We sit down with Bentspoke founder Richard Watkins to discuss all things beer...and Cluster 8.
Photo Credit: BrewsNews
The Inside Word Podcast Episode #01
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Video from our Facebook group " The Craft Beer Collective".
Full Text Transcript From Our Interview With Bentspoke Founder Richard Watkins:
Lachlan McLean: Good evening everyone on the Craft Beer collective. My name is Lachlan McLean from Beer Cartel.
Lachlan McLean: Tonight I have a very special guest with me, Richard Watkins of BentSpoke Brewery, owner, co-founder, head brewer, master mind of great beers. Thank you so much for joining me.
Richard Watkins: Thanks very much for having me on the show.
Lachlan McLean: You have come in from the nation's capital and we managed to hook him in to come to a bit of a tasting of the Cluster 8.
Lachlan McLean: What's Cluster 8, it's been out a couple of times, what is it?
Richard Watkins: Yeah, I guess when we started BentSpoke I've always had a bit of a love of making beers with lots of different hops and I think we started our range... one of the first beers we had on tap was a CrankShaft, one of six beers we had on tap, and I guess that started the journey. We were really surprised that it became our most popular beer, and so it was one of the first beers we put in the can. We sort of then stepped up a few notches into the Sprockets and the Red Nuts, and then the Cluster 8 obviously being double-up the age, all about the celebration of hops. And all about drinking that beer super fresh.
Richard Watkins: Only released in really small batches to try and focus people on making sure that they get in quick, get some and really enjoy that real fresh hop character.
Lachlan McLean: I've been to the Brew Pub a few times and there's different clusters. I think I've had Cluster 12, possibly 16 as well. What does that name come from?
Richard Watkins: Look, Cluster being a series of sprockets on the back of a bike, you can have a little four sprocket cluster, or you can have an eight sprocket cluster. We've sort of decided that you can also have a 12 sprocket cluster, a 16 sprocket cluster. There's actually a 14 sprocket cluster. We've just got a new barley wine out in the Brew Pub, the 14%. We've done a 16, cluster 16 which was a high Belgian IPA, double IPA. Then we did basically a sextuplet IPA, cluster 18. So that would have been a big fat sprocket on the back of the bike.
Lachlan McLean: Yeah. Delicious.
Lachlan McLean: So we've got one here with us so we thought we might do a little bit of a tasting on this while we talk about some other stuff, but I'll leave you with the honours on that one.
Richard Watkins: Okay.
Lachlan McLean: Deliciousness. So very much a double IPA.
Richard Watkins: Yes. You know you do get that hop note straight away. One of the things I like with our IPAs is that we always try and have some malt backbone. It's really important to be able to have that malt backbone because then you can do all the hop layers. Whether you're adding hops in the well, the kettle, in the whirlpool, and then into the dry hopping. It's all about the layer of those flavours.
Lachlan McLean: So I think straight away when you look at that, it's a lot richer, a lot more of that amber hue than you get from some other double IPAs and I think that is that malt backbone that's on it.
Lachlan McLean: I'm not 100% sure of what your brewery is in terms of releasing ingredients on that. Do you release or able to tell what the hops and malt used is?
Richard Watkins: Yeah, look, we use a small amount of Caramunich as part of the malt backbone. This beer's got Citra, it's got Ozark, it's got some Equinox, some Simcoe, and some Amarillo. They're the main hops that we've used in this beer.
Lachlan McLean: Classic west coast?
Richard Watkins: Yeah, classic west coast. I guess in the different sort of stages that you use and produce different flavours, if you're using Simcoe on the hot side, or Simcoe in the cold side, it's producing different flavours. Getting that balance right of when you use the hops is really important.
Lachlan McLean: So for the BentSpoke Limited Releases, I know that you started with Sprocket, and then had Red Nut, they've now gone to core range?
Richard Watkins: That's right. Yes.
Lachlan McLean: And this is now part of the Drifter series?
