A New M.O. for the Sydney beer scene
Modus Operandi (MO) Brewing Company presents beer geeks with an extremely enticing concept. At full capacity they’ll be pouring up to 12 different beers, running the gamut from pale ales to imperial stouts,potentially including barrel-aged and sour versions of their regular range.
The beers are brewed by a former member of the senior brewing staff at Oskar Blues in the US and will be served in their 200 person venue with beer-inspired food to match. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? The truth is, it will have to be.
Situated in Mona Vale, on the upper north end of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Modus Operandi doesn’t boast the sort of location that you just happen by. It’s far away from the inner-city hubs that beer geeks frequent and is right on the fringes of a beachside touristy area that’s always been a safehouse for easy-drinking macro lagers. Owners of Modus Operandi, Grant and Jaz Wearin, are hoping to shake up the landscape a bit, and offer some new variety for beer drinkers in the area.
“Craft penetration on the Northern Beaches is reflective of what’s happening more broadly speaking, but it’s a fairly traditional stronghold of macro brewers,” Grant says.
“It’s a growing and evolving market, and it’s one where we really see the ability to introduce new styles of beer and distribute them locally into pubs and restaurants.”
Grant and Jaz have been sitting on the idea of opening a brewery for about 12 years, but the plan didn’t properly formulate until 2012, when the two spent half a year touring the brewpub scene in the pacific northwest of USA, plus Canada and Colorado.
“Ultimately we settled on a blend of the Colorado and Portland industrial brewpub model, that we thought we could really bring back to our home on the beaches,” Grant says.
In this vein, the key business focus for the Wearins centres on the venue itself: a brand-new 12-hectolitre brewhouse forms the backdrop to the industrial-chic bar area, all rendering and exposed works with stylish wooden highlights.
The brewery is licensed for up to 200 people and includes an upstairs and outdoor seating area. Although the Northern Beaches are a popular tourist destination (trebling in population during Summer months), the Wearins are also hoping to build a solid community around the brewpub.
“I think there’s scope for an honest local following,” Grant explains.
“Mona Vale itself has never been on the craft beer map before…but we’re reasonably confident – given the local following we’ve already got, before we’ve even served a beer – that it’s something that locals are crying out for.”
Still, he adds the caveat: “But ultimately, the success of this business will ride on this becoming a destination that people will travel to.”
The main drawcard for a brewery venue is fairly obvious: good beer. With their influences and inspiration all coming from the US craft beer scene, it’s only natural that the Wearins would look to the US for brewing expertise as well.
“When we were over in the States we thought it would be great to have an American brewer…We thought that would be a real point of difference. They’ve got such experience, and a really wonderful community over there, and we thought it’d be lovely to bring that over here,” Jaz said.
Offering a head brewer position in a start-up brewery within a stone’s throw of a popular Australian beach, Grant and Jaz had to sift through around 300 job applications before decisively offering the position to DJ McReedy, one of the senior brewing staff at Oskar Blues’ secondary brewery in Asheville, North Carolina.
DJ calls Asheville the ‘Portland of the East Coast’, a city that was voted ‘BeerCity USA’ 3 years in a row and boasts secondary breweries not only for Oskar Blues but also Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and an in-construction site for Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing.
With seven years of experience behind him and a raft of craft brewing experience – including 3 years as head brewer for Asheville’s Craggy Brewing Company, and later running Oskar Blues’ specialty beer program – DJ decided to make the move to Australia and face the new challenge of setting up a brewery’s beer brand from scratch.
“Oskar Blues was a great company,” DJ tells me. “But it was a very large company, an established company, and I really enjoy the expansion part of the brewing industry. Problem-solving, building, and seeing things grow. So I felt it was a good opportunity and time in my life to step out and do that.”
While DJ obviously doesn’t lack brewing experience, what makes his presence at Modus Operandi even more interesting are his ambitions and future plans.
“We want to brew beers here that will bring folks in, that will help create a fun atmosphere in the brewery, get people to try new things, and how we really plan to do that is to have a broad range of beers,” DJ says.
The brewery has just opened to the public this week with seven different beers on tap, including two saisons, two IPAs and a cocoa porter. DJ outlines plans to run the full gamut of styles, from “as light as they come” to “Imperial Russian Stouts that look like motor oil.”
What will get the beer geeks particularly interested, though, is the fact that the brewery has its own bomb shelter-like cellar downstairs: an ideal environment for cultivating particular strains of yeasts and bugs that could otherwise infect an entire brewery.
“That’ll be phase two once we get up and running,” DJ says. “The plan is to do some traditional barrel-ageing: stouts in whiskey barrels, things like that. But we’re really hoping to start on the sour beers over here as well.
“I’ll get a Brettanomyces program up and running… but we’ll definitely isolate that kind of thing, because there’s a lot of guys who’ve gone down that road unfortunately, and it doesn’t turn out too well.”
“The only way I see us consistently having 12 beers on tap is if we have a pretty good ageing program,” he adds.
“Two or three different funky beers, that may not be for 75% of the folks that come through here, but for those real beer nerds that are really into that stuff.”
And for the non-beer nerds that aren’t really into that stuff, don’t worry – MO Brewing has them covered, too.
“We’re also hoping to have a few beers on tap that are really approachable, that someone who’s used to drinking the bigger beers that are out there can have and enjoy, and not really have to branch out too much from that,” DJ says.
A pale ale and a cream ale (an ale/lager hybrid popular in the US) round out the opening tap offerings from MO. Grant says that the brewing focus is on providing a broad mix, and while they will continue to push the boundaries of beer in progressive ways, he maintains that, in many ways, the market will dictate their future directions.
“We’re not here to push one of our beers over another,” Grant says. “If the beer-tasting public love our red IPA or love our bigger beers, then on we will push.”
And if they only sell their smaller, gateway beers?
“On with that style.” he replies.
“For us it’s really about this venue working, and creating the right vibe and the right sort of client in here. Which, if it’s anything to go by – the support and interest we’ve had – we’re really happy with it, but we’ll see. Maybe people won’t show up and this will be our last interview,” he adds with a laugh.
Modus Operandi Brewing opened its doors to the public on July 30 and is open every week from Wednesday to Sunday. They sell food, beers on tap and growlers and squealers to go, plus will soon be introducing an Australian-first takeaway beer gadget about which they tell me to “watch this space” for now. You can find out more by connecting with them on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.