Southern Bay Brewing Company is changing course with a new Captain and First Officer now sailing the ship. After years of quietly cruising the oceans of beer production, this freighter is set to become the Endeavour, charting new waters.
The Captain, Ben Israel took on the General Manager role at the 90hL capacity brewery located in Geelong eight months ago. Prior to that, Southern Bay was best known as a contract brewing and packaging facility. They also had a small and localised presence of its own brands of beers under the “Bearings” name, along with Ranga Premium Ale, a joint venture between Platinum Liquor and Southern Bay owner Nick Warming in support of the Australian Orangutan Project.
With the waves of Melbourne’s craft beer scene crashing on Geelong’s shores, Ben and the company’s shareholders saw the opportunity for Southern Bay to claim its rightful spot in Australia’s flourishing craft beer market by establishing a broader presence and appreciation for the brewery’s own brand.
To propel Southern Bay forward First Officer Steve “Hendo” Henderson has been installed as the new head brewer to navigate the old brewery from beer manufacturer to modern craft brewer.
Following two years brewing under Luke Scott at Otway Estate’s Prickly Moses brewery, Steve sought his next challenge in the rapidly advancing craft beer industry. A former Queenslander who has also worked in IT and hospitality, Hendo completed a Graduate Certificate in Brewing Science at the University of Ballarat in 2009. His passion for the technical science of brewing combined with a healthy does of madness for concocting boundary-bending ales made him a target for Southern Bay as they sought to recruit a knowledgeable craft brewer. Any short chat with the always animated Hendo will quickly demonstrate just how hard it is to turn him away from talking about making beer.
A self-confessed hophead, Steve is known for producing lush, hop heavy brews at Prickly Moses. Hendo’s Black Panther India Black Ale, Raconteur IPA and the Tailpipe “Big Ass Brown Ale” were all very well received by the local craft beer drinking community. Over at Southern Bay, Steve is taking the wheel of a brewery commonly associated with lagers and contract brewing.
“It’s not how I planned it to be. I thought about starting my own brewery but just didn’t have the capital to make such a huge investment like that,” Steve told me.
“Southern Bay is a very old brewery with a lot of history that I want to communicate. It was the original Geelong Draught brewery before CUB bought it and shifted production to Abbotsford.”
Steve knew he was headed for a brewery dominated by a portfolio of other-people’s beers, yet was buoyed by the potential that could offer in expanding his brewing horizons.
“When I arrived here I found a fairly despondent crew of brewers. They didn’t have anything that they could really put their name to and be proud of,” noted Steve.
“The place had a culture as a beer manufacture instead of brewers. So there was a challenge for me to change that.”
Despite taking leadership of a team with many more years brewing experience than his mere two years, Hendo has been welcomed into his new job.
“Some of the guys have been brewing for years. I really admire and respect what they do, so it’s been really humbling [to be accepted as the head brewer].
“I’m really loving the community here. I’m had so much support from everyone here at Southern Bay and from everywhere in the craft beer community.”
Ben Israel has tasked Hendo with a modernisation program to re-establish the brewery as a modern craft brewer, while growing its service as a first class production house for other brewers. The owners of Southern Bay have effectively told Hendo to do whatever he needs to do to make Southern Bay part of the craft beer movement that is sweeping the country. Managing this massive project is daunting but the new Head Brewer is rubbing his hands with delight and excitement.
There are no modern cylinder conical tanks in the labour intensive Southern Bay brewery, with decades old rectangle tanks filling the space. That’s about to change.
“We’ve ordered new tanks and they should be in mid-year.”
The old brewhouse has been responsible for Southern Bay’s previous lager dominated output.
“I’m all about style diversity,” declares Hendo, “but this brewery is just not yet equipped to handle much more than lagers. A key limitation at the moment is the size of the lauter tun.”
Winter will see the first new seasonal release from Southern Bay. Tentatively named “Metalhead” by Hendo, the 6% abv Robust Porter will be the darkest and biggest thing to ever come out of the brewery. But with 1100 kilos of malt required to achieve the desired specs, it will be pushing the lauter tun’s capacity to the limited.
“I don’t like the fact that there’s a pasturiser here too, but I’m stuck with it because of the old bottling technology we use.”
Hendo will be keeping the brewery busy with development for sometime.
Southern Bay was one of the few brewers bring new beers and an expanded range to this mouth’s Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase. The successful event, now a regular feature every March and October, saw fewer beer exhibitors than last year but had expanded with a dedicated Cider Garden. The sunny autumn days provided perfect conditions for the new Southern Bay beers. Gone are the old Southern Bay Bearings Draught and Traditional Ale, replaced by the reworked Southern Ocean Ale American Pale Ale and Southern Pale Lager.
Also featured was the first beer in their “Southern Style” series, the Sunrise Breakfast Beer, a 4.3abv light bodied ale designed to be shared with friends over a hearty cooked breakfast inspired by the German brunch tradition of Frühschoppen. Following this breakfast beer will be an Amber Ale for the evening.
Developed before Hendo joined the company, he noted that these beers can demonstrate the essence of craft brewing – forever a work in progress. They can be tweeked, reworked, restyled or just brewed as one-off batches, depending on how they are received by drinkers. Consistency in quality is essential, but batch by batch changes to flavour, texture and character until the beer is just right is craft brewing’s advantage.
As a contract brewer for beer brands, Southern Bay has a commitment to consistency. Confidentiality agreements exist around the production of several beer brands at Southern Bay that help support the business. Nonetheless, Hendo sees a world of potential for businesses that are willing to be hands-on with their beer.
“Where Southern Bay does really excel at the moment is through the brewing of beers they produce under contract alongside other brewers. Jayne Lewis from Two Birds Brewing, Hamish Reed from Hawthorn Brewing Company and Matt Houghton from Boatrocker are all hands-on and all producing excellent craft beers here.”
It’s a brewing model that Hendo celebrates and hopes to encourage through his role at Southern Bay.
“I want more genuine brewers to come and brew here, taking ownership of their beer. They’re the type of customers that I want to encourage to use Southern Bay. We have a fantastic team and facility to support them.”
“The other day some of the guys on the packaging line were bottling Two Birds Golden Ale. They had stuck the Two Birds labels on their shirts as if to say ‘I’m working for Jayne and Two Birds today.’”
Hendo points to the success of breweries like Epic from New Zealand and Denmark’s Mikkeller as shining examples of companies working under the model that Southern Bay can offer.
“I’ve coined the phrase: commercial collaborative brewing. It’s about brewers coming to us and putting their name behind the beer. If anyone questions the validity of this type of brewing then they need to come and visit me and I’ll show them how it’s done.”
“In such a short time there’s already been a real shift here in the culture from beer manufacturers to craft brewers. Everyone here is now thinking of new and better ways of making better beer.”
As it has been ever since he turned his hands to brewing, Hendo’s ultimate mission is “to brew more beers that I want to drink”. A hop forward Pilsner is the next new Southern Bay beer in the works, to continue the current series of Southern style. However, after the last brew concocted by Hendo was a peppersteak porter, only your imagination can limit the future destinations of the good ship Southern Bay.
Southern Bay Brewing Company
80 Point Henry Road
Moolap VIC 3221
Tel: 03 5248 5710