Today is International Beer Day, and to celebrate, Gizmodo Australia is kicking its weekly booze column up a notch by introducing you to Andy Mitchell, a Master Brewer who works with the Australian-owned company Casella. Andy has been in the business for 32 years, has started five microbreweries in three different countries, and everything he touches turns to delicious amber-gold. If you're brewing in your shed and want to know how to get your name out there, or have ever thought about drinking beer for a living, you'll want to hear what Andy has to say.
So you've been brewing as a hobby for a few years now and want to get your beer out there for the world to taste. It's a proud day when you decide to take the next step, but what happens between that big decision and the inevitable day when the world loves your brew as much as you do? Andy tells us that it takes someone with a real love of beer to take the next step, and it takes a partner with deep pockets to help.
When you're just starting out, Andy tells us, it's best to start increasing the output of your existing set-up, whilst trying to get the brew in front of other beer lovers like you.
"Start off small, start off in a craft market, and if your beer is acceptable there, spread it a bit, brew a bit longer and you'll grow," he says. The aim of the market game is to get word of your beer to spread around the enthusiast community.
"You can't afford marketing, you can't afford sales talk and the rest, so it has to spread through word of mouth." Andy added that the internet is a terrific place to get your beer noticed outside the market scene. It's worth listing it on apps like Untappd, or even getting it in front of a few reputable beer writers to grab a headline or two.
Be warned, though: once your brew starts to take off, things start getting expensive.
"You'll need a fair amount of money and you need the knowledge that you're not going to make money. Craft-brewers don't make money when they start out, believe me," Andy warns.
"To make money as a craft-brewer, you need to do everything yourself [and] keep your overheads down, you need to source your equipment as best you can. Unless you have a lot of money, you'll need to get second-hand tanks and put them together yourself. It's really just a question of taking that step up by brewing a little bit more. We've got one guy who brews at home still and sells his beer to a local craft market, and that's growing. Soon he will have to get a bigger brewery, and that's really all it is: it's a dedication that you love beer and you want people to enjoy your product," Andy says.
The main thing though, Andy says, is not getting too lost in all the beer that you forget to make money on what you're selling.
"Most brewers don't give business models a thought. They brew their beer and they want to go and sell it, and that's where a lot of craft brewers fail: you're actually in business not to cost you money. You always need to think about making something back.
"That's something a lot of them forget. They go into business because they love the product and that the status of being a brewer or having your own brewery is the main thing for them."
Is It Possible To Just Be A Beer Taster?
But what if you don't brew your own beer? What if you're someone who just has a real passion for brew and would love nothing more than to sit around all day and drink until your liver's pickled, while still calling it a job?
Sadly, according to Andy, that job doesn't exist.
The fabled role of the head beer taster is a myth. That role goes to the brewing team under guys like Andy who, from dawn until dusk, will move along the production line and taste what is being produced to assure that the final product is nothing short of flawless.
Andy says that he arrives at work at 7:30 in the morning and tastes the overnight run before it's shipped out all over the world. He'll then spend the next few hours sipping on the beer that's currently passing through the brewery's maturation and fermentation process, before moving on in the afternoon to taste beer that has just been through the filters.
He says he only drinks a few drops, but jokes that unlike wine, the brewers don't spit it out because it'd be a shame to waste such delicious beer.
So there you have it: a brief look at what it takes to build a brewing empire. Go forth and brew the best beer you can, and when it's ready, remember to save a round for me.
If you have any questions for all-round good guy and beer extraordinaire Andy Mitchell, leave them in the comments and I'll try and get a response to them for you.
Luke Hopewell travelled to Casella Wines headquarters in Griffith as a guest of Casella Wines.