The Little Brewing Company

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They say ‘a Little beer is good’, but as Kylie and Warwick Little are finding out it’s A LOT of beer that’s needed. As the medal hauls and demand for Port’s The Little Brewing Company’s beer keep pouring in, proprietors Kylie and Warwick turn to the locals who have supported them to say thanks and are looking at ways to keep up  with production. They fill us in with the recent awards, and what’s in store for them this year.

> Congratulations! Five of The Little Brewing Company beers were entered in the 2010 Australian International Beer Awards (AIBAs), and all brought home a medal. Give us a run down on what the competition was like.

This is an international competition – the largest annual beer awards in the world. This year 234 breweries from 40 countries submitted a total of 1,170 entries in bottle and keg.

We entered five beers – the three Wicked Elves and two Mad Abbots – across eight categories and came away with seven medals – one gold, five silver and one bronze.

I think it was a relatively tough competition this year, as international breweries took home 11 of the 15 trophies awarded. The Champion Small Brewery went to Nøgne Ø – Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri from Grimstad, Norway and the Champion Large Brewery went to Weihenstephan Brewery from Friesing, Germany. The Norwegian brewery was champion exhibitor, with two gold and two silver medals from four beers entered.

The AIBAs are now recognised on a global stage as the pre-eminent showcase for premium beer and brewing excellence in the Asia Pacific region. According to the show’s head judge, the international dominance this year did not come as a surprise to the judges, who have noticed that more and more high calibre international entries are being received each year.

> What categories did The Little Brewing Company win its medals in?

Gold went to the draught Wicked Elf Pale Ale. There were only two gold medals awarded for draught American Pale Ale, and only one for bottle.

To enter you must be commercially available at the time of the judging and the awards ceremony. Our Pale Ale is on tap at two places in Port Macquarie – the Port Macquarie Golf Club and SSS BBQ Barns Port Macquarie. We’ve had these taps since not long after we started, and they have now garnered us two silver and one gold medal for the draught product in three successive AIBAs. In essence, we could not have achieved this without the faith the Golf Club and SSS BBQ Barns have placed in us.

The draught Wicked Elf Witbier was the number one draught Witbier in the competition with its silver medal. This is the first time we’ve entered the draught product, as it is now permanently on tap at venues in Sydney. Only two medals were awarded for bottle Witbier, and we received a bronze behind the silver of a brewery from Belgium (where this beer style originated centuries ago).

The Mad Abbot Dubbel and Mad Abbot Tripel received silver medals in their first ever AIBA showings in a category that was dominated by international breweries – mostly Belgian artisan brewers. Some of these styles also originated centuries ago, so we had some stiff competition from breweries that have been making these styles for many years.

The ‘Consistency Award’ has to go to our Wicked Elf Pilsner. It has never dropped a silver medal in three successive AIBAs. Two this year for draught and bottle, two last year for draught and bottle, and one the first year for bottle (we didn’t enter the draught category).

I’m not sure what we have to do to crack a gold medal in this competition, but were buoyed this year by the fact that only one gold medal was awarded in this category and to an Australian brewery. The lager and pilsner sections of the AIBAs are the most hotly contested in sheer number and standard of entries (mostly European brands).

> You have been looking forward to this year’s AIBAs. Did you have expectations that particular beers would get medals, and did it turn out the way you predicted?

This was our third AIBAs, and we’ve been building our results nicely each year with the addition of new beers and the ability to enter draught as well as bottle product.

You go into these competitions with the hope that you might go one better than the last time and with the expectation that the last thing you want to do is drop the bundle on the previous year’s achievements. We’ve built our brand on consistent high quality, and the results we’ve achieved in national and international competitions, as judged by our peers, points to consistency with our quality.

We achieved such amazing results at the 2010 Sydney Royal Beer Competition earlier this year that we hoped we might do as well at the AIBAs. The results at the AIBAs almost mirrored Sydney, but the gold medal went to a different beer and we went one better with silver.

