One nation under hops
How do you like your hops? Hoppy? Good
Monday 28 December 2020
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How do we know Melburnian brewers are the toughest in the world? Because they can switch from wine to beer with apparently no ill effects. Or at least that’s the career path successfully followed by many of the city’s most respected craft pioneers, including Sam Hambour and Duncan of Hop Nation.
“Duncan and I both studied wine and made wine around the world for a number of years,” says Sam. “And we both had a little microbrewery set up at the back of the winery where, especially during the quieter times in the winter, we would brew and have a little bit of competition between our friends; just a bit of friendly rivalry.”
This was also at the time that Australia’s juggernaut wine industry was just beginning to plateau slightly, while the craft beer market was noticeably on the rise.
“From working for a bunch of different people, we began to think about starting something for ourselves. So we both moved to Australia – where I’m from and Duncan’s from New Zealand – to Melbourne for different reasons, and kept making wine over there, just around the area. And that’s when we said, ‘why don’t we just upscale a couple of our recipes?’”
The brewing business got off to a good start, but remained very much a side hustle until around a year later, when in 2014 Duncan caught wind of a New Zealand brewery that was expanding and selling off its old kit for a good price. It was a crossroads.
“So Duncan flew over, cut it up and put it in a 40 foot container,” continues Sam. “We found a warehouse in Footscray, signed the lease and set up the brewpub. It all happened quite fast.”
As the name hints at, the original concept behind Hop Nation was to produce hop-forward beers that paid homage to individual nations’ hops and brewing styles; for example, an American red ale, New Zealand Pilsner, Australian IPA and then a New Zealand DIPA.
“We wanted to use hops that were proprietary to each country, really focusing on I guess where the ingredients came from and what they contributed in terms of hallmark flavours and aromas. It was a nice concept, but we quickly realised it was stopping us from making some beers we wanted to make, so really then broadened it out to developing hop-forward recipes that we really liked.”
Hop Nation’s core range still rotates around mightily-hopped pales and IPAs, with some exciting diversions into sour wine hybrids. Not wishing to confuse the hardcore Lupulin fans, these barrel-aged brews are sold under the side brand, The Site Fermentation Project, which has its own space and packaging line to prevent cross-contamination.
“Wine culture and beer culture are getting closer all the time. You know, I think in the early days, it wasn’t accepted to go a dinner party and talk about beer, discuss the flavours and pour it in a glass. Yeah. Whereas wine always had that. But I think people are coming to realise that you can taste the best beers in your country for, you know, 50 bucks a week. So the entry into educating ourselves much lower, and I think your average person is more confident.”
Hop Nation continues to go from strength to strength, and in mid-2020 took over a brand new facility which, at the time of writing, the team was busy setting up and dialling in their brewing. This will mean bringing 100% of its production back in house for the first time in a long time, which you can tell Sam is thrilled about.
“It’s going to allow us to make the beer on a slightly larger scale and be more consistent, you know, that’s the goal of it. We can really stand behind every batch and see every quality parameter. So as much as we’ve been growing, and what we’re doing was good, there were limitations to our equipment. And you know, there’s no way round that – you just need to invest. So this is really going to be a big step for us I think, in terms of giving us the confidence and the tools to really push out brewing. Touch wood, next year will be great.”
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