Richard Watkins: That's right. So when you're going out for a bike ride and it's nothing like sitting behind someone drifting along, so you might drift out and move to the front, drift back in and sit behind. So that's what this beer is all about. It's one of those beers that will drift out, but it will always drift back in.
Lachlan McLean: Is there plans for this year to have more beers in the Drifter series?
Richard Watkins: Yes. We're definitely going to try and release some limited release range so that we can do more different beers. We like to think that we've got a lot of different options from out of the Brew Pub that we'd like to get further afield and let more people enjoy them so it's really important to have a medium. With this sort of can you've got over 64,000 of these, so it's pretty hard to do 40,000 litres of one of these types of beers all the time, so that's why we've come up with this new format and hopefully get that out.
Lachlan McLean: I talk to a lot of breweries about the release schedules of limited releases, and they don't generally say, "When we feel like it." It's either on a four weekly, six weekly, eight weekly, schedule. Do you have that? Or is it kind of as things come to fruition?
Richard Watkins: Yeah, it's sort of a little bit bent I suppose. We don't have it regimented. We like to... there's a lot of key dates that we like to celebrate, so we feel that when we started BentSpoke and when that birthday comes up every year we try and release a different beer, so that's really important to us. Hopefully we can get something different out again this year.
Richard Watkins: You've got to celebrate those milestones as much as you've got to celebrate monthlies.
Lachlan McLean: In these interesting times I always say, you know, the core range is kind of what keeps you ticking along but the limited releases, and I know for us the more interesting things is what keeps them engaged and makes it fun.
Richard Watkins: Yeah, that's right. That's right. It's important, not only for us as a brewery to make different beers for people to try, but also for us as brewers. There's no better way to really enjoy what we do for a living than to really make different beers and really push the boundaries a little bit and play with different ingredients.
Lachlan McLean: I guess the other thing, for BentSpoke, you opened last year or the year before the Mitchell production facility.
Richard Watkins: Yeah, November 16.
Lachlan McLean: November 16 that. But you've still got the Braddon Brew Pub, and that's kind of the playground. All the limited releases. I know the first time I went there, I think you just had your two core range and we went and I was staggered about how many different beers that were on tap there. Is that kind of your home, your playground, where you kind of play with things and see what works and then put it in a can?
Richard Watkins: That's right. At the moment every beer that we put in a can has come from the Brew Pub, so we've been able to see obviously whether the punters like the beer, that particularly beer, so it's good to have a bit of that feedback and be able to use that to move forward, for sure.
Lachlan McLean: So while I've got you, I heard a rumour, and this might be completely incorrect, it's possibly came from one of my colleagues, he heard a rumour that... if you have you ever been to Braddon, it's over two stories, with the tanks, or there's the kettles up top, with the fermenters downstairs, and he was saying that obviously that's going to be a challenge. How you get it from one to the other.
Lachlan McLean: And he mentioned something about the handrail that goes along the staircase that you can put beer through that handrail, or you have done in the past. Is that true?
Richard Watkins: Look, it was really funny that. When we were building the Brew Pub we were doing a lot of piping for the brewery, and Tracy, my partner, who does most of the brewing now in the Brew Pub, she does a bit of welding, and we had a good mate of ours in there who works for us, Craig.
Richard Watkins: He does a fair bit of welding in the Brew Pub, so we were getting all these pipes together and fittings and making up all this piping for the Brew Pub, and in rocks the bloke to put the handrails in and he's got exactly the same pipe. So I'm standing there going, "Well, he's using the same piping we are. So why can't we set up handrails to go from the top floor to the bottom floor?"
Richard Watkins: So when you're in the Brew Pub, each handrail does start in the brewery up top and finish in the brewery downstairs. And in the early days before we actually had some more piping put in, we were using the handrails quite a bit.
Lachlan McLean: So you did use it to push pump beer from
Richard Watkins: Yeah, and I had to get in there pretty early, because as you can imagine, when you're pushing beer upstairs and it's freezing cold and you're getting a bit of condensation on the handrails, it's a bit slippery. You couldn't really have punters sliding down the stairs with the slippery handrail.
