We catch up with Black Hops owners Eddie Oldfield, Dan Norris and Michael McGovern (Govs) to get the story on how they came to be one of the hottest breweries on the Gold Coast, without even having opened the doors to their brewery yet.
How did you three meet?
Eddie: Dan and I used to work together 10-12 years ago at Queensland Rail in Brisbane. We’ve been best mates for a long, long time.
Govs: I was working at Burleigh Brewing where Eddie’s wife worked as well, so that’s how I met Eddie and I met Dan though him. I think we’ve known each other 4 or 5 years now.
What events led you to start wanting to make your own brews?
Govs: It was secretly all of our dreams to open a brewery. I was working at Fortitude Brewery after I left Burleigh Brewery and Dan and Eddie came up one weekend to have a beer and as we were sitting around, Eddie mentioned he wanted to brew an eggnog stout. It was a recipe that he had come up with in his head; I thought it sounded really cool.
Eddie: And I didn’t know how to brew beer, hahaha.
Dan: Yeah he had been talking about it for years and years. He even told someone else to brew it.
Eddie: Yeah and they didn’t!
Govs: But I had built a little home brew system at my house, so I was keen to test it out and since Eddie had the recipe, I thought, awesome let’s come back in two weeks and actually make it. So we did, and that’s kinda how Black Hops started.
Before we had even finished brewing it, Dan had gotten on the computer and started working on logos and on the website. At that time, we had no aspirations to start a brewery, we were just having fun, it was a cool little project. From there, it snowballed into a business idea. It was so natural for us that I’m not even sure we realised it was happening, before we knew it we were planning on opening a brewery.
What steps did you take to get started? Can you tell me about the crowd funding?
Eddie: Yes, but that’s actually fast-forwarding a bit. We had the brew, we had the labels and we gave them to friends and put photos on Instagram; people thought we were the real thing.
Dan: We sent photos to bloggers and stuff like that.
Eddie: Yeah we were getting posted about on beer news sites.
Dan: It looked pretty legit. We had labels made and sent it to people in a brown paper bag.
Eddie: It was crazy, people were writing stories about us just from doing that.
So naturally people were like ‘where can we get that’ so we were like oh shit, we’re going to have to find a way to get this out. We arranged to brew it from a contact or sometimes called gypsy brewery, which is a brewery that has an empty fermenter that they allow you to come in and use. That’s how we’ve brewed all our beer so far.
Govs: When we were figuring how to get the beer to people, it was still just a hobby for us, we were all still working full-time, but we went out and got our license to brew. At the time we still hadn't decided to open a brewery, but we loved it so much we wanted to do it again. It was hard though because it’s hard to find space in other breweries to brew your beer. We were looking at breweries all around Australia and thought about going down to Melbourne because it was the only place we could find with availability. That’s where the idea to make our own brewery came along. We thought if we can’t find available tank space, we’ll make our own. That led to us needing to find the funds to start a brewery, it’s not a cheap venture. We looked into crowd funding initially, but found it wasn't really suitable.
Dan: We needed too much money and knew we would never raise it all. So we went down the path of finding investors and once we did that we thought we had enough money but we didn’t. That’s when crowd funding came in.
Do you think you had a fast start, or did it take a while for Black Hops to catch on in the local consumer market?
Dan: It’s all been fast until the last month. Now we are just waiting.
What are you waiting for?
Eddie: Hot water (laughs). We are waiting on the broiler to be turned on.
What does Black Hops mean?
Govs: Good question.
Eddie: At the time when we came up with it, it didn't really mean anything, it was just a cool name.
Dan: Eddie suggested a thousand names and 99% of them were shit, but then he came up with Black Hops, which ended up being the best one.
Eddie: Surprisingly it had not been done. There isn't a single other Black Hops in the world.
Govs: We spend a lot of time on Slack spitballing ideas 24/7 and most of them were rubbish but then Black Hops came up. After throwing it around for a few weeks, the name kinda stuck. The more we thought about what we were doing, the more we thought it was an ironic fit. Black Hops plays off of Black Ops (a secret operation) which was the exact opposite of what we were doing. We documented our every move and put it on social media and our blog. It was cool, the irony.
What are each of your roles in the business?
Dan: They do all the work, I get all the credit (laughs).
Govs: Fundamentally we are trying to start this business so the tasks at hand are all communal. It’s important that we are all involved. Slowly as we get closer and closer to operating, we are all starting to mould into our roles. I’ll be doing the brewing, so my focus will be production.
Dan: Eddie and Govs will be full-time but I’ll be part-time because I’ve got other businesses too. We are all involved in everything like Govs said, but I think I’ll be focusing on online marketing and branding.
Eddie: I’ll be selling, serving beers, helping Govs out.
At what point did you feel Black Hops beer was starting to be well received?
Dan: Straight away, literally the day we tasted it.
