A comedian, a doctor and a rising soccer star are behind a new brewing venture that’s ready to make a killer impact on beer’s darker corners.
Killer Sprocket was launched at Penny Blue Bar last Saturday night, with a richly malt driven amber ale that represents its creator’s love of the dark and alternative pursuits.
Sean Ryan is an entrepreneur and brewer by day, and a comedian and podcaster by night. Or was it the other way around?
The considerably bearded, self-described “Heavy Metal Jesus”, loves life’s unconventional paths and alternative scenes, from music and entertainment to sports and beer.
Sean is most well known for his stand up comedy, which includes running St Kilda’s Commedia Dell Parte room on Thursday nights and hosting its accompanying podcast.
Along with his wife, Andrea, plus university colleague and Australian women’s soccer rising star, Steph Tanti, the Melbourne based threesome have created Killer Sprocket to combine their passions for beer and business.
“I’ve always been really interested in business,” explained Sean.
“Years ago I started a web hosting business with a friend of mine, which we did because we could do it not because we wanted to do it. We ran it for a while but it ended up failing.”
“I enrolled at RMIT doing Business Entrepreneurship and I always thought at the end of it I’d start a business but didn’t really know what it would be. After the experience with web hosting, which I really didn’t enjoy, I tried to think about what I’d most like to do for a business. And it was beer.”
Ryan has been home brewing for five years, starting with a basic Coopers homebrew kit and working his way up to all grain brewing. His favourite style, amber ale, was inspired by the beer that hooked him into craft beers and brewing.
“James Squire Amber Ale was the first non ‘Carlton Draught’ type beer I drank.”
“We found a little bottle shop near us that stocked heaps of amazing craft beers like Rogue and Southern Tier, so then we’d be always trying new beers.”
As a regular attendee of the Fed Square Microbreweries Showcase from its inception, Sean would lap up any information he could glean about starting and running a brewing business.
A chat with Kooinda Brewery co-founder, Trav Pain, provided the impetus that kicked Sean into action. When asked how to start a brewery, Pain simply replied with, “you just do it.”
It was similar advice from many of the brewers they’d talk to when visiting breweries or attending the Microbreweries Showcases: just get out there and do it.
“The capstone of our uni classes was to create a business plan,” Sean noted.
“So I created a beer business plan for a brewery, which made me look at all the financial and business elements of starting the business and it made me realize that I could actually do this.”
Sean told Australian Brews News that the choice of an amber ale to launch the Killer Sprocket beer range was easy because it followed his natural direction of taking the unconventional path.
“Of course everyone said you should have a pale ale, but it’s a style that’s been done to death. There’s not really much else new that you can do with the style these days.”
“I brew for what I like and [Killer Sprocket Amber Ale] is a beer that I know I can’t get at the moment by going into a bar but it’s something I’m always looking for.”
“It took about a year to get the recipe to where I wanted, trying more hops, less hops, a bigger malt profile. The grain bill on my beer is just ridiculous. It comes to about 4 tonne for 6000 litres.”
The 5.2% abv amber ale is darkly red beer with a bold and complex biscuity malt front, toffee notes, a smooth body and spicy dry finish. As it warms it can be reminiscent of an Irish red ale. Easy drinking, it’s a beer that should find favour with those seeking a dark session ale.
“I had a blind tasting with a bunch of beer knowledgeable friends based around my amber ale homebrew. I tracked down all the best commercial amber ales that were on the market and lined them up against mine.”
“To my surprise, none of them could pick which one was my beer and it rated quite well. That gave me a lot of confidence.”
Ryan sent out a number of emails to breweries about contract brewing his beer and was immediately impressed by the good customer service and enthusiasm of Geelong’s Southern Bay.
It was a cautious step at first. Having heard the Radio Brews News podcast episode about contract brewing, Sean had become aware of some negativity towards the contract brewing business model that existed in parts of the brewing industry and craft beer community.
However, brewer endorsements from Southern Bay clients, such as Hawthorn Brewing’s Hamish Reed and Two Birds’ Jayne Lewis, ultimately made the decision easy. It has also lead him to be very open and straightforward about how and where is beer is made.
“I headed down to Southern Bay with a bottle of my brewer and Hendo [Southern Bay’s former head brewer, Steve Henderson] was really excited about it and said it was a really good beer.”
The rest of the business feel into place based on the work that had been put into the business plan and the groups’ shared skills. Financing, licencing, branding and sales have been keeping the Killer Sprocket team busy, but have benefited from their tertiary training.
“The bank was phenomenal with financing us. That could be because my wife is a [medical] doctor and that I’ve finished a Bachelor Degree in Business Entrepreneurship.”
He possibly left out the part on the loan application about being a stand up comedian.
The brand name was born during Sean’s previous employment in the insurance industry. He created a sales database with a silly name on the whimsical thought that it may need to be officially registered with the regulatory bodies, ASIC and APRA. Usually, registered databases incur extremely bland and literal names. So Sean called his database ‘the killer sprocket’.
The basic yet fantastically successful database grew to such a point that it did require official registration, hopefully leading to a few confused laughs in various Government offices. Later, the database grew to become an inefficient tool and induced cries from his workplace of how to kill the Killer Sprocket.
When it came time to register a name for his brewing business, the Killer Sprocket returned to Sean’s mind and suited his intentions perfectly. It’s a brand that Sean believes is strong and will work well within the scene he wants to associated it with, such as alternative comedy, music and life’s edgier pursuits.
Sean hopes to use Killer Sprocket to sponsor upcoming local comedian, as well as having a presences at comedy events and maybe even staging small, single day comedy festivals.
“I’m also working on things like roller derby, ice hockey and a motorbike builders club called Oil Stained Brain.”
A beer like Killer Sprocket’s amber ale is rarely seen in these corners of our culture. Sean noted that craft beer’s presence on the comedy circuit or at heavy metal gigs is few and far between.
Alternative culture is a market he’s eager to crack with bold, flavoursome and crafty beers that match the character of the scene.
Now working full time on the beer business, Sean has been delighted with early response to the beer. Killer Sprocket is now on tap and in bottles at a number of pubs and bottle stores around Melbourne. Plans for interstate distribution are already in the works.
The Killer Sprocket crew are currently working on ideas for their next beer, looking towards other dark styles like porters and stouts. With a killer attitude, they’ll certainly be a team to watch.