Richard Watkins: We use it occasionally now when we're trying to do three or four things. We don't use them as much as probably what we, A, like, or B, want to. But they are set up to be able to transfer liquids from upstairs to downstairs.
Lachlan McLean: So there you go. That's one of the few rumours that are actually true. I wasn't 100% sure because I was down there, and they were kind of looking around, and I've been dying to ask. But yeah, there you go. That's just genius and a way of utilising as much space as you can.
Richard Watkins: Oh that's right. In the Brew Pub space is really at a premium, so you've got to pack everything in and utilise everything you can.
Lachlan McLean: I guess, we've got a couple of beers here with us today, but I don't know if many people saw about it, but it was in the media in the last couple of months ago, it kind of ties back into your history with Wig and Pen, but you did a beer with Chuck Hahn. Do you want to have elaborate on that.
Richard Watkins: It was really funny. When I was going to uni in Sydney, I went to uni in New South Wales, while I was going to Sydney, and you have to earn a few dollars, and so I was actually playing hockey for the university and ended up getting a job because the hockey team went across to the Hahn brewery and worked on the packing line there. So I was on the packing line, basically just doing basic jobs. Pulling bottles off that were too full, pulling bottles off that weren't full enough. Splitting all the bottles up after the shift. As a student, that was pretty cool. You take all this beer home.
Lachlan McLean: Great.
Richard Watkins: It was pretty hard work actually, because the bottles are flying along on their bottling line. But I guess that was when I first met Chuck. And then years later when I got sick of living in Sydney and got out of Sydney, went to Canberra, got a job at the Wig and Pen, he was always really passionate about it. Back then in 1994, 1195, there were only six breweries in Australia. Six small breweries. There was Lord Nelson, we had, you know, the Hahn brewery was around at that point. We had Scharers little brewery, we had Bootleg brewery, we had a brewery in Melbourne called the Geebung Polo Club. So there weren't many small breweries around. So everyone sort of knew everyone back then.
Lachlan McLean: Yeah, I guess it was very small.
Richard Watkins: Now I guess with over 600 breweries, it's hard to get around and get to every brewery and sort of know everyone from the industry.
Lachlan McLean: Yeah, it’s popping up all the time, even just for us as retailer, it's a struggle to stay on top of all the new ones.
Richard Watkins: Yes, I'm sure it is.
Richard Watkins: So Chuck always used to come through Canberra because he's a made skier, so he would always stop in at the Wig and Pen and have a chat, and whatever. I guess over the course of the years we got to know each other pretty well, and we always talked about doing a beer together. And it's funny, it wasn't until I left the Wig and Pen and set up BentSpoke and I think actually I was up in Sydney about three or four months ago. So I went around and saw what those guys were up to and said, "Well, we've got to do this beer."
Richard Watkins: So we all sort of got it all sorted. One of their sales guys sort of drove it home through their business, their big business. It was really good to sit down with Chuck and work out what the recipe was going to be, and the type of beer it was going to be. We ended up settling on somewhere sort of half way between the James Squire amber ale, which was one of his first beers that he did, and our Red Nut. So sort of an extra amber ale, I guess if you want to call it that.
Lachlan McLean: I guess for people that don't actually know Chuck Hahn, especially for new people in the beer scene, he is kind of the grandfather or the father of Australian craft beer.
Richard Watkins: Well, he is a pioneer of beer in Australia. He set up the Hahn brewery back in the day when it was really tough going. And then the sales tax came in which pretty well killed him. He pretty well had to go to Tooheys and say, "Hey, do you guys want to come and buy in and help us out." And they did, and he got to set up the James Squire brand, and put out some pretty interesting beers.
Lachlan McLean: Especially at the time.
Richard Watkins: Absolutely. That's right.
Lachlan McLean: I think even to this day, I think James Squire's range is still, for many, a gateway brand, and without that range, I don't think a lot of people would actually progress to some of the higher end craft beers. I think, what Chuck Hahn's done for the industry, we wouldn't be here without him.