Govs: We’ve been lucky to get going at an interesting time. There is so much happening with social media and there is such a craft beer boom. But it was really when we started hearing back from the businesses. They were selling out straight away, so that was a good indicator for us.
Dan: Well before that, with the egg nog, Eddie knew a bunch of bar owners and they were all asking for it. We virtually sold it before we even brewed the next batch. That was validation.
We know you wanted to open a brewery due to lack of space at gypsy breweries, but were there any other reasons?
Eddie: We were tired of waiting, specifically because we were trying to build a brand. It was incredibly frustrating having to wait months for something to open.
Govs: And there is such a craft beer boom happening in Australia right now and most guys are pretty busy, so waiting for a free fermentor can take ages.
Dan: That was part of it, but it was also something that we envisioned for the Gold Coast. It was only a matter of time before something like this popped up, so we thought it should be us.
What has been the biggest challenge since opening the brewery?
Govs: The location. If we were in a more industrial area we would be open by now.
Why is that a challenge?
Govs: Licensing and we have to take into consideration our neighbours. The zoning on the property wasn't 100% fit for a brewery. It’s semi-industrial, so it’s fit for a brewery, but you have to apply for a permit. It’s a valid application, but it’s quite a lengthy process. We knew this going into it, but were willing to deal with it because of the location. We wanted to be 100 metres from the beach.
What have you learned from that challenge?
Dan: I think we could have done it in a more compressed timeframe.
Govs: Agreed, project management and making sure everything is happening the moment it can and making sure it’s happening in the right order.
Eddie: Next time around, I definitely think we will be able to do it more smoothly.
Dan: I think some of the stuff was unpredictable though. It’s hard to plan for unexpected wait times, but in hindsight it’s all worked out fine.
What are your hopes for the new brewery?
Dan: Get some customers and to give the Gold Coast a taste of our beer.
Govs: Getting to know the locals and really becoming a part of the Gold Coast community. We want people to feel like this is their local beer and local brewery. We imagine people getting up in the morning, going for a swim or a surf and then stopping in here for a beer and to pick up a six-pack. We want to become part of the lifestyle.
On average how many gross tasting beers do you make before you make a hit?
Govs: For us, we haven't put out a beer that we aren't happy with. We haven't dumped any beer down the drain…yet. Beers always take years to develop, but so far I am happy with everything we've made.
What was the most original brew you have made?
Govs: We want to make sure everything we do is unique, but the most crazy was the Oysters Kilpatrick. It was an oyster stout, which is actually quite traditional, but we took it a step further.
We boiled the oysters in the kettle which gave the briny flavour and for the Kilpatrick part we used smoked barley, Worcestershire sauce, smoked tamarind, clove, pepper, molasses and lemon rind.
It was really a beautiful beer. I know it sounds crazy but I think it really is quite classy.
Which brew is your bestseller?
Eddie: Beach House saison. It’s not an unusual beer, but we do make it a bit differently than everyone else.
Govs: It’s a really traditional style, but we’ve given it a Gold Coast edge, and people seem to really like it. We haven't really had an opportunity to push our range out, but we’ve brewed the most Beach House, so that speaks for it’s self.
Craft beer is very on trend. Why do you think there is such a beer buzz right now and do you think it will last?
Govs: It’s not just in beer, it’s in food too, we’re going away from that industrial mass produced lifestyle. People want local and fresh, they are interested to know where their food comes from and what’s in it. It’s the same with beer. I think it’s a lifestyle change and I’m not sure people will want to go back to mass produced.
What are your thoughts on the Gold Coast beer scene?
Eddie: It’s awesome, it’s a really fun place to be at the moment. A couple of years ago, the Gold Coast lacked a real scene. Now all the bars are putting on good beer, and people are seeking it out. Even surf clubs and dodgy bars in Mudgeeraba are serving craft beer.
Who do you idolise in the beer industry?
Eddie: I think anyone that’s got the balls to do it really (laughs).
When are you open and is the brewery open to the public?
Govs: It will be open to the public but we aren't going to announce a date until we are 100% certain we are ready.
Do you serve anything besides beer?
Dan: Just beer, maybe a cider in the future.
What are the plans for the future?
Govs: We are always looking at what’s next for Black Hops. Expansion eventually, but we haven't made any decisions as of yet.
Where is your favourite local venue to grab a beer?
Govs: Ze Pickle. They were one of the first bars on the Gold Coast serving craft beer. They have beers from all over Australia and were serving them well before people were comfortable paying more money for a craft beer. They were fully committed and never budged, I think they took craft beer to a new level on the Coast.
Favourite Gold Coast restaurant for dinner?
Dan: Bonita Bonita, it’s awesome, so good!
Favourite Gold Coast outdoorsy spot?
Govs: Burleigh Point. It’s always been somewhere that’s magical for me.
For more information on Black Hops Brewery and the guys, head to their website!
By Marleigh Kelly