It’s been a little over a year since Wayward Brewing Company first burst onto the Sydney beer scene with their ‘Charmer’ India Red Ale. With beer-lovers all over the harbour city latching onto their idiosyncratic brewing approach, I decided it was high time to sit down with founder and head-brewer Peter Philip for a long overdue chat.
Pete officially started the company around three years ago, although he says he had being entertaining the idea for more than ten years before it became a serious plan.
Having been a dedicated homebrewer since moving to Australia from Nova Scotia 15 years ago, it was always potentially on the cards, but didn’t get properly rolling until he and a friend, Dave Matthews (unfortunately not of DMB fame), joined financial forces to make the dream a reality.
“As most craft brewers are in Australia, I have a day job,” Pete says on the difficulty of getting a small brewery started.
“You struggle for a long time before you can get the scale and, even then, it’s hard to make a dollar.”
It sounds like quite a commitment, especially considering Wayward currently doesn’t own a brewing space, but contract-brews their beer at the Illawarra Brewing Company in Wollongong.
Pete says his brewing schedule consists of brewing once every 6-8 weeks, but has been trying to increase frequency, and hence supply, for his existing customer base.
The brewing philosophy behind Wayward is typified by their name. Originally calling themselves ‘Square Peg Brewing’, a trademark clash with an existing winery forced Pete to keep thinking along similar lines. The name Wayward was settled on when a linguist friend expressed that to be ’wayward’ is to be ‘lost, but on purpose’. In both incarnations, Pete’s brewing exemplifies a unique vision of brewing beers that nobody else, or next to nobody else, is doing.
On launching with his Charmer India Red Ale, Pete says “I kind of drew up a chart of what everyone’s doing now, and it’s sort of ‘pale ale pale ale pale ale’…Don’t get me wrong, I love pale ales, but everyone’s doing one. And everyone was doing IPAs and Double IPAs, so Charmer was the antithesis to that.”
Besides the Charmer, Wayward’s beer range includes the regular offering of their Keller Instinct kellerbier, and has recently expanded to include a couple of regular seasonals: the Raconteur Bière de Garde, and a 13% Eisbock called the Devil’s Advocate. Pete says the idea behind these two seasonal releases was less about expanding their brand or customer base, but more about gaining credibility from craft beer aficionados.
“I’m really proud of Charmer and Keller, and we were over the moon with our medals at the AIBAs [the Charmer won a Silver and the Keller a bronze], but I’m also very conscious that they’re our mainstream beers.”
“To me, these [the seasonals] were more about credibility. I didn’t want people thinking that these guys are just churning out these mainstream beers; this probably shows the craft of brewing more than the other two do.”
Both the Raconteur and the Devil’s Advocate have all but sold out from their minuscule batch release, but there is more on the way. A second vintage of Devil’s Advocate is set to be released after Christmas, while the Raconteur 2014 vintage is to be brewed soon. Both beers, Pete says, are right up his alley in terms of styles that he loves, but is also pretty pleased with how others have received them.
“(Biere de Garde) is one of my favourite styles. I’m a Belgian freak,” he says.
“But a lot of Belgian beers to me are really in your face, they’re extreme… But I could drink the Raconteur all night, that’s where I was going with this.”
Pete says to enjoy the Devil’s Advocate with intense food.
“The way I enjoy that beer is I have the stinkiest piece of cheese I can find, or the richest dessert, and I always have it with food. It’s generally not a main course beer, it’s quite dominant.”
“I want beers that people say ‘I have never tried anything like that’ but then say they’d love to have another. I’ve had people who call Devil’s Advocate ‘a 13% session beer’.”
Having gone down the road of full-on mouth-socking flavour, the next tack Wayward is going is lighter, with a second release of the Saizen, a Summer saison they brewed for this year’s GABS festival in Melbourne, and a lower strength IPA called the Tiny IPA.
As if that weren’t enough in Wayward’s pipeline, Pete also says he intends soon to break free from the contract brewing scene to open up his own brewing space, with a conditional lease on a space in Rozelle in Sydney’s Inner West.
“This is our third try at a place,” Pete says. “The others have been knocked back by council or rejected by neighbours, or the landlord’s got the wobbles because they think a brewery’s going to be incompatible with the neighbours.”
“It is really, really frustrating,” he adds. “(But) we will, touch wood, definitely be up and running in six months.”
While we wait and hope for success in the next lost-on-purpose venture, lovers or those interested in Wayward’s beers will have to be patient. Veering away from bottling after a recent batch infection, Pete is selling beer only to a select few customers, and doesn’t go out there knocking on doors.
Generally I tend to raise an eyebrow at brewers who let their supply trickle slowly out to an ever-growing demand, but it can’t be denied that the rare occasions you do manage to find a Wayward beer are definitely occasions to savour.