If Australia can be considered to have a national drink, it would be beer. It is the liquid that lubricates our national pastimes of beaches, barbeques and sport. However, the light-flavoured lagers that have traditionally been favourites are facing a challenge from a host of new arrivals on the scene. Styles that are comparatively little-known and even less understood are winning converts for their flavours amongst people whose palates have been developed by great wine and exciting chefs. In short, beer is getting hip.
One man surfing this craft beer wave is Ron Feruglio, a former industrial designer and sound engineer who got into homebrewing at the start of the decade and is now the high priest at Melbourne’s Temple Brewing Company.
Unlike beer barons of old though who needed to have great beer and wads of cash to build a brewery, Ron and his wife Renata are following a slightly different path. They are brewers without a brewery. Rather than sink money into building one–a process that can cost over a million dollars for even a fairly small plant–Ron has created his own recipes but makes them at someone else’s brewery utilising the other brewer’s excess capacity. It’s a process sometimes called “cuckoo brewing”, named after the cuckoo’s habit of laying its eggs in another bird’s nest. It’s a little unconventional but it has allowed Ron to test the waters with his award-winning small batch beers and go to market with his product without going into serious debt at the same time.
“When we first got started it was always our plan to eventually build a brewery,” Feruglio says. “But brewing is a very competitive business, it’s also very expensive to build a brewery and with that kind of investment there is a very small margin of error.”
So as an award-winning homebrewer Ron started work at Melbourne’s 3 Ravens brewery and, in addition to gaining commercial experience, reached an agreement that saw him start his own label, Temple, with his own recipes during the brewery’s down time. He has since moved on to a larger brewery as his volumes have increased.
The name came from Ron’s approach to beer.
“We wanted a name that wasn’t parochial and we didn’t want to name it after a particular place because we didn’t have a physical brewery and didn’t want to mislead our customers,” Ron says. “It’s also a name that has relevance beyond Australia and we do have plans to take our beers overseas.”
“We called it Temple because beer has always had religious connections since its earliest days in Mesopotamia at the dawn of civilisation when it was brewed in the temple.
“And the name lent itself to a sense of celebration, and ritual and sharing which is what we felt that beer was all about.”
Talking with Ron about beer it quickly becomes apparent that he has a reverence for beer that is not out of place with his brand either. He talks of crafting his beers rather than just making them
“It’s worked well for us doing it the way we have because we have discovered that we don’t want a big production brewery that produces lots and lots of beer because we don’t want to be a beer factory,” he says.
“Instead, we have been concentrating on creating beers that have flavour and are getting them into Melbourne’s better bars and restaurants. We have designed them so they look good on the tables – which is one thing – but the beers themselves are designed for people who appreciate fine food and are looking for a beer to match.”
The beers themselves are styles designed to appeal to those who worship beer too. A Pale Ale, a Special Bitter and a Saison make a mix of beers that is both interesting and flavourful.
The Pale Ale is the American style that sees a traditional pale ale given a serious injection of hops resulting in a spicy, citrusy brew that bursts with aroma. The secret is the use of a hop back, a little used piece of equipment that allows hop flowers rather than pellets or oil to be used in the brewing which imparts a fresh hop flavour and aroma to the beer.
The saison is a fairly rare beer in Australia, with only a few made by other microbrewers. A seasonal farmhouse ale that originated in the Wallonia region in Belgium, it was once given to farm workers as a sustaining refreshment. Temple Saison is spiced with coriander seed, orange peel and Brazilian pepper giving it a fruity, spiced flavour. Very refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
The benefit of Ron and Renata’s approach is that they have been able to test their beers and test the market without betting everything at the same time. But as the brand has grown, they are on the verge of building their own brewery. So Australia may soon have another Temple to great beer. We’ll keep you posted.