Richard Watkins: Yes.
Lachlan McLean: But on that beer that you brewed with him, has that been released? Has that gone?
Richard Watkins: Yes, that's released, it's on tap around town, and so basically BentSpoke had half the kegs to sell, and we did 200 kegs, and Malt Shovel had the other half of the kegs. They sold all theirs quicker than ours.
Richard Watkins: So they're still floating around, so if you haven't had a taste, hook up and it's certainly on tap at a Brew Pub for at least another month. So if you're in Canberra, drop in and have a taste.
Lachlan McLean: I'm coming down for Easter, so fingers crossed it's still on. I guess talking about Chuck Hahn, your history, and the Wig and Pen, I guess we'll flip it completely and we'll talk about some of the new stuff that's been happening and for one thing, the hottest 100 and the strength of the Canberra beer market. For me, the Canberra beer market and the strength of that craft beer scene is almost unmatched anywhere in Australia. You go to any bottle shop now and they've almost all got some sort of craft beer range and inevitably it's always Bent Spoke and Capital. You're saying that you're great mates with them?
Richard Watkins: Yeah.
Lachlan McLean: And which I think is fantastic. I think for a craft beer scene to survive everyone has to work together. So I asked Richard, we're also going to do a couple of other beers after Cluster 8 and I kind of said, 'Pick an old one, pick a new one." I was surprised at what you picked for your new beer.
Richard Watkins: There must be something in the water in Canberra, because we feel like we've got a pretty good beer scene down there. We're all punching out different beers. Those guys are doing good things. In fact, I was in their brewery on Saturday. Just going and having a few beers with a few brewers from Melbourne, and from Newcastle. And I think one of the good new beers out on the market is this little one that they've just put out, so let's crack this one open and have a little bit of a taste.
Lachlan McLean: Let's do this. So that is the Capital Hang Loose. If you didn't actually see it, I actually interviewed the owner, Laurence, last week for the release of this. So it's gone absolutely gangbusters for us, and I hope you've been able to get it. But I'm always interested. You always ask brewers and trying to get them to say another beer other than their own breweries, is always not tricky but always interesting. What are you liking? What do you think is going really good at the moment?
Richard Watkins: I think we've really got to take a step back and have a look at our beer industry. I think fight at the moment isn't between these two. It's not between these two. The fight in the market is between the mainstream beer that's out there. And we all need to work together. We all need to pat each other on the back. We all need to celebrate all the beers we're making. Because if we can sell, we can get our beer into more people's hands, then we're all going to sell more beer.
Richard Watkins: Everyone says to me, "So what do you think about your competitors, Capital?" And I say to them, "No, they're not competitors. They sell more beer because we're around, and we sell more beer because they're around." It's that simple. And without those breweries sort of working together, I think we're really going to struggle to really take our industry forward.
Lachlan McLean: The craft beer industry is not big enough to support not infighting, but competition. If it's a healthy competition, it's always welcome, but you've got to work together, and we've got to build the industry up before anyone can kind of take over, you've got to have that strength of industry and then that will help everyone.
Richard Watkins: It's a big challenge. Once you get your beer into people's hands, they're really interested in it and they get engaged. They love tasting different things. I think the challenge is for people to go into a place and actually spend their hard earned cash on something they've never had before. And I think that's the challenge for all of us in the industry to get people tasting different beers, different styles. Everyone making noise about beer and about the flavours and about anything interesting about beer or what you're doing. Everyone seems to make a bit of noise because what happens is that noise just resonates through people and when they're next in a bottle shop, they'll give something else a go. And that's really important.
Lachlan McLean: Yes, there's that big jump in consumer attitudes where they got from not willing to spend money on something they haven't had to almost the extreme end that we're seeing now, especially in retail where they only want to buy new.
Richard Watkins: Yes.
Lachlan McLean: And that's actually a really big jump, when you actually sit down and think about it where previously you were like, "I've never had that, I don't really want to spend the money," and now people just walk in and go, "I only want what's new. What's new, I want to give it a try>" I think that's fantastic as well.
