Melbourne’s Killer Sprocket has put down roots in the suburb of Bayswater after seven years of nomad brewing.
Founders Sean and Andrea Ryan will open the doors on their production brewery and tasting room to the public on 22nd February, having already had a soft launch of the venue.
The news from Killer Sprocket follows a trend which has seen nomad and contract brewers move into their own premises, with the likes of Hopsters in Sydney and CoConspirators in Melbourne moving into brick and mortar sites of their own after sometimes years of brewing elsewhere.
“We looked at Bayswater and the eastern suburbs and started going through the process, it wasn’t as easy as we thought with planning approvals and things and there were a few tricky things we had to navigate through,” explained Sean.
“We wanted to build something small and local [to start] so we could learn, as every step has been a massive learning curve. A lot of stuff we had to learn as a gypsy or even brewing out of our own tanks, contracting, so for this it’s continuing to learn and get better.”
The Ryans (Sean is a business consultant and Andrea a GP as their day jobs) fully self-funded the site to enable them move on from contract and ‘sharehouse’ brewing.
Historically, they have contract brewed at Southern Bay, had their own fermentation tank at Cavalier Brewing, and moved into nomad brewing at Victorian locations including Wolf of the Willows/Bad Shepherd, Social Bandit, Public Brewery, Kaiju and Bodriggy.
Sean said they felt that now was the right time to move on from their nomadic lifestyle, and he is keen to get production in full swing brewing on his new 10hL brewhouse from Brewtique.
“It comes down to control. We were spoilt, we had our own tank [at Cavalier], made our own schedule and if an ingredient wasn’t available we could just wait for it.
“When you’re contract or gypsy, you’re on someone else’s schedule, you can’t tie it up, you don’t have that day-to-day control.
“We also do a lot of malt-driven beers, whereas a lot of brewers are high hop. We come in with a high malt build, or like in our IIPA, we use high levels of rye, so we might get a stuck mash and have to work through that, which doesn’t make you very popular with the brewer.”
It also came down to developing their relationship with consumers.
“One thing we’ve been missing over the past seven years is direct contact,” explained Andrea.
“We do test batches, we give it to our friends to try, but we want to open that up to everyone. That’s what we’re working on, having that immediate feedback, and that dialogue with customers.”
Sean also said he wanted Killer Sprocket’s beers to feel more like their ‘own’.
“When we started we entered beer awards and did ok, and it as a great experience, but I just didn’t feel comfortable in awards, I couldn’t hand-on-heart say it’s my brew from all the way through, I’ve had to ask people to check it, like when we were at Social Bandit and it was a 2.5 hour drive away so you couldn’t just go in.”
To brewpub or not to brewpub
The Ryans were originally looking into the brewpub model. However the planning process did not turn out as they expected, and they ended up with a production brewery and tasting room, rather than a fully-fledged brewpub.
“We initially wanted to do a brewpub, but the way the council looked at it was you’re either a full brewery or a tavern. We had to explain it was like a winery, but they couldn’t see what we were trying to do,” Sean said.
“The only other one in the council area was the Public Brewery, which is quite an interesting format because they’ve got brewpub, brewery and a bottle shop all in one location and they’ve got two different licences, so there was nothing the council had as a point of reference.”
There were also issues with having the required number of parking spots, despite arguing that they had picked the location specifically because of its public transport links, and were conscious that they did not want to in any way encourage drinking and driving.
“Luckily the guy who was going our planning permits was a homebrewer and he was really excited about it and helped us,” Sean explained.
But having a production brewery was the most important thing to the team, to capitalise on their growth and years of hard work in the market.
Giving back to the brewing industry
Killer Sprocket was launched in 2013 with a malt-driven amber ale, something which was a bit of a left fielder even now as a launch beer.
“As I was looking at getting into brewing and starting a brewery, we struck on the contract model as a way to get started fast. So I was actually listening to Radio Brews News years ago we heard Hendo talking about Southern Bay,” explained Sean.
“We went there and contract-brewed our first batch, and it wasn’t long after that that Hendo left Southern Bay.”
This prompted the team to move onwards to Cavalier, where they had their own fermentation tanks in what they call “sharehouse” brewing. They were joined by Kaiju, Exit and Brewcult in their early days.
“We were all brewing out of Cavalier, it was such a lot of fun and we learnt such a lot.
“But all good things come to an end, Cavalier were pushing against capacity issues, they built their brewery, but only half the tanks were theirs.”
Now they will be valuing and making the most of their independence.
“We wanted to be self-funded, we’ve had offers of people wanting to invest, but we’ve seen that model go well and we’ve seen it go very badly, and we didn’t want that,” said Sean.
“The fun of it is that we have all this control over what we do and we don’t want to give that up right now. We get to make our decisions on our own time which is great,” Andrea agreed.
With the opening of the new Bayswater site, Killer Sprocket won’t have to work as closely with other brewers, but the Ryans fully intend to maintain good relationships with their community and other breweries and venues.
“Our focus now will be more on growing our local relationships and having the cellar door will be a real positive as well. There’s a lot happening in our area and it will be more of a hub and a place where people can check our three or four venues,” Andrea said.
“We’re very much a tasting brewery. It looks and feels quite industrial, so I’m happy to be sending people along their way for a feed at other local places.
“There’s an interest in what’s independent, and we can meet the demand from new and fresh beers now we have our own space.
“We were struggling to keep up, and now we can maintain our core range and do the collaborations and limited editions that we want to do too.”
While the brewery has yet to open to the public, the team is already looking ahead.
“Certainly long term we’d like to do a larger brewery with the brewpub attached, and we could use this site for barrel projects or other peoples’ contracting.
“We want to give people the same opportunities we had. The industry has been good to us and we’ve learnt a lot, brewing at other locations, so it would be amazing to do that for another business or brand.”
Killer Sprocket is located at 7/375 Bayswater Road, Bayswater North Vic 3153 and will officially open to the public on 22nd February.
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.