Ballarat welcomed the new home of the Red Duck Brewery with an inconspicuous open day held on a Sunday afternoon in late January. Capitalising on the exposure provided by the previous day’s Ballarat Beer Festival, the chance to see inside the new Red Duck nest was promoted only to those who attended the inaugural beer fest. It was an opportunity to bring the local community on board with the new microbrewery in their neighbourhood after tasting Red Duck’s samples at the City Oval event.
Red Duck has migrated 100km north from its original home in Camperdown, where they began in 2005. The brewery started its life in a converted dairy on the grounds of the Purrumbete Homestead. Having outgrown their former restrictive space, owners Scott and Vanessa Wilson-Browne are now operating from their new facility in Alfredton. They moved their original 600L brewhouse into the converted warehouse during August last year. Located on the industrial outskirts of Ballarat, the now fully-functioning brewery also provides a cellar door for the public to visit.
Scott Wilson-Browne is a passionate craft brewer who often grapples with the need to produce a core range of market friendly beers to keep the business viable whilst preferring to brew challenging and innovative beers. He was inspired to build a brewery after drinking several flavoursome English ales from small regional breweries that his parents brought back from a trip to the UK. For Scott the day-to-day challenges, stress and hard work of being in the relatively unprofitable craft beer business is balanced by the creativity and freedom of working for himself and being close to his family as he works towards creating the country’s best beer.
Red Duck has a core range of seven regular beers, including a Pale Ale, Amber Ale, IPA and Porter. However, Scott is better known for his free-wheeling approach, pushing the boundaries of craft brewing by conjuring up unconventional beers. Originally a graphic designer, the well read brewer enjoys exploring the history of beer, seeking to re-imagine many ales that have been lost to the modern science and industry of brewing.
Last year Red Duck released Canute the Gruit, a sour dark fruit beer, which was Scott’s interpretation of what a beer may have been like during medieval times. It could not be categorised by modern beer styles and was simply labelled as an extreme ale.
“It was a challenging brew, with a 4-hour mash throwing oats, spelt and all sorts of weird porridagy things at it, also some berry juice and no hops,” noted Scott. “It’s going to be hard to repeat.”
The resulting 4.4% abv beer divided many drinkers between love and disgust. Many found Canute the Gruit unpalatably, whilst others enjoyed the initially potent tartness that left a clean, somewhat moreish finish. Scott sided with the later to the extent that he actually found his medieval brew to be somewhat sessionable, even for someone who prefers variety and therefore rarely sticks with drinking the same beer in any session.
“When I was brewing it I had no idea what it was going to taste like, but I was excited. I’m going to try and make it stronger next time.”
The next beer due to be bottled is the highly experimental and quite radical RA Imperial Egyptian Bread Beer. RA is a 12% ale inspired by the spontaneous fermentation brewing methods of ancient Egypt. The complicated brew essentially goes from mash to fermentation, skipping the boil, to create the bread beer. Scott brewed it for the first time last year and was surprised to learn a local had cultured up his own collection of RA’s yeast from a bottle of the original batch, which he had the used to produce sourdough bread. Scott then acquired two kilos of the yeast cultured by this mystery baker to start a new batch of RA.
“This brew includes 25 kilos of sultanas and raisins, a little bit of organ peel, cardamom, coriander pods and some cassia bark. It’s coming out pretty funky,” said Scott excitedly.
Red Duck has also signed with Melbourne based craft beer distributor Northdown. The partnership began last month and will ensure Scott can focus more efforts on brewing, as well as allowing a greater retail reach for his beers. Declaring himself to be a poor salesman, Scott noted that for now his beers will still be very limited, with some beers like the 750mL swing-top bottles of his Extreme beers only available from the Red Duck brewery cellar door and their Provedore in Camperdown.
Alongside his regular line-up of Red Duck’s seven core beers, currently on Scott’s extensive brewing schedule is more of The Ox Imperial Stout, the seasonal White Garden fruit beer and Red Admiral Celtic Red Ale. Another Ugly Duckling braggot beer is also conditioning in bottles. The next new Red Duck beer will be a single hop strong pale ale.
“It will be my first one hope beer,” noted Scott. “It’s just going to be Bramling Cross all the way through.”
There’s also plans to brew more Belgian beers, as well as a chocolate coffee porter with the current VicBrew Champion. Red Duck is a avid support of homebrewers, often collaborating with homebrew competition winners to produce beers for the retail market.
The future is bright and busy for Red Duck in Ballarat. Victoria’s west has recently received a new wave of support for craft beer through a rise in awareness of the industry, especially after the success of the Ballarat Beer Festival. Grassroots movements such as Bendigo Beer and their new offshoot Ballarat Beer, as well as an increased number in microbreweries operating in the region, have also added to the market interest and community excitement for beers from the likes of Red Duck.
11a Michaels Drive, Alfredton Victoria 3350
Tel: 03 5332 0723