Richard Watkins: Yes.
Lachlan McLean: I guess the hand loads itself, New England IPA, will we ever see a BentSpoke hazy IPA in a can?
Richard Watkins: I wouldn't say never. I'm a big fan of New England IPA, but I'm a really big fan of the hop haze New England IPA.
Lachlan McLean: Yep.
Richard Watkins: And unfortunately, even though it is the fad at the moment, there's a lot of New England IPA out there that is all about the yeast haze. And for me, the yeast haze isn't the best way to celebrate hops and celebrate what an IPA should be about. And I think we've done a bit of work on trying to develop a cloudy IPA based on hop haze. And that's what we need to just fine tune and get it right and then we'll give it a go. I mean, Capital have been quite clever here because they haven't relied on the yeast staying in the beer, they've actually added some orange to it, so there's a bit of pectin in the orange, so you're always going to get the cloudiness come through from the fruit that you add as well.
Richard Watkins: So I think that's quite a clever way to do it. And it tastes pretty good too. Takes away, big slice. But I think it's really important, because it's not a yeast driven beer. The real New England IPAs are all about that hop haze and the massive amount of dry hopping that creates that hop haze. And I think we fall into the trap in Australia of too much yeast hazing. To be honest, once they've been in the can or the bottle for a short amount of time, that yeast just puts out all these real... I personally don't like those flavours. If I'm drinking IPA I want to really drink a beer that has pronounced hop flavours, not pronounced yeast flavours.
Lachlan McLean: I know when I travelled to America 18 months ago and over there, I had, I guess what you can call actual New England IPAs for the very first time, and I'm really amazed at what it actually was and how Australia was kind of looking some of the ones that were seeing kind of as a... how do we get to the end result as opposed to the process to get there. And they were just looking at the haze and not artificially making the haze, but not doing it the same way that they were. Not getting that massive amounts of hop aroma and the juiciness that comes with it. But I think we're getting there.
Richard Watkins: There are definitely some good ones out there.
Lachlan McLean: Absolutely.
Richard Watkins: It's not all doom and gloom. Just a lot of New England IPAs out there that are really yeasty.
Lachlan McLean: I guess on these new beers and everything that's been going on, are you able to tell us anything about what we can see on the horizon at BentSpoke?
Richard Watkins: I think we're trying really hard to get some new beers out. We're working on those. We did a Belgian IPA with some friends of late, so we had Jane from Two Birds, Dave from Mountain Gate, and Lachie from GrainFed came in last week and do a collaboration.
Lachlan McLean: I did see some photos of those on the socials.
Richard Watkins: Yeah, we had a Belgian IPA going on with a little bit of orange in it. So we'll give that a bit of a run. That will be out and around in kegs probably in the next few weeks. Hopefully before Easter. That was the sort of timing around that.
Richard Watkins: We also, some new guys into the industry called Jetty Road, down in Mornington Peninsula. Met those guys at the Ballarat Beer Festival, and they're really good guys and they came up to Canberra for the Canberra Beer Fest and we did a sour IPA with those guys. So that will be out and about probably more so in Canberra, but it will be around not too long. So a couple of new keg beers. As I said, we're working hard on our new can format to try and get new beers rolling out so we're pretty well locked into the packaging now so we just need to now move forward and get some beer into some cans, which is the part I like.
Lachlan McLean: Yes. Absolutely.
Richard Watkins: So there will be some new stuff out from us. Obviously Cluster 8 coming out pretty soon. That's something special so we don't want to corrupt what the go with that as well.
Lachlan McLean: Keeping it open.
Lachlan McLean: One other thing. You mentioned beer in cans is what you like. I remembered I asked you this question when I was down at the Brew Pub last year, and it was all about the actual physical cans. I always like to ask that because even after 18 months since I asked you that question no one else has taken up that cans line. Why not?
Richard Watkins: It's an interesting fact. To be honest, the lids on these are three times more expensive than the traditional one that we've got here.
