Fly me to the moon
Meet the standard bearers of Melburnian craft
Photos: Moon Dog
Monday 28 December 2020
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Ever since Richmond’s Goat Mountain sold up Asahi in 2015, Melbourne’s Moon Dog has arguably taken up the role of standard-bearer for the whole Victoria craft beer scene. It’s the biggest, the best known, the most tap-roomed-up dog in town and the slickness of its operation is a marvel to behold. Yet it wasn’t always meant to be this way. Launching in 2010 with a cognac barrel-aged double IPA, which it followed up with a black cherry Lambic-style brew, it feels a lot like the young Moon Dog went out of its way to be feared rather than loved. So where did it all go right?
“I’ve been with the company about four years, but I’ve known the guys since day one,” says Dave Langlands, who heads up Moon Dog’s new product development. “I don’t think Josh, Karl and Jake – the founders – ever had something like this in mind. It was literally like three guys like two brothers and their pal from high school, who wanted to make weird as fuck beer. And this is 10 years ago in Australia, when the standard breweries had a pale ale and a lager.
“It’s funny, I think Moon Dog’s always been successful in the sense that it’s a brewery that people follow and wait to see what we do next. But up until about three or four years ago, we’d never really pushed to get into every bottle shop or in every bar. Now we’re in 13 export markets, we’ve got a nationwide sales team, 200-odd staff, hospitality venues, with more opening.”
So what changed? In short, about four years ago Moon Dog made the conscious decision to grow in a way that would allow it to keep trying new things without abandoning the wild innovation that had got it to where it was. So it invested in extra capacity, more sophisticated kit and, crucially, for the first time ever brought out a core range.
“For the first five or six years, the guys would only occasionally repeat beers, and even then it was normally a spin on the previous year. And everything was pretty crazy; nothing was below 7% or 8%, everything was a hybrid style. So to suddenly bring out a lager, a pale ale and a dark ale was a big move. To be honest, it coincided with the opening of our first hospitality venue, where we realised that if you fill a venue for people and you only have 8% beers to drink, it gets really out of hand,” Dave says.
An important part of the Moon Dog mindset is that every project is an opportunity to blow people’s minds. So, anyone concerned that Melbourne’s brewing enfant terrible was getting old and dull will have been reassured by the absolute state of its Moon Dog World taproom. 750 seats, 70 taps, an indoor lagoon with palms and a five-metre indoor waterfall. A secret tiki grotto and an expansive outdoor terrace. It’s a madman’s dream and it’s absolutely glorious.
“What would your ideal venue be?” asks Dave, somewhat rhetorically. “We really just wanted to have places where people could explore and where every single seat in the house was kind of a cool spot. So you’re either sitting next to the river, or you’re in the secret like Tiki Bar, or you’re up looking over the whole place or, sitting by the lagoon with the roof open and a gin in your hand.
“It’s part of this idea that we’re actively trying to include as many people into the beer thing as possible. We found really early on that the way to do that was to not… ‘wankify’ beer, but make it concept-driven, flavour-driven. It’s not style-driven or process-driven – most people don’t care about those things.”
There’s a really strong team behind Moon Dog, which keeps all the brewery’s different elements pointing in the same direction, even as it explores weird new ideas. Working alongside Dave on new product development is innovation brewer Adrian McNulty, a “mad scientist” who is essentially given free rein to work with new ingredients and techniques.
Josh and Karl are the driving force of the business, working there every day and really fuel the creative side, which is executed by creative director Loren Tanis. Loren has designed every single label Moon Dog has ever used, and has been integral to the brand from the very start.
“She holds it very, very dear and her output is incredible,” says Dave. “She’s just constantly coming up with cool stuff, mixing between collage and illustration to create this universe of imagery and characters. Even the language we use is all kind of driven by her and the boys. So I guess you could say we’ve matured a little bit, and tightened up our message, but only in the sense that we’ve come to a better understanding of what makes Moon Dog so great.”
As the biggest dog in the park, I’m curious to hear about Moon Dog’s relationship with the other Melburnian breweries. In response, Dave without pausing reels off every single brewery we have in the Beer52 box this month, and what special quality he loves about each. He does this with as much obvious enthusiasm as when talking about his own brewery.
“We all know each other, we all get on with each other,” he concludes. “There’s no great divides, not a lot of posturing or swinging dicks. It’s a scene, and we all live here; we all go to the same parties kind of get on. And there’s a real professional community too, a lot of sharing of information and innovation and collaboration. So, sure, we’re probably the biggest or second biggest craft brewery in Victoria but that honestly isn’t something we think about, and I don’t see the others really thinking about that either… There are guys producing literally 20 wooden barrels of great beer a year, and they’re as much a part of this thing as we are. That’s what makes Melbourne so exciting.”
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