A Quiet Beer with Brad Rogers

Brad Rogers
Chief Brewer, Matilda Bay Brewery, 2007

Brad Rogers - ‘Malt, Hops and Water Guy’

Q. You are the Chief Brewer of Matilda Bay Brewery, which we see as the craft branch of our largest brewery - Fosters. This makes you an important man in craft brewing in Australia. Tell us, how did you score the gig? Is it true that you came from wine to beer? Surely you had to do a beer "apprenticeship" first.

A. It sounds cliché but I always wanted to be a brewer. When I wanted to study Brewing there were no formal brewing degrees, so I did the next best thing and studied Oenology, or winemaking, out of the prestigious Roseworthy College in Adelaide. After the ‘94 vintage my obsession with beer finally got the better of me and I began work CUB’s Kent brewery in Sydney – I suppose you could say that was where I began my official beer apprenticeship. I was appointed to the Carlton Brewery in Fiji, running a brewery in paradise. My dream job came up in 2003, when I joined craft brewer Matilda Bay Brewing Co.

Q. To our mind, your Redback wheat beer remains Matilda Bay's most interesting offering. It was also one of the first craft beers to make inroads in Australia's lager dominated market after its introduction in 1986. A couple of questions. Why did Matilda Bay encourage people to drink it with lemon? As recently as a couple of years ago I had to turn a slice of lime down when I purchased a Redback in Sydney. To our mind lime in a beer is always a bad thing, unless it is a bad beer, or you don't like the taste of beer, in which case the taste of lime is preferable. Secondly, is it true that Matilda Bay "dumbed down" Redback at some stage in the 90s to increase its appeal, and that you have brought it back to something approaching its original style? Some wag in the Age newspaper even complained that Redback had started tasting like VB before you did this.

A. Redback Original is certainly an interesting beer and it’s good to hear you guys enjoy it as much as I do. The lemon in Redback is actually a southern German tradition (the home of the great wheat beers that Redback was modelled on), where sometimes in the really hot summers they serve their wheat beers with a slice of lemon, and sometimes even on ice in the same way we would serve Gin & Tonic. It’s there to add a bit of acidity and increase its crispness, making it even more refreshing. Some people like the idea, others don’t. The decision to add a slice of lemon is up to the individual drinker and even depends on the occasion. For me – it’s no lemon.

The Redback brew has remained the same over time, however over time some of the processes in the brewery had altered to fit in with other things going on in the brewery. The great thing about brewing is that you are always learning something, and a number of years ago we worked out that some small things that were changed in isolation had no impact, however when these were combined over time there was the smallest of differences. With wheat beer in particular the smallest things, like the shape or size of the tank that it’s fermented in can have an impact. So we went through and made some process changes that just improved what was already a very good beer. We’ve recently been well rewarded for the quality of the beer with a bunch of awards, including Best in Class Trophies awarded at both the Australian and New Zealand International Beer Awards this year.

Q. We were pleased to see your Bohemian Pilsner take out the "Best Lager" award last year at the Australian International Beer Awards, as you have obviously gone to great lengths to reproduce the true, crisp bite and floral aroma in the original Pilsner style. And yet Toohey's New took out the award the following year. For all of its virtues, we aren't of the view that Toohey's New (or VB or Fourex for that matter) is in the original Pilsner style in the same way the Bohemian Pilsner or James Squire Pilsner are. Why did you (and every other lager in the world, presumably) lose to Toohey's New that year do you think? Also, how long is the Bohemian Pilsner lagered for?

The Best Lager at the AIBA is an award we were especially proud to win. The Toohey’s New win was a surprise to a lot of people in the beer world. I wasn’t judging on that panel so don’t blame me! At a blind competition, each beer will be judged slightly differently and often it can be a complete surprise which beer you rated highly and which beer not so. Toohey’s New obviously showed very well in 2006. I guess that’s the beauty of those types of competitions.

Q. We have watched the launch and success of your Rooftop red lager with great interest. Fifteen years ago it was a scandal to buy a lager from another state, let alone an 1841 lager brewed in Vienna that some say was the precursor to the 1842 Pilsner. And yet now we have 3 Vienna style lagers to chose from (being Rooftop, Hahn Vienna Red, and Redoak's offering). This is, by all accounts, three more than is available in Vienna these days. Tell us, why do the malts give the lager that red colour? We can understand the crisp Pilsner look with lightly dried barley, and the dark roasted look of, say, Dogbolter, but how does the red come through? It is only a particular style of barley that can be malted this way, or is it just in the malting?

A. Rooftop gets its colour from the malts we add. We source the very best from around the world. The 2 that give us this rusty red colour are called Carared and Melanoiden. These are specific barleys, grown and malted in the north of Germany in Bamburg. Another barley we use from the same region is called the Caramunich malts, which are slightly toasted and also add flavour to our Rooftop. Interestingly these barleys also add an enormous amount of aroma and flavour to Rooftop.