Lachlan McLean: So for people with [crosstalk 00:21:49]
Richard Watkins: So you've got your traditional lid or you've got your 360 lid. Basically I really love these. I really love them for quite a few reasons. I think basically to me, they're a cup. You can see the beer first of all. Then you can get the aroma out of it. You take a sip and then you can swirl it and really get more aroma. I find that I can drink out of them quite easily. I don't get the glug glug out of a normal can.
Richard Watkins: When you're at a barbecue or at a picnic or whatever, you don't really want to be pouring your beer in a glass, especially if you're sitting on a boat or something you know.
Lachlan McLean: People always ask me. They go, they come and look at the cans, and we always advocate for pouring a beer into a glass. And they'd be like, "Oh, but I'm going camping, I'm going out." And I say, "Look, BentSpoke, or I think there's a couple of others that do it, go for them."
Richard Watkins: BentSpoke wasn't the first place to do it. Colonial Brewery in Australia was the first place to do it. We made a decision early on to do cans. Where our Brew Pub is being built, was being built, Trace and I came on site, we actually put can lids underneath the reinforcing of the concrete of the building. So when you're in our Brew Pub and you look up from downstairs, you'll see can lids in the ceiling.
Richard Watkins: And that was our little sign back in 2013, whatever it was, that we were going to always do cans.
Lachlan McLean: Are you surprised by the strength and the take off of the cans?
Richard Watkins: I think I am a little, I guess. You can't assume anything but the main thing to point out there is that in the States, cans were really going through a major boom. Sort of 2010, through to 2015. I'd like to know the percentages. I couldn't tell you, I don't have that information on me, but what the cans to bottle ratio is in the US.
Richard Watkins: When I went to the States in 2012 and I saw those cans everywhere, and every brewery wanting to do cans, I was like, yep. All right. We're going to do that.
Lachlan McLean: I know that from just my personal point, I've been working in craft beer bottle shops for six, seven years and there was always a little bit of cans, and then when I started Beer Cartel there was, we had a little bit of cans, and our fridges were still... we had one can fridge. Now we don't have any bottles in any of fridges. And bottles are harder and harder to move. Cans, it's just so much easier for us to move and that's just from a pure retail point and we don't force anything, if you like a brew you just go with the trends.
Lachlan McLean: I think for me it's been a surprise but I guess, like you said, America was kind of there 10 years ago and I've always said Australia was kind of following the American market and the American trend, and maybe we were 15 years behind, but I feel that that gap is... I'm not saying we're 15 years behind. We're getting closer and closer.
Richard Watkins: Yes, that's right. Exactly. You're exactly right. And I think that at some point we'll have our own trend. So at some point we will differ from the US. We'll start our own trend in Australia.
Lachlan McLean: I think that's where it gets exciting.
Richard Watkins: We're catching up very quickly so I think we're still a little bit behind, but I think at the rate that we're catching up, because there's still a lot of market increase in craft beer in Australia and in the US. It's slowed down a fair bit. So I think we'll definitely catch or get very close to the US and then I think we'll have our own trend and what that trend is, I'd love to know. Because I'll start it. Even though-
Lachlan McLean: I'll start it here.
Richard Watkins: I think I'm probably Australia's current oldest working brewer as we speak at the moment. I don't think you can pull someone out that's been brewing beer longer than I have in Australia since 1994, 1995.
Lachlan McLean: That's actually a really good segue, because when you came in, I asked you, "What's your current favourite beer?" And then I also asked, "Let's do one that's kind of an old classic, or one of those interesting beers," and I was very excited with the one you pulled out.
Richard Watkins: Yes. We pulled out this little number here. One of the things you get to do when you're a brewer is you get invited to go and judge beer overseas and you get to go around the world and taste all these different beers and I think, one of the best trips that me and Trace ever did was, obviously to go to Belgium and we had some friends that got us into some really interesting breweries over there. Being able to go along to see Frank Boon at Boon and try his geuze was very special moment.
