s freshness. This lead to him producing two beers for Burleigh under the “Duke” label that were exclusively available to the Gold Coast and other nearby towns of south-east Queensland. More recently, the growing craft beer market across other parts of Queensland has seen most of the Burleigh beers, including some of the Duke range, become more widely available due to strong consumer demand.

The brewery’s success, both local and in a number of international beer competitions, has also allowed them to obtain national distribution for their 28 Pale Ale, an American-style pale ale inspired by a famous 28-day swell at Burleigh in 1975, and the 2012 World Beer Cup Gold Medal Winning Hef.

According to Brennan, the secret to their success is a passion for the hard work and dedication to the processes of brewing. Good craft brewing is about nailing the natural chemistry at each stage of the brew. Brennan is proud that Burleigh’s natural brewing techniques are designed to ensure beer quality and freshness while at the same time not utilising any of the brewing tricks and brewing aids sometimes used by large breweries to accelerate brewing times and enhance the beer’s appearance.

Brennan’s passion for beer quality is most evident at his excitement when explaining how the bottle caps used by Burleigh Brewing are his favourite part of the beer’s packaging. The lids contain a natural lining that scavenge oxygen, which helps reduce potential for oxidation and premature staling of the beer.

“A little bit of oxygen can get in an around the top of the bottle’s neck. The way the big brewers get around that is to put oxygen sapping chemicals into the brew itself, which can often be sulphites that can increase headaches and nasty hangovers in some people, ” Brennan explained.

Image of stack of empty bottles ready for filling

A new shipment of screen printed bottles, ready for filling with Burleigh’s Black Giraffe beer

“Here at Burleigh, as the bottle travels from the filler to the capper we put this lid on that scavenges the available oxygen in the bottle over a period of about 4 days, it sucks up the oxygen and traps it under the film. This cap then works for another 6-9 months so the beer stays fresh and the quality is always spot on.”

Satisfying the brewers’ crafty inclinations is Burleigh Brewing’s Bit on the Side project, which allows for the small batch production of hybrid-style and experimental beers with non-traditional flavour ingreadients. So far the project has produced the coffee infused Black Giraffe and the coconut laced Fanny Gertrude’s Bickie Beer. The first beer released under the “Bit on the Side” in 2009, My Wife’s Bitter, proved so successful that is has been moved into the permanent range of Burleigh beers.

Distinguishing these beers from the rest of Burleigh’s range is the 650ml silk screen printed bottles they are released in. With a thought for sustainability and supporting local industry, Brennan prefers to source as much of his brewing supplies locally as possible, but the “Bit on the Side” bottles needed an appropriate package to help them stand out as a innovative craft product.

“Our supplier O-I don’t have a 650 or 750ml bottle made here that’s of non-proprietary size. So this bottle comes out of California and gets shipped to Adelaide for the silk screening then comes up to us here, and minimum order is 50,000 so it’s an expensive operation.”

The bottle used is the generic American 650ml “bomber” that many Australia craft beer drinkers will be familiar with through local stock of the bottles used by the popular and highly rated Moylan’s Brewing.

“There’s not a lot of choices when you’re a small business, but I’m really happy with it. I like this bottle and we have no intention to change it,” noted Brennan.

The next beer to be released will be an Imperial IPA, something that Brennan has been working on for some time. He is happy that the local market has developed enough to receive a big IPA. Although, in the endless summer of the Gold Coast, it’s Burleigh’s Duke Premium Lager that Brennan often enjoys drinking most. The heavy manual work of brewing, cleaning, bottling, packaging and more cleaning is most rewarding when it all ends with a Duke beer by the beach at Burleigh. It’s what the beer was made for.

Image of Burleigh Brewing's bottled beer range

Coming soon – Brewing By the Beach (Part 2): Stone & Wood.

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2 Responses to Brewing by the beach

  1. […] week I wrote about the beachside brewing and bottling of Burleigh Brewing on the Gold Coast. In Part 2 of this article, I head an hour south to the home of the beach inspired beer that was […]

  2. […] News as always, gives a thoughtful discussion on Burleigh Brewing in Part One of its ‘Brewing by the Beach’ series. Part two will discuss the perennial favourite Stone & Wood, but it would be nice to take it […]

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