Q. Matilda Bay is the only brewery we know of in Australia that has the little bit of paper from the bottle to the top of the beer cap. Presumably in yesteryear this served the purpose of a wax seal on a letter - you knew you were the first in the bottle so to speak. Why have you retained this. Is it to help get people thinking about the beer, rather than just having one?

A. This “tax strip” has been a feature of Matilda Bay’s Redback Original since very early on. The seal is part of the Redback tradition and if it gets people thinking differently about our beers – even just slightly then that’s great.

Q. Beez Neez is one of the few honey beers available in Australia. Redoak also does an excellent honey beer, but there is much less of an obvious honey flavour in their beer when compared to Beez Neez. Do you add honey both early and late in the brewing process, with the early honey added for fermentation along with the wort and the late honey added for the obvious honey taste and aroma? Why isn't the late honey also fermented? Is it added after the yeast is killed or filtered? Are all honey sugars fermentable?

A. Beez Neez is a unique honey wheat beer, brewed with a blend of premium pale malted barley and malted wheats. Pure light amber honey is then added into the kettle giving it a light golden colour and a malty honey palate and aroma. We only add the honey once, being at the end of the boiling process in the Brewhouse. There is no other addition of honey. The nice thing about honey is that the sugar content is nearly all fermented out, leaving the delicate aromas and flavours of honey without the sweetness. Remember it’s a beer with honey, not a honey – beer, although we do add a lot of honey – about 1/3 of the recipe!

You guys might be interested to know Beez Neez recently won the award for ‘Best Craft Beer’ at the Australian Liquor Industry Awards in late 2006. The ALIA award is recognition from the industry for all the work that we have been putting in to increase awareness of craft beer in Australia.

Since its launch, Beez Neez has been warmly received, by both established craft beer followers and drinkers who are new to the category.

Q. You mention on the Matilda Bay website that Dogbolter, your dark famous lager, is now part of the "brewers reserve", and that you have changed the way it is brewed to restore it to its former glory. Is this the case and if so how has it changed?

A. What we did with the Dog was to go back and talk to the original brewers of the brew. Get an idea of what they were doing. Then using today’s barleys, yeast and hops, put together a beer that is very close to the Dog of yesterday. We add 6 different barleys and wheats, including some Chocolate Barley and Chocolate Wheat. We’ve been pleased to see that many people have been saying that it’s tasting great these days.

Q. How does being owned by Fosters affect the way you brew beer? Presumably access to the distribution network is a major advantage, but is there a need to balance your interest in true beer styles with the developing taste of the average beer consumer? Presumably a taste a brewer or beer expert might find interesting might be too challenging to a lot of the market.

A. To be honest Matilda Bay pretty much runs as an independent arm of Foster’s. We are given plenty of freedom to create all sorts of beers styles and flavours and we are actually encouraged to do things differently. We create some beers that challenge craft beer enthusiasts and we create some beers that are more ‘welcoming’ to people who are new to the craft beer market. Like the beers themselves, it’s all about “balance”.

Q. One other consequence of Matilda Bay being owned by Fosters is presumably that a large volume of beer has to be brewed. How do you maintain consistency across the Fosters/CUB breweries that brew your major brands nationally?

Our beers are brewed at the main brewery in Fremantle and The Garage Brewery in Melbourne. I spend the majority of my time in The Garage however I do get across to WA as often as possible to check how things are going over in the west, so I’m able to keep a close eye on quality.

Q. Finally, what's next for Matilda Bay? Any beers being developed in the Reserve Range we should know about?

The news hot off the press from Matilda Bay is the launch of Grayston Reserve 07, our second very limited release vintage beer, succeeding MB21, which was hand-crafted in celebration of Matilda Bay’s 21st birthday back in 2005. Grayston Reserve is a strong dark wheat beer brewed with five different malts and a single noble hop – Hersbrucker.

Grayston Reserve is unfiltered and unpasteurised and all natural, so it is still has some live yeast in the bottle. The yeast will help it to age, so we recommend that you get hold of a few bottles, drink some now and cellar some for a few years and watch it develop.

Redback Cristal is another recent release that we launched towards the end of 2006. Redback Cristal is created using the same grain recipe as Redback Original (50:50 wheat and barley) however it is brewed as a lager, (note that this is the key difference from Redback Original which is brewed as an ale). Redback Cristal is just as light and refreshing, but doesn’t have the spicy yeast flavour so distinctive of Matilda Bay’s original wheat beer. Cristal’s fresh, easy drinking style will appeal to people who perhaps haven’t tasted wheat beers before, as well as those wheat beer enthusiasts who are willing to try something new.

AustralianBeers.com would like to thank Brad for giving us the good oil on Australia's oldest microbrewery.

Brad watching over his brews...



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