If you have ever driven a vintage car, you will appreciate that to get the most out of it requires practice, skill, and technique. “Vintage” is the best description that Steve ‘Hendo’ Henderson can give to the Southern Bay brewery where he works as head brewer. Working out the right techniques to get the most out of this assortment of equipment is quite a challenge.
The day I visited Southern Bay, Alex Lovelock was busy brewing with a cedar-lined lauter tun, which came from the historic Corio Distillery that closed in 1980, and an old mash tun that doubles as a kettle.
One of the challenges that Hendo and his crew face is not simply the age of the equipment but that it was originally built for quantity and not efficiency. The mash tun is 17hL and the fermenters are 20hL, but the usual brew quantity is just over a third of this. This is mainly because customers have been demanding smaller brews with greater variety.
The first major equipment change that Hendo has been able to make is to replace the grain mill. The old mill was so big and heavy that it needed a large crane to remove. The new mill has made a significant improvement to brewing efficiency.
The bottling machine is fast despite being about 65 years old. However, its age means that there are many brass components that prevent them using common cleansing and sanitising practices. The oldest piece of equipment is a steam tunnel pasteuriser for the bottling line that is around seventy years old and is used on most of the beers made here. Hendo admits that he doesn’t like pasteurised beer, so he has introduced changes to allow bottle-conditioning of some of the beers. The first to have seen this change is their Ocean Ale, due to the late hopping used for this beer and the way the flavours changed with pasteurising.
Hendo has a very capable team working with him at the brewery, with some who have been there for eight to ten years. He has been able to improve morale and workplace practices by getting them more involved in the beers they brew. For example, they had an internal home brew competition to decide the recipe for their next specialty brew. They wanted to brew a saison, so all the brewers made their own version, and the best would then be chosen.
The winner was Alex Lovelock, or Troncoso (Tronc) Junior, as he is affectionately known. He was given this nickname due to how much he is like his mate Alex Troncoso, from Little Creatures. This 6.6% saison will be called Le Petit Tronc (Little Tronc) and is the most expensive brew that has ever been made at Southern Bay. The label artwork was designed by one of Alex’s friends and it will be bottled in the 500mL bottles used for Southern Bay specialty brews.
Henry Peeters, a former Carlton & United brewer, started the brewery as Geelong Brewing Company in 1988. It was sold to the father of Nick Warming, the current owner in 1999, and was renamed Southern Bay Brewing Co. in 2005. It is located in the industrial part of Moolap, just past Geelong. One of the benefits of its location is that the brewers have a view across Corio Bay to the GrainCorp building and the Barrett Burston Malting where they get most of the malt.
Due to customer demand they are working two shifts a day, brewing ten batches per week. But despite the busy brewing schedule, Hendo doesn’t get to brew very often, as he now finds himself sitting at his desk, busy with paper work and looking after business matters.
Most of the beers they brew are for contract customers, and they love it when customers get involved in brewing their own beers. Hendo has been developing and improving Southern Bay’s own beer range. They now have three regular brews and will have four seasonals. The regulars are, Southern Bay Draught, Ocean Ale, and Requiem Pilsner.
Requiem is a pilsner with an American Pale Ale hop program. It is a light golden colour with matching light aroma and a white head. Highly carbonated, the acids, hops, and malts provide a spicy nutty flavour with a mild bitter finish.
Ocean Ale is a lovely refreshing brew. It has a bronze colour with a wisp of yeast cloudiness, and coarse foam. There is a delightful smell of late hop aromas. It has a grapefruit tang, with high initial bitterness that disappears quickly leaving a dry finish.
The seasonals each have a different focus in flavours. Hop Bazooka is an IPA with the focus on hop flavours, which come from Stella, Galaxy, and Citra. The flavours from the robust porter Metal Head are mainly from the malt profile, while yeasty esters and flavours will dominate the La Petit Tronc saison that is now brewing.
These new beers are quite a change from the Lager Lads reputation that the brewery had, but new ideas and ways of doing things can produce wonders, even in a “vintage” brewery.
Southern Bay Brewing Co don’t do brewery tours, but they are open for beer sales to the public, Monday to Friday 8:30am to 3:30pm. The address is 80 Point Henry Road, Moolap, Vic, 3221. For more information visit www.southernbay.com.au or call 03 52485 710.