What's that coming over the hill?
Good times, great beers and city-devouring monsters
Photo: © Amy Whitfield
Monday 28 December 2020
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With its city-devouring monster branding and obsession with massive hop character, Kaiju Brewing is bursting with fun. Brothers Callum and Nat Reeves started the business with their dad back in 2012, in the early days of Melbourne’s craft revolution. Like many Melbourne brewers Callum started out in the wine industry, where he worked for about five years before moving into market research. It was there that he noticed the growing regional market for craft ciders, and decided with Nat to start a “side business”.
“A lot of people started jumping on that bandwagon, but our ultimate plan was to start making beers as soon as we could, because Nat had been an award winning homebrewer,” recalls Callum. “You have to remember that at this time, in the early 2010s, there was no craft beer in Australia. We were getting some Green Flash, as that was really the most notable of the American beers, but the supply was patchy. So when you happened to get one that was super, super fresh, it was just like, ‘oh my God, I can taste hops’. So that’s what we set out to do at home.”
By the end of 2013, Callum and Nat had started brewing in earnest, having bought a tank and wangled a cuckoo brewing space at a friendly commercial brewery.
“Everything in the market at that moment was an American style pale ale, but we knew the best thing we were making at home was a double IPA, super hoppy. So we just decided to try and scale that up to a commercial brew. And, you know, people told us we were crazy to do that, because it was over 20 grammes a litre of dry-hopping, and over 9% ABV.
“They were right in a way, because the yield on it was ridiculous; we just didn’t know how to make hoppy beer on a commercial scale. In your garage, you don’t really care how much beer you get out of your tank as long as it tastes good. But over time we learned how to be more efficient – making great beer without quite so much waste. And we’ve stayed on that hoppy path ever since really,” Callum says.
The dense, porridge-like mash bills used in these early brews actually form the basis of Kaiju’s entire brand. Originally named Monster Mash, the brewery soon received a polite but firm letter from the lawyers of a certain popular energy drink. Rather than fight the point, Callum and Nat decided to rebrand, taking their new name from the Japanese word for city-crushing mega-monsters.
“It turned out to be a good thing. The name change gave us some more direction, so rather than just being a generic monster, it’s that distinct Japanese comic book monster style. From the start, we’ve had that strong visual identity from the work of our designer Mikey Burton, and everything else has flowed from that. And if you read the blurb on the label, there’s always a story about that beer’s character. It’s not your standard tasting notes, but hopefully it gives people a sense of the kind of beast they’re dealing with. And it’s fun, of course; it certainly gets people to pick up the beer off the shelf the first time. The second time? That is delivered in the beer.”
In terms of the beers themselves, it was the original Monster Mash DIPA (now Aftermath) that really put Kaiju on the map, followed by another hit in the form of Hopped Out Red, which picked up a trophy at the prestigious Australian International Beer Awards. There followed a number of other brews destined for the core range, including Cthulhu on The Moon, Metamorphosis, Where Strides the Behemoth and the wonderfully-named Robohop.
“We really stepped up the volume at that point, moving into our own brewery,” recalls Callum. “Robohop became our biggest seller, until around a year later, when we launched Krush.”
Kaiju Krush, featured in this month’s Beer52 box, now makes up more than 70% of the brewery’s production, and has driven its growth. It’s a distinctly US-style pale, employing the classic North American hops alongside a healthy slug of Kiwi Motueka, for a breezy and tropical hop profile and unintrusive, clean malts.
Callum and Nat have watched the Melbourne craft beer scene grow up around them, and become increasingly intertwined with the city’s established wine, culinary and coffee cultures. It’s proven fertile ground for new breweries across the city, with a sense of shared purpose helping cement Melbourne as Australia’s premier beer hotspot.
“So many of the people in Melbourne, in the wider craft food and drink community, are friends of ours. And there is a really, really strong camaraderie and I think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a huge place, but I’ve always considered Melbourne to be an incredibly liveable city because of its culture – there’s a lot of focus on living life well, rather than being part of some huge machine. And it’s funny, you can walk into a cafe in China, in New York, or London and you’ll get a distinctly Melbourne vibe. So you speak to someone and find out it’s actually been set up by someone you know. It’s a really special place.”
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