The last time I spoke with the folks at Modus Operandi Brewing was a week out from their public opening. Time-wise it’s been only a few months, but using any non-temporal measure – such as growth, change, innovation or success – it seems like far longer.
No, it hasn’t taken long for the American-style brewpub in the far northern beaches of Sydney to make a big splash in the local beer scene. As reported in Australian Brews News, the team took home four gongs at the inaugural Craft Beer Industry Awards in October (including the award for Champion Small Brewery), and all the while a growing number of beer fans in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and Brisbane have been won over by their diverse range of beers – from the approachable cream ale to the hop-driven Former Tenant Red IPA and the rare glimpse of the Lark whiskey barrel-aged robust porter.
MO’s popularity has grown so quickly that, less than half a year after opening its doors, they’ve already had to order more fermentation tanks in order to keep up with demand. Owner of Modus Operandi Grant Wearin (above right with brewer DJ McCready) says they are increasing their fermentation capacity by 50 per cent, but puts their growing popularity down to more than just beer.
“I think we’ve got a very strong and loyal following for our venue, not only for the beer itself but also the quality of our food,” he tells me.
“We’ve had people come back specifically seeking the food and food specials that we do.”
Those who, like me, haven’t yet made a proper journey to visit the brewpub in Mona Vale – and so haven’t experienced their food and beer pairings – may also not have encountered one of MO’s more interesting innovations that has been in circulation since August: the CANimal, a squealer-sized (946mL) can that provides a new way to buy and enjoy takeaway draft beer.
The CANimal works the same way as a growler or squealer: a topless vessel – in this case, an unsealed steel canister – is filled directly from the taps, and a lid is added from a counter-top canning device to seal in the liquid.
When we first met back in July, Grant was irritatingly cagey about the device that they had on order, a “second in the world, first in Australia” takeaway beer innovation. At the time, he refused to go on record about the details. Now that the CANimal is out of the bag, Grant is naturally more forthcoming about the advantages of what they call the “biggest cans in Australia”.
“The advantages of canning over bottling, the quality of beer that comes out of a can, that’s well understood by the craft beer community,” he says.
“Depending on how you fill the squealer, oxygen content is generally lower in a CANimal, so the shelf life is longer because the surface area in contact with oxygen is lower.”
He continues on the additional advantage of convenience, “We operate a swap-and-go or refund system on the squealer bottles that we do. You may forget your squealer so we can’t give you that refund, so we can give you a CANimal.”
“Also, we live near Pittwater which is a very heavy boating community, so in an outdoorsy community that we live in, it’s got its advantages in that it’s lightweight, recyclable and can provide for occasions that a squealer or bottled beer cannot.”
The bar-top canning device was pioneered by Oskar Blues (who call the cans ‘crowlers’) out of their breweries in Colorado and North Carolina, and it was inevitable that Modus Operandi’s brewer, Oskar Blues-alumnus DJ McCready, would bring his canning expertise and enthusiasm with him to Mona Vale.
Grant says: “Oskar Blues was the first craft brewery in the States to can their craft beer, so DJ coming from that brewery with that experience, I’d view it personally as mad to ignore that and not do something similar here.”
As far as sales go, Grant tells me that CANimals have now started to outsell squealers, although he says the “education process is ongoing.” He says that “it would be remiss of us not to offer the glass container as well, but if the trajectory of the CANimal continues as it’s going, [it] could certainly supersede the squealer.” He reassures me, however, that in such an event the brewery would continue to sell growlers for people who prefer buying the larger serving sizes.
While the Modus Operandi star seems to be on the rise, Grant says that the ongoing challenge is trying to increase their local following by getting beer distribution into venues around the area.
“It’s fair to say it’s starting now, but it hasn’t really taken off. It’s more the function of the size and contractual nature of the venues around us, more than a factor of not wanting to put our beer on.”
He adds that the success at the Craft Beer awards helps in developing a good reputation. “Having those four trophies sitting on your counter…gives an authenticity to the product that we’re trying to sell here.”