Richard Watkins: We had a lot of special moments on that trip. And I think the main thing you sort of get out of a trip like that is you've got to understand the history and what that means to the beer industry. I think beers like this that have such a history and such a real sort of higher echelon quality really have driven a lot of people into the... and Europe, they're way ahead of us in terms of, I think in terms of the amount of beer, the quality beer that's around in the market.
Richard Watkins: There's still mainstream beer, but it's not 95% of the beer sold.
Lachlan McLean: Whenever I do education courses or do a Belgian beer masterclasses, or whatnot, there's a statistic or fact that I found about Belgian beer. For me it's my all time favourite. And it was that Belgium is the only country in the world that their beer culture is a UNESCO listed for a significance to their cultural history. Not Germany, not America. Belgium.
Richard Watkins: Belgium. Yes.
Lachlan McLean: That's how important beer and the beer culture is to the country, and it just shows. You walk down some of those, Brussels or Brouge, or whatever, it's every second store is a beer shop. All their tourism is beer. Then, I remember finding myself I think I'd done Fest float around and [inaudible 00:27:40] and I was in this tiny little pub and the locals who didn't speak English were all there having their dinner, and they weren't having wine. They were having beer. And it was a big bottle of something of the locals. I don't even know what it was. But it was in the middle of the table, and they were just drinking it as if it was a wine. And for me, that's fantastic. For me, that's the ultimate dream of Australia where people kind of treat beer as that accompaniment to food, to not just a pure drink. I love Belgium for that.
Richard Watkins: The other thing we should put into perspective is that these beers here, like this type of beer, they get brewed. They use natural yeasts that are in the air, to ferment these types of beers. They then get aged for a long period of time. So you're making this beer knowing that you're not going to get paid for 12 months. These are hard styles of beer to make. I played around with a lot of these when I was at Wig and Pen, I think it was me, Brad Rodgers when he was at Matilda Bay, Stone and Wood, and Brendan from Farrer Wood, some of the first people in Australia to do barrel aged beers. If I had the space I'd love to do more. We started a little bit of barrel agent at BentSpoke and hopefully we can take that further and do some more interesting beers. So stay tuned for that.
Richard Watkins: I think just the history and just the complexity that goes into not only the flavour in this beer but the actual making of this beer is really something we should really savour.
Lachlan McLean: I love just thinking, a couple of hundred years or a hundred years, well after our time, that Australians are drinking goozers, or possibly our own equivalent that hasn't even been founded yet. But you mentioned Brendan, and Brad, and all those people and said that you were probably the oldest continual brewer at the moment, how did you get into beer and brewing?
Richard Watkins: It's funny, I made ginger beer when I was a kid at home, and started to think about, what am I going to do with my life. I didn't really know. I went off to Sydney. All my school friends were going to Sydney so I thought, "Well, I'll go to Sydney too." I did a science degree and started home brewing. Beer was expensive. I didn't have the money to buy it, I started making beer because it was cheaper.
Lachlan McLean: Yep.
Richard Watkins: But what that means is, it gets your taste buds going. Even though I started with kit beer, and I brewed a lot of beer from kits, it was all about, oh jeez, this is actually like Coopers, or hey this beer's not too bad, this is a bit darker, and so that's how I started getting into the flavours and then lucky enough to sort of wind up at the Wig and Pen and being able to... when I started the Wig and Pen there was, I had three hand pumps and basically, the other beers they had on tap were your Newcastle Brown, your Coopers Pale and whatever. So the brewers were really only producing hand pump beer.
Richard Watkins: But the brewer at the time knew that wasn't going to last. So he made an Irish red ale, and we started trying to change things. Then he left and I took over sort of from 1998, and the first thing I did was put in two more taps. I didn't want to play with any of his beers. They were all going really well. But I wanted to do some of my own beers. So I put in two taps, and I did a Kolsch, and I did a wheat beer.
Lachlan McLean: Cool.