> You say the key to a good beer is consistency; how do you achieve that?

I can’t exactly answer this, as it would be giving away some secrets.

A ‘good’ beer to us is one that has flavour and aroma, is carbonated correctly, has a decent head on it, holds its ‘lace’ as you empty the glass (not the bottle), is not full of chemicals to preserve it, and contains no bacteria or oxygen. To make a good beer like this you need quality ingredients, plenty of ingredients, and uncompromising production processes and standards.

Mad Abbot Tripel

Mad Abbot Dubbel and Tripel

> You are now pushing capacity with the six tanks you have. How do you plan to expand and keep up with demand while still maintaining your focus on quality?

Basically, we are now at capacity, and when you consider that it is coming into winter, with the busy spring and summer months ahead, we can only assume that we will run out of beer at some point in time. Obviously, we do not want to do this and there are several options we can pursue to meet the expected increase in demand. The simplest and most logical is to increase tank space, automate the brewery as much as we can and, therefore, work as efficiently as possible (and no doubt longer hours). The key is to at no time let the quality of the product suffer due to supply and time constraints. Quality assurance of our products is paramount and is our number one concern – this will not change.

> Who stocks your beer, and who has it on tap?

Taps are a rarity given the hold the major breweries have on taps in establishments, and we simply can’t provide the incentives to compete with the major breweries. We rely on establishments that don’t have any formal contract with a major brewery, or who appreciate what we produce and give us a go on one of their non-contracted taps.

We would have liked a little more support locally on this front. We are talking about beers that are consistent top performers and which are experiencing growing demand. As mentioned previously, the Wicked Elf Pale Ale is on tap locally at the Port Macquarie Golf Club and SSS BBQ Barns Port Macquarie. These are our only taps in the region, although we do serve a tasting of all our Wicked Elf beers on draught at the brewery.

Our bottle product is more widely available in the local region than our draught product, but is still not as widely available as it could be. We receive great support from small bottleshops and restaurants, many of whom have been with us since we launched.

If I start to mention them all here, I’d run the risk of leaving someone out, so the best thing is for your readers to ask the next time they pop out for a drink or are dining at one of our local restaurants, or to contact the brewery.

> The Mad Abbot range has been extremely popular. Tell us about why people are so excited by them.

The Mad Abbots have been ‘limited release’ beers, because we can’t produce them all the time and also satisfy demand for the Wicked Elf range. We’ve been able to test the market for the Abbots, and the market is saying it wants them available on a more regular basis.

The Mad Abbots are a range of Belgian style Abbey ales. Their recipes originated centuries ago in the Trappist monasteries of Belgium. We can’t call them Trappist Ales, because we are not a monastery, so we refer to them as Abbey Ales. They are stronger in alcohol than most beers, which I think is part of their appeal, but you drink them like wine and they exhibit amazing complexities of aroma and flavour to be savoured, not quaffed.

To date, we’ve released a Dubbel at 6.9% ABV, a Strong Abbey Ale at 8.0% ABV, and a Tripel at 9.5% ABV. Early June will see the second ‘cellar’ release of the gold and silver medal winning Mad Abbot Tripel. Another release of the Dubbel is in the wings and should be out in two to three months, depending on how the maturation develops in our brewery cellar.

> What are you working on next?

A holiday would be nice! Seriously, staying on our feet and coping with demand are our top priorities.

What we’re looking forward to is our participation in the Tastings of the Hastings festival this year. Picture an evening of white tablecloths and candelabras among the cooling tanks, canapés to match the beers served, and an introduction to beer the like of which you may never have experienced before.

We are lucky enough to have secured for this event Australia’s First Lady of Beer, The Beer Diva, and together with Silverspoon Catering & Events hope to stimulate the tastebuds of the audience and change their perceptions about beer forever!

> Thank you Warwick.

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