There is a treasure carefully hidden along Melbourne’s bayside suburbs. In amongst the local beachfront shops at Black Rock you will find the True South brewery and restaurant. It may not be true south from where you are, however if you are a beer nerd, it is closer to True Love.
Just over eight months ago the task of brewing at True South became that of Renn Blackman. Renn is a young brewer who seems to have fitted well into his role as brewer. Many readers will have either tried or heard about the Killer Python Kölsch that he brewed using 10kg of Allen’s Killer Python jelly snakes especially for GABS.
Renn grew up in Drysdale, near Geelong. He wanted to get involved with craft brewing and at the time opportunities were limited in Victoria. So he moved thousands of kilometres away, to Perth, Western Australia. He then studied brewing at Edith Cowan University in Joondalup and worked with Justin Fox (now at Colonial Brewing) at Monk Brewery & Kitchen. It wasn’t long before he found himself brewing with Mark Reilly in Perth’s Old (Swan) Brewery.
Infected with the same wanderlust that seems to affect so many brewers, Renn travelled to London in 2011 and was able to get work at the Camden Town Brewery. After leaving Camden Town, he spent the next six months on a brewery pilgrimage of Europe, including Cantillon, Pilsner Urquell, and German breweries in Bamberg and Koln. He came back to Australia just in time to take over brewing duties at True South from Brian Kiss von Soly, who has moved on to brew with Stone & Wood.
Renn has kept the regular beers similar to the recipes that original brewer Sam Fuss created in 2009, with only some tweaks and minor adjustments. For the most part they are traditional recipes brews but with a new world flavour or twist. The brews are all in the standard drinkable 4.5% to 5.6% alcohol range.
After getting familiar with the brewhouse, he has included some of his own recipes. Some of these brews include the aforementioned Killer Python Kölsch, a brown porter, a black India lager, and an imperial harvest pilsner that used home-grown fresh hops. He has just finished brewing a collaboration brew with Matt Cuthbert from Odyssey Tavern. The beer is a Munich style Helles that uses fruity Perle, Motueka, and Willamette hops.
The Summer Ale is an unfiltered Kölsch that is pale with a slight haze. It smells of pineapple from the Galaxy hops, a slight bread taste from the yeast, and sweetness from the Maris Otter malt. The New World Pilsner is made to a traditional pilsner recipe that is then dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin. Red Truck is a filtered light dry Märzen with a malty flavour. The American Pale is unfiltered and has lots of tart grassy and grapefruit flavours from Willamette, Cascade, and Galaxy hops. Wee Jimmy is a light scotch ale with malty sweetness and some smoky hints. It is lighter than it used to be at only 5.5%. The Brown Porter is relatively dry and lightly flavoured with hints of roast malt and chocolate.
The newest beer is the Black (Rock) India Lager. Renn wanted to showcase the American IPA style hops, so he used lager yeast to reduce the yeast esters in a malt profile that is based on German Schwarzbier. The resulting flavour is a pleasant mixture of pine needles and roasted malts.
The True South site was originally a garage and service station. The whole site had to be gutted and dug out to remove the decrepit building and fuel tanks. But most of the building’s original facade has been kept intact and now serves as the entrance to the brewery.
Renn speaks highly of the brewhouse that Sam Fuss originally set up with the assistance of Roger Bailey (formerly of Little Creatures). It is a multilevel site with the shiny stainless on the ground level, and everything else in the basement. The 12-hectolitre copper clad brewhouse was manufactured by Newlands of Canada and is designed so that it only needs one person to manage it. It includes 5 fermenters, 2 bright tanks, and a Keg Boy automatic keg washer and filler.
Not having bottling equipment means that the beer is not normally available in bottle shops. Most is sold over the bar in Black Rock, but there are also a handful of venues that offer their beer. Five litre kegs, and more recently growlers, have become available for those who want to take the beer home with them.
In addition to its beer, True South is well known for its Argentinean chef, Mauro Callegari, who has drawn a lot of industry praise. In true Argentinean fashion, meat features prominently on the menu, although there are some vegetarian dishes and the menu changes regularly.
Note: While their slogan is “When in doubt, head True South,” the best advice is to use a map or GPS, because if you head true south, you’ll end up swimming with the dolphins in Port Phillip Bay.