Richard Watkins: And that was the start of going, "All right, let's see what people are in to." So the Kolsch obviously went really well, because it's a lager like ale, it was quite easy to say to someone, "Why don't you give this a go." Because it wasn't too different from a mainstream beer. Even though for me, I thought it was a long way from a mainstream beer, so it was interesting to see how people sort of voted. And then I guess over the years we put in more and more taps. We ended up with 16 different beers there. Sorry, 16 different taps. We got nearly 500 different beers when I was at the Wig and Pen. So we really had a big grounding in making lots of different beers. Playing around with different flavours and getting to see what people wanted.
Lachlan McLean: Awesome. And then obviously BentSpoke started in 2013.
Richard Watkins: 2014. Yep.
Lachlan McLean: 2014. Why BentSpoke and where does that all come from? What's the naming?
Richard Watkins: It's funny. I still remember it pretty clearly actually. We had very little time to register a name, we'd been thinking about, we'd been tossing names back and forward for a long period of time, we were lying bed one morning and Tracey said, "Why don't we call it BentSpoke? You like making bent beers and we like riding bikes." So that's what stuck. You've got to come up with something.
Lachlan McLean: It's a great name.
Richard Watkins: I think it sort of fits who we are, which is important. Whilst we do have a core range of beers, we still think we bend the rules. We do different things with our beers and trying to put out different beers all the time.
Lachlan McLean: I think BentSpoke beers have always been one of those breweries where quality is always first and foremost, you see, you never see. You can open a Crankshaft here, or in Perth, or wherever and it always tastes exactly the same. They've always gone really really well. So I think you're doing fantastic in the Hottest 100 that happened a couple of months ago. And you had... how many beers did you have? Four? Five?
Richard Watkins: We had five in the top 23 or something. It was pretty impressive. I was pretty happy. I was pretty nervous actually, funnily enough that year. In previous years it was funny because the expectations weren't really there. But I guess once you've... after last year when we came third with Crankshaft and then we had the Bali Gryphon and the Sprocket in the top 30, I was thinking, "Oh there's so many other good beers out there that some of our beers are just going to really move to the back of the 100 and even drop out," to be honest, and once we got down to the top 30, I was thinking to myself, "all right, this is going to go two ways here. We're either going to have one beer in the top 30, or we might have a few."
Richard Watkins: So luckily we ended up with a few, and I think once again, it was really good to see our mates at Capital have some beers in top 30 as well.
Lachlan McLean: Top five or six as well.
Richard Watkins: They had five or six in the top 100 as well, so that was really good. I think Canberra punching... per capita I think we had more beers per capita than anywhere else, so that was really good to see. And I think that's a big vote for Canberra, I think gone are the days where people should think of Canberra as a boring place to come. I think people in Canberra really enjoy flavour, they know what they're talking about. We have more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Australia.
Lachlan McLean: I love it every time I come out to Canberra.
Richard Watkins: People should come down to Canberra.
Lachlan McLean: I can't recommend the Braddon Brew Pub highly enough. I've been there a couple of times. I try to go there every time I'm in Canberra. Absolutely love it. It's always a great night. Or day. Whenever you're there. It's in a great location as well. So make sure whenever you're in Canberra go and visit BentSpoke, and also Capital when you're there. Do the tour. But thank you so much for joining me today. It's been an absolutely pleasure to have you in Sydney and taking your time out to come talk to us. It's been absolutely fascinating listening to you. For anyone out there, Cluster 8 is available. It won't last long. So make sure you grab it as soon as you can. If it's online or in store, make sure you come grab it.
Lachlan McLean: Once again, thank you so much for joining me and we'll see you next week.
Richard Watkins: Thank you and just one quick thing. Support your local bottle shop. Lachie and Richard and the others are doing such a great job with this place, and I think we need these people around supporting our beer industry to grow it. And without Beer Cartel and the others that are doing this type of work, we wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be able to sit here and talk to you about beer. So big thumbs up to these guys and you guys keep doing what you're doing.
Lachlan McLean: Thanks very much everyone. Have a good night.
Richard Watkins: Cheers.