A Look Inside Balter Brewery

  • Life
posted by Chris Donald

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Gold Coast has a new drop on the block and it’s called Balter Brewing. Based out of Currumbin, the newest micro brewing phenomenon was conceived out of the love of quality brewed beer by a group of mates stepping from one passion and into another. Fronting the team are non other than professional surfers Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Josh Kerr, who teamed up with a tight knit group of mates to see every man’s dream business venture come to fruition.

We caught up with the head tasters to chat about anything and everything to do with the craft beer brewery, and we welcome you to do the same.

Who else is involved in the brewery?
Stirling: Yeah we have a core team like any business we are just a young startup, we have a head brewer Scotty Hargrave filling that position, we have Ant MacDonald  who is our GM and runs the day to day for the business, our sales manager Timmy Fishwick and Azza Waters. Having Azza in place means we can just brew beer, we have 5 staff here full-time.

Why Currumbin for the headquarters?
Mick: It was sort of just geographical, we are locals towards this end of the coast and it’s a growing area. It’s so close to the beach and a minute off the highway. People love coming to the southern end of the Gold Coast so we can have people from Brisbane, Byron and Ballina way and it’s not too hard to find. Especially for the locals it’s very accessible.

How many Beers are you aiming to have overall?
Stirling: There’s probably not a beer that Scotty can’t brew so we have a really good starting point. We have a 12 tap system here and over time they will all be filled up. We might team up with some up and coming brewers that can put a beer on one of our taps, we would like to feature up and coming breweries from around Australia and around the world eventually. I think it’s really nice to have your beers sitting around your peers. We will have 3 beers to launch with an  XPA (Extra Pale Ale), a Brown Ale and an IPA (India Pale Ale). A bit later in the year we will be launching a pilsner as well.

What made you guys decide to come together on this venture?
Mick: Well, it was Bede’s idea!
Parko: Bede and Kerrzy had a bit of a drunken thought and then it progressed from there and Mick got involved.
Bede: I have always wanted to start a brewery but didn’t know where to start so I approached Kerrzy. Kerrzy and I sat down and starting talking about and how we could make it happen then we approached Mick and Joel. It wasn’t a  hard sell to ask if they wanted to start a brewery with us. Then we got Sean Ronan, Kerrzy’s neighbour to be our Operations Manager and help guide us through the whole process. Then we approached Stirling, Ant MacDonald and Scotty our head Brewer and Balter was born.
Mick: Yeah, then we got Joel involved and went from there, we sort of tried to get all our favourite people from the industry that we had worked with involved.
Parko: We jotted down a few names of the people that we thought would work right, and once we got certain people involved it started to snowball. Timing was hard to work out but it fell into place and here we are now, everyone gets along and it’s running really smooth.

So did you get the classic drunken text message at 2am saying let’s open a brewery?
Parko: They actually sat me down solo and laid it out to me!
Stirling: One of the cool things to is we have a criteria for anyone who works with the business which is they can have all the skills in the world and the whole package but if you wouldn’t sit down and have a beer with them, then they don’t get a start. I think that’s really helped us pick a neat little team.

What are your thoughts on Balter Brewery’s image? Are you happy to endorse the business as professional surfers or would you prefer more of an organic growth?
Mick: First and foremost it’s about making good beer, you can have all the hype in the world but if you don’t have a good beer in a brewery then no one’s going to come are they? So that’s pretty much it. With the team that we have it’s a whole bunch of friends that have come together and tried to create a company that we are all proud of. At the end of the day it’s all just about beer.

Kerrzy was involved in St. Archer Brewing Co. in the States. Did he have any noble advice for you guys?
Mick: We had those conversations and at the end of the day we didn’t want to copy anyone we wanted to do this our own way, we had a couple of conversations about it but we sort of took that off the table and said let’s do what we want to do. Because they had surfers and skaters and stuff like that people always sort of link us back to that. We love what they do, but this is sort of our own journey.
Stirling: I think what they have done is really cool. I think the big difference is they have involved surf, skate and snowboarding and use their ambassadors to market the brewery. Whereas our customers will be our ambassadors and the people who drink our beer. That’s what we believe in, we said that no one’s bigger than Balter and no one is bigger than the promise of making good beer.

