“A home brewer who got out of control.”
That is how Melissa Church describes how her partner, Doug Brookes, came to have his own brewery. After almost three years of thought and planning Doug’s aspiration of becoming a professional brewer was fulfilled in July 2013 when Brookes Beer became operational.
The brewery is located in an industrial food park in Bendigo, which was originally an abattoir for Mayfair hams. The abattoir closed in the late 1980s after a stand off between Mayfair and the worker’s union. Over twenty years later, the large building that was originally purpose built for food production has been divided up amongst food companies and is now an ideal home for Bendigo’s craft brewery, Brookes Beer.
The brewery equipment came second hand from Croucher in New Zealand. The all-electric brewhouse can brew a maximum 2500 litres, but batches of 1500 litres seem to be the ideal. A second-hand Meheen bottling machine has recently been added to the equipment. It has considerably sped up bottling day and is allowing them to move away from bottle-conditioned beers. There was a sharp learning curve getting the gas and carbonation levels right for the bottles, but he now has the process fine-tuned.
The struggle now is to reduce oxygen in the finished beer to improve shelf life. Doug has introduced a number of improvements is this area. For example, instead using a pump to move beer from one tank to another, he uses CO2 gas pressure to minimise exposure to oxygen.
Doug’s brewery was the centre of a collaboration brew that got together the breweries that are connected by the Calder Highway in Victoria. Ian Morgan from Holgate in Woodend, Bousa and Doug from 7 Cent in Gisborne South, and Tracy and Bruce from (soon to open) Bandicoot in Echuca joined Doug and Melissa in brewing ‘Calder Collab’. This black Belgian wit was brewed with Midnight Wheat malt. This black-white beer represents the black highway with white lines that connect the breweries. The fact that Echuca is nowhere near the Calder Highway didn’t faze them at all.
Doug’s axiom is that, “There is nothing better than fresh local beer”. Improving in quality and life of the packaged beer, and the way it is distributed, is part of that quest to ensure his beer is always fresh. He confessed, “We’re never going to be a funky hipster beer, and we don’t want to be. What we want to be is good solid fresh beer that’s approachable and sessionable.”
They are planning to open up a ‘cellar door’ where punters can drop in to taste the beer direct at the brewery. The cellar door will also help Brookes Beer building their local presence in the community. There are ten taps that have been set up for visitors, four at the bar and six straight on the wall of the enormous cool room. The six cool room taps are ingeniously set up to double as a growler fill station. Here Doug can counter pressure fill 2 litre PET bottles. Two beer engines will be used for hand-pumped cask ales.
Doug is especially appreciative of the open and helpful brewing community and the support they have provided him. If he has any problems or questions he only has to send an email to get the advice he needs from other brewers. Doug says that this kind of assistance not only helps him, but also lifts the standard of the entire craft beer industry in Australia.
Doug and Melissa are so quiet and easy to get along with, that within a few minutes you feel like you’ve known them forever. In addition to his “out of control” brewing hobby, Doug enjoys making Flemish harpsichords. A harpsichord is one of the forerunners to the piano, but the string is plucked instead of striking. The patience and attention to detail required to make one of these historic reproductions is astounding, and these qualities perhaps make him a better brewer. There are two harpsichords at the brewery that you can look at and if you ask nicely you may get to hear play.
The brewery cellar door is due to open on Friday nights and Saturdays, sometime in June. The brewery is at Factory 4 in Mayfair Park, McDowells Road, but it is easy to get lost. The best way to get there is to enter through the gate on Piper Road and the brewery will be almost directly in front of you. If you want to visit perhaps the only brewery in the world with Flemish harpsichords, and drink some real fresh craft beer, keep tabs on them via their @brookesbeer Twitter account.