Mountain Culture Beer Co.’s stratospheric rise from a startup Blue Mountains brewpub to a top Australian brewery is being cemented with the launch of a new production facility.
Founders DJ and Harriet McCready told Brews News that they were investing in a production brewery at a new location to increase volumes and ease the pressure on their original brewery.
“It’s been a while in the works,” explained DJ. “We’ve batted it back and forth for a while, do we do it or do we say our beer is going to be extremely limited forever, we’ll only be able to produce half a million litres a year and that is what it is?
“But since July last year we were running at capacity, and started to think we need to do something about this.”
Mountain Culture already revealed exceptional growth during COVID-19, as word-of-mouth reviews spread and demand grew, including for exports to New Zealand and worldwide.
“Luckily Aussies in these times have decided to do the right thing, which is drink more beer and we’re very proud of everybody!” DJ joked.
“But it’s pretty amazing that from the beginning of COVID, when we thought ‘that’s it for us, we’re out of business, that was a good month-long run’ to now be looking at plans to build a production brewery within the first year of business.
“We’ve been given a few accolades and we got bumped up to number one on Untappd in Australia,” he explained.
“We thought, ‘if we’re rated the number one brewery in the country and we’re not confident to pull the trigger now when will we be?’ I don’t know what else would be a sign to do this so that was a big one for us.”
Mountain Culture facility
The new production site will be located at Emu Plains, around 40 minutes from its original site in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba.
“We knew at the end of the day we’re a Blue Mountains brand, we love it up here. We’ve tied the brand a lot to this area and pull a lot of inspiration from the mountains,” said DJ.
“We started looking for industrial space but there was nothing in the upper mountains.
“We were looking for a large building that could house our production brewery, something that would have good access to ship beer out as well as close to public transport, as we could potentially be hiring 40-50 staff members over the next few years.”
The new site is a good “all-round location”, he said.
“But it’s still really relaxed for being an industrial zone…we’ve done some discovery around there and some mountain bike trails end about five minutes from the site – so perfect for us!”
Mountain Culture secured the large factory space, formerly used to handle heavy machinery, and its new landlords were amenable to a brewery moving in – especially with a few kegs thrown into the deal for good measure.
“Fortunately they knew our beer and loved our beer, because it was super competitive to take over the building, so we threw a few kegs in [to sweeten the deal]” said Harriet.
The project is being funded by the McCreadys and bank loans, as they felt that maintaining creative control of the business was more important than having an investor.
“We really want to make our own decisions and keep in control of the brewery,” explained DJ.
“I don’t want to be pressured to brew beers in the way someone else wants to or for Harriet to be told how to do marketing, but we’re taking this next step and we’re not going as big as we could because we want to keep it between us and be able to steer the ship in the direction we want to go.”
DJ is looking forward to having more room to manoeuvre with brewing operations, and has already ordered a new brewhouse for the site.
“We’ve been informed our kit is about ready to ship from the US, being an ex-Premier Stainless employee, I went with the kit I know and love. It’s a similar size kit to what Philter and Cheeky Monkey have put in, a 25hL Premier Stainless Steel kit.”
The speed of the order is almost unheard of especially in the era of COVID, but it was the misfortune of a US brewer that helped Mountain Culture, highlighting the difference in the circumstances of the two countries.
“We were able to secure a brewhouse basically already built because there was a brewery that went under because of what’s going on in the US, so we were able to expedite production of the brewhouse to get it earlier than we would have normally needed,” DJ explained.
But the new brewhouse won’t change how or what Mountain Culture brews.
“We built this brewery in Katoomba to be an experimental brewpub doing small batches but we weren’t planning on brewing even a third or a quarter of what we’re brewing now.
“What we’re trying to do is build a system we can brew enough beer on. Beers like Status Quo and Be Kind Rewind we can produce large quantities of, but we’re also small enough to brew experimental beers.
“It’s a nice size and takes a lot of pressure off production, we won’t be brewing 24 hours a day to keep up with one style.”
Having made the strategic decision to expand, the Katoomba site will not be ignored.
“The nice thing is that with the brewpub in Katoomba, we’ll turn it back into what it was intended for, an experimental brewery with smaller batches of things, where we can go down and dip our toes in some of the styles we haven’t been able to brew.”
He also said the new facility would have an even greater focus on quality.
“[Quality is] one of the things I’ve found the hardest in my whole career. I’ve been a brewer in charge of quality control, and now I’m the owner of the company as well as brewer.
“When you’re looking at payroll and a bunch of tanks full of beer, it could be easy to dip the quality of the beer to pay bills in the short term. But we’d lose our fan base and loyal customers, so I’m glad I was a brewer before the brewery owner.
“Quality is not an easy thing to maintain, especially on a smaller scale but at the same time you don’t want to end up copying the processes of someone like CUB.”
The new brewery will house quality control equipment such as labs that Mountain Culture previously didn’t have access to at its smaller size.
Mountain Culture will receive its brewkit in the next few weeks and the McCreadys said they were hoping to be drinking their first cans from the new site in July.
“Its terrifying but exciting,” admitted Harriet. “When you launch something, you’re putting something brand new out there, you’re apprehensive but we’ve had so much amazing support.
“We keep getting feedback that beer is hard to get hold of, so we’re excited to say you will soon be able to get Mountain Culture beers at your local.”