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March 30, 2023

Byron Bay industry – brewing beer

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Alastair Gillespie in Byron’s version of a sweatshop, with visual cue. Lager is a German word for ‘storehouse’: Lagerbier was traditionally brewed in autumn and stored in caves in a ‘slow’ process that saw the beer ready to drink in spring.

If you thought the toughest jobs in Byron were feeding Insta and running an Airbnb, then spare a thought for these poor blokes who have to make beer. Head brewer Alastair Gillespie only has time to surf once most days, and when I arrived at the Byron Bay Brewery at 10am last week they were already working! At least Alastair has the good grace to acknowledge that, after moving from Cape Town to Byron, it still feels like he’s landed a dream job.

The Lion Nathan group took over the working brewery and restaurant a year ago, and venue manager Adam Keane has worked hard to lift it from 119 in the Tripadvisor restaurant rankings to the top five.

‘People love the experience of coming here’, says Adam, ‘that’s what it’s all about. They can see the vats of brewing beer all around them, and see Alastair and assistant brewer Louis sweating it out every day brewing the exact beer that they’re drinking on tap.

‘To date The Hazy One has sold more than 15,000 schooners at the venue, and pair that with the 4,441 frites served and the 2,718 portions of calamari served, and you have a venue that provides great food, great beers with a great atmosphere in an even better location.’

Bestselling craft lager

One of the most popular beers brewed in Byron is The Hazy One, an award-winning craft lager with ‘melon, apricot and stonefruit-like flavours’ from the Australian and NZ hops, and biscuity, bready notes from the predominantly Australian malts Alistair has chosen.

‘It’s been a bestseller since the start’, says Alastair, ‘because it suits the Byron climate’. The beer is served on tap, onsite, but also kegged at the Byron Bay brewery and then ‘exported’ outside the Shire to about 60 other pubs. It is also a crowd favourite at festivals.

‘About 80 per cent of beer drinkers in Australia drink lager, and having a craft lager is a great introduction to craft beers’, says Alastair.

Despite the rise in hardcore craft beer enthusiasts, surprisingly few beer drinkers know much about the process of production. I learnt something new: there is no actual ‘malt’ – the barley grain itself, which has undergone the malting process, is the malt. Trying that mixture straight from the brewing vats, before the addition of hops and yeast, I could taste the surprisingly sweet biscuity flavour of the malted grain.

The Hazy One in cans soon

The scale of the industry surprised me. ‘We are brewing as much as we can here’, says Alastair, ‘but we’ve reached capacity’. Customers who sample the beers at the brewery often ask for something to take away as a memento of their visit, so from October, The Hazy One will be available in cans at the brewery. To make this happen Alastair has to brew further afield.

‘Breweries have a fairly large environmental footprint’, says Alastair, ‘mainly because of the amount of water used. It makes sense, rather than build a new brewery, to use an existing brewery. I hopped on the plane last month with my recipe and went down to the West End brewery in Adelaide. They brew Kirin, Lashes, West End draught and many other beers there, but I chose it because the equipment and team are phenomenal.

‘There’s a lot of planning involved in a big brew, months before the actual brew day, but it was basically the same as at home in Byron, just a much bigger batch. One of the things we had to do was to match the sample of Byron water I took down with me – the Adelaide water contains a lot of some minerals and less of others, but at West End they were able to exactly match my water profile to ensure the beer tastes the same as it does up here’.

More info: Cans of The Hazy One will be sold from possibly as early as October. Where: Byron Bay Brewery (and participating bottleshops). 1 Skinners Shoot Rd, Byron Bay. www.byronbaybrewing.com.au



Assistant brewer Louis gets a thumb workout testing the beer. Brewing is a very scientific process requiring constant monitoring to ensure consistent quality and flavour from every batch.

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