Any beer geek worth his salt knows of the big movement around the world of self-styled “gypsy” brewers.
These wandering nomads operate in a similar sort of way to contract brewers in that they use the equipment of existing, established breweries to make – and market – their own beers, but differently, in that they seldom stay in partnership with one brewery, but are free to hop from one site to the next, travelling the globe and producing beer at some of the world’s most successful and famous breweries.
The gypsy brewer movement is most visible in Scandinavia, with the Bjergsø brothers Mikkel and Jeppe (better known as Mikkeller and Evil Twin Brewing, respectively) being among the elite gypsy brewers exciting palates from Europe to the US and down under.
The movement’s greatest ripples in Australia have been made through imports, although a new brewing entity is poised to turn those ripples into waves, with the formation of the Danish/Australian enterprise Edge Brewing.
Edge Brewing is the end product of a productive working relationship between Melbourne’s Adam Betts, of Northdown Beer, and Christian Skovdal Andersen, of Denmark’s Beer Here. The two beer lovers should already be familiar to drinkers in the antipodes, as several Beer Here/Northdown collaborations have already hit bars to wide audience acclaim.
Cool Hops, an Australian-style pale lager brewed at Southern Bay Brewery in Geelong, was ranked as the number 1 beer in the pale lager style on ratebeer.com, while their Victoria’s Secret hoppy wheat beer (brewed at Prickly Moses at Otway Estate) was ranked in the top 5th percentile of wheat beers worldwide. Given the success of these first two brews – along with ‘Ryefix’, brewed at Invercargill Brewery in New Zealand, the boys decided to make their gypsy brewing an ongoing venture, and so Edge Brewing was born.
Betts says they decided to continue the project and rather than continue labelling each beer a Northdown/ Beer Here collab, it deserved its own entity.
“When I came to Australia to visit Adam in March 2012 I never thought about starting anything,” adds Andersen, via email from Denmark.
“When I suggested that we should do a collaborative brew it was primarily because it is always fun to see breweries and how other people are brewing. Pretty soon I found out that doing some collaboration brews would be a way for me to finance travelling to Australia regularly.”
One of the cornerstones of Edge’s philosophy is to showcase local ingredients, specifically those grown or produced around the area in which the commercial beer is brewed. Their latest release is called Waldo. Brewed at the Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth, Waldo is a Belgian-style saison named after and flavoured with waldo berries, a blackberry cultivar grown in the local Beechworth area. The beer is currently available at Bridge Road’s in-house bar and is currently being rolled out to various Bridge Road stockists in keg and bottle form.
Further upcoming batches in the pipeline include a wattleseed stout, to be released as the weather turns colder in May, plus a second batch of Cool Hops and the second in their NZ hop-driven wheat beer series or, as Betts calls it, their “voluptuous, small furry animals in lingerie series”.
Of their hopping from brewery to brewery, he says “the basic plan is to go to each brew day of a new beer in a new brewery, and then we try and brew the subsequent batches of that beer at the same brewery.”
At present the Edge venture is based in Australia, with Andersen having visited Australia three times in the past 12 months and with plans to return in August. However, being a freely mobile brewing enterprise, Betts has indicated future plans include a jaunt for himself to Denmark, as well as a joint trip to the US which will hopefully result in a brew or two.
Andersen says he also hopes to start exporting to the US and Europe when they have a few brands under their belt.
“As we both have existing businesses,” Betts says. “We are not reliant on Edge to generate income for us to survive, and hence don’t have to compromise and release a beer that we think will be popular to the masses, or meet certain volumes to make profit. It gives us the freedom to brew exactly what we want, however often we like…Tough gig hey!”
Gypsy brewing, particularly as Betts tells it, does excite the beer geek in me, being a business that seems to exist purely for the love and exploration of beer. However, such an emancipated practice can exist only as long as there are physical breweries in operation willing and able to partner with these nomadic travellers.
Ben Kraus, owner and head brewer of Bridge Road Brewers (where Edge’s latest batch was made) has been in the past very outspoken on the subject of contract brewing, in particular the way contract brewing can lead to misleading marketing and manipulation of certain brand attributes. As someone who made the weighty investment of time and effort building his own brick-and-mortar brewery from scratch, I asked Ben what he saw as the difference between contract brewing and gypsy brewing.
“There is no difference,“ he says, “well, of course there are small differences, but basically they operate similar businesses. The point I continually make is that I don’t have any problems with contract brewing.”
“I do take issue with cases where beer brands claim status that they don’t deserve, such as regionality. Most gypsy brewers I am aware of are generally upfront about how their beer is made. With this I have no problem, as they are informing the public from the get go: clear, honest, transparent.”
While Kraus certainly doesn’t take all contract brewers to task, the philosophy he espouses is certainly one worth living by, particular in a marketplace saturated by advertising messages of varying transparency.
The boys from Edge Brewing, and their notions of showcasing local hops and ingredients certainly aren’t hiding anything, but instead trying to celebrate the areas where they are allowed to practice the craft. There is definitely a lot to appreciate about the consolidation of such a business, both for the geeky beer connoisseur eager to grab the latest thing and for the casual consumer randomly browsing the bottle shop.
You can find Edge Brewing’s Waldo at various places that stock good beer, and Kraus says it will be as available as broadly as demanded. Edge Brewing’s website is currently under construction, but for now you can visit them separately on Twitter or Facebook.