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?
Stirling: Telstra and Energex.. haha
Parko: Finding this space, was one of the first spaces we looked at so we have been lucky in that respect.
Stirling: Basically when we got this place we walked up to a brewers and asked if you could build a perfect brewery what it is going to be like?  It’s like building a home from scratch. We drew it out and made it become a reality and then you have to get it all made, they are like surfboard shapers there was a bit of a delay but we got it in the end.
Parko: Azza’s probably had the most sleepless nights dealing with all of the piping and electrical work, every element and every aspect of it.

So who’s the head taster?
Parko: I think we are all head tasters!
Mick: Yeah, research nights are fun!
Bede: Joel is pretty bloody good at his job. Every time he comes to the brewery he likes to have a sample and keep Scotty on his toes haha!

Can you describe the steps from first imagining the company to having a beer in front of you?
Bede: Its been an amazing journey of the past 14 months. Countless meetings and chain emails. Lots of beer tasting nights from Scotty’s home brew system. It’s truly amazing though from going from an idea to a walking into your own brewery and having beer. Every time I walk in I have moment, smile and take it all in.
Stirling: It’s been the most insanely cool process there’s been a lot hard work gone into it but it’s  been rad nonetheless Mick called me in December 2014 with the idea saying “Do you want to come and do it” and I was like “Yeah, of course its beer” It’s just a no brainer. There was a lot of planning involved there’s forecasting and finding the head brewer which was always our main goal, it was easy to pull this team together because we all knew each other but the head brewer role was super important without that this fails. We looked long and hard for that and we found the best guy we could. It wasn’t till June last year till we moved in a deliberate nature to build this place and six months later we had a brewery. Azza Waters did an amazing job bringing this brewery together the fact that we are sitting here now talking to you drinking our beer thats about to go on the market is pretty mind-blowing. We are at the stoke level now, we are really pumped.

Why do you think people are finding these micro-breweries so appealing in relation to the standard beer company?
Stirling: Peoples tastes have just changed, beer used to mean one thing in the 70’s and 80’s it was quite one dimensional,  these days is far more than that, people want choice.
Mick: It’s like going to a fashion store people always want whatever is new, a lot of people are the same with drinking beer.
Parko: Not every day I’ll drink a Balter, but I’ll go and try something different because it’s a new experience.
Stirling: People have a broad range in the different types of wines they like the taste of and beer has such diversity. We are on the cusp of displaying that diversity to the world, you can have a beer that’s 2% alcohol and tastes amazing all the way through to a beer that you can age for 5 years there’s a lot of room to explore.

Will the Brewery be open to the public?
Stirling: Yeah, definitely, at the end of the day it’s just like a winery or cellar door, people can come here at this stage probably Thursday to Sunday and taste what we have on offer. We will get some food trucks in,  a bunch of good music and friends, it will  make for some good afternoons.

Will Balter be holding any weekly or monthly events?
Stirling: I think we will probably approach it in more of a pop- up style, we don’t want to get super stuck in a routine and we want to keep it spontaneous and fun.

I noticed a picture of John C. Reilly behind the bar, what was it like having him here?
Mick: John was all time, his son Arlo surfs and he wanted someone to go surfing with so we hung out and took him through the brewery. It was pretty special as it was the first time we used the main brewing kit, so I think it was a bit of a highlight for Scotty to have John C. Reilly sit there and check out his beer. John actually is a cider guy so he wanted to make a cider in here called Cider Reilly.

Where do you see the company in 10 Years?
Mick: Well we have come this far in 14 months but obviously we want to make a successful business but at the end of the day as long as everyone on the team is happy and everyone is enjoying the job that’s the main goal. Scotty is brewing amazing beer and that’s all we can ask for.

What is the Balter moto?
Mick: With enjoyment.

For more on Balter Brewing Co., check out their website here.

*All imagery by Chris Cooney