Just over four years ago, Pirate life Brewing (PLB) burst onto the Australian scene. They took award after award on, not only the local scene, but also the international stage with their Aussie slant on their beers, creating beers that not only excited, but also challenged the palates of beer drinkers globally, whilst still working with the tastebuds back home.
The story starts in the bitter cold of Scotland’s Aberdeen, where two young West Australians, Jared (Red) Proudfoot and Jack Cameron, were honing their brewing skills working for the outstanding brewer, BrewDog. It was in that freezing climate that the seeds for their own adventurous business expedition were sown.
The lads decided to head back to Australia to get the ball rolling. Realising that their dream wasn’t going to happen overnight, it needed planning and funds, Jack took a job at Little Creatures continuing to learn techniques for creating beers for the Australian market, while Red helped create a beer and cider venture called Cheeky Monkey Brewery in Margaret River. It was the intervention of Jack’s dad – Michael Cameron, a long time hospitality veteran, also a former BrewDog employee, building their bar in Aberdeen – that finally got the lads on the path of setting up their own brewery in Adelaide.
Over a course of a year, Michael managed to raise enough funds from friends and family to create the brewery. They chose Adelaide as their base of operations as it’s an overnight delivery of their product to the East coast, or two days to Perth, keeping the product as fresh as possible. After searching through the suburbs they eventually found a giant shed in the northern suburb of Hindmarsh.
The team launched with the ability to create 17,000 litres of beer, with demand for their product being so great that they ramped production up to 485,000 litres in 2015/16. Late last year they took delivery of nine 5,000 litre fermenting tanks, and a massive 10,000 litre tank. As off 2017 the brewery was pushing out about 3 million litres a year, and struggling to keep up to demand. The team also installed a canning line because they are big believers in the old, unpretentious tinnie. In fact, their products are available exclusively in the tinned format, either 355mL, 500mL or in the larger, tinned keg format.
The days of the people looking down their nose at the tinnie are gone, the can is cheaper to produce, have a larger printable brand space, are lighter and cheaper to transport. They are also faster to chill, and have a better ability to limit the light and oxygen exposure than stubbies do.
Then late last year PLB made a move that left a lot of craft beer nerds shocked.
They sold to ABInBev, the world’s largest brewer, and colloquially known in Australia as CUB, the team behind Matilda Bay, Great Northern, VB and of course the Carlton range of beers. PLB isn’t the first craft brewery to sell to the larger corporations and they won’t be the last, the craft beer industry in Australia is worth an estimated $740 million annually and is growing around 15 per cent to 20 per cent per annum outstripping mainstream beer sales, which are going backwards, presenting big headaches for CUB and Lion.
My 5cents worth on this is that I think it’s a cycle of business life, and as long as the beer increases in quality and availability while staying at or decreasing in price, due to the purchasers’ market strength and distribution, then I’m happy. In this situation it means that PLB have increased their capacity to 8million litres, and we now see the beers in more bottleshops and at CUB sponsored events. My local bottleshop now has the full core Pirate Life’s range at very decent prices.
A couple to try this summer:
Pirate Life Brewing Mosaic – with the sale to ABInBev the sight of PLB’s Mosaic is becoming a more common on the shelves of the bottleshops. Made exclusively with the mosaic hop, it shows its unique array of flavours with aplomb: juicy mandarin, a touch of candied orange peel, grassy green notes and some unripe, but not tart berries. Bitterness has been kept low to let the hop shine.
Pirate Life Brewing Pale Ale – American West Coast styled Pale ale here, bucket loads of hops, malty backbone and some interesting yeast notes. Woody and dusty malt notes, tropical fruit driven hop notes, soft carbonation gives a medium bodied beer with medium bitterness. Not cheap but it’s worth grabbing a few for the weekend.
Pirate Life Brewing IPA – delivers everything you would expect from the PLB lads, heaps of hops, full bodied malts and a well-balanced bitterness. It’s quite malt driven, herbal, resin and earthy, flavours of tropicals with pear and apple, caramels and some light biscuity notes. A great take on the American styled IPA.
Pirate Life Brewing IIPA – the heaviest beer in the range deserves the biggest tin in the range, a full half litre of beery goodness. It’s very, very hop driven, which will be off-putting to those non-hop heads out there. Pungent hoppy notes of dank resin, juicy tropical fruits, massive hits of pine and citrus. Light gentle caramels and biscuity malts. I loved this beer.