Time Out Melbourne

From grains to bottling, the Lord Nelson’s Andrew Robson keeps the barrels turning on their famous ales

How long have you been brewing?
The pub was established in 1841 but the brewery was opened in 1985; we had our 26thanniversary in September last year so we’re actually the oldest microbrewery in Australia. Originally we started off with the six mainstay beers – porter, old ale, British pale ale, Australian pale ale, English bitter and summer ale – and added the seasonal ones. We’ve kept the tradition of an all-ale brewery; we don’t brew any lagers. It’s always been like that and we’ll most likely be like that for the years to come. We’re also an all-natural brewery so we don’t filter our beers. We don’t add any sugars, there are no preservatives, all the sugars that are brewed derive from malted barley so it’s all natural.

How would you explain the beer spectrum, for people wanting to know more about craft beer?
It’s more or less distinguished by the colour and the hop. To begin with, you can tell your lighter beers from the colour – they’re very pale. You add roasted malts and crystal malts to achieve darker colours. There are multiple types of malts that you can use to achieve different colours. You can get orange, amber through to dark red and black. And that’s all determined by which malts you use in your recipe. For example, the Nelson’s Blood, our porter, has about six different types of other coloured malts in it. It’s almost black, but it’s got that really dark red thing to it as well.

The other thing that distinguishes beers is the hops. A lot of the American-style pale ales and also Australian-style pale ales have a floral, herbaceous edge to them. That’s determined by which country of origin you choose your hops from. If you want a specific taste in each beer, you have to use specific hops from a specific area. That goes for the yeast as well.

How did you get involved with Lord Nelson?
I’ve been the head brewer here for about six months now but I started off as the assistant brewer about five years ago. It’s one of the busiest breweries in Australia so I’m brewing about four times a week.

How did you get started?
My father was in the home-brewing industry. He owned a home-brewing warehouse and retail shop. I started working with him when I left school and that’s what got me into the industry. I had a few contacts from my time there and that’s how I got in here at the Lord Nelson.

What’s your favourite beer to brew?
It’s probably the Quayle [Summer Ale] because it’s the easiest. It’s sort of a European style – a very light, very sessionable, low-hops beer.

What makes it easy to brew?
It has the least amount of grain in it; it’s much easier to stir. Because we do everything by hand here, it does make a difference when you’re making a lot of beer.

What is the secret to the perfect beer?
Cleanliness is next to godliness in brewing, there’s no doubt about that. You’re never going to get a decent product out of a filthy brewery. You’re dealing with a live organism and so there is always the threat of other live organisms getting into it. You’ve got to make sure the only thing you’re allowing your beer to be exposed to is the yeast. It’s so easy to ruin a beer; it’s a helluva lot easier to do that than it is to make good beer.

So looking forward, what is next for Lord Nelson?
The demand for our beers is so great that there’s not really any room for anything extra. The problem we have here is that because it’s a heritage building, we can’t just expand. We can’t knock down walls or put new equipment in. Our number one priority is always going to be making sure we’re putting the beers out, which can sometimes be a bit of a handful, especially around Christmas. It just gets drunk way too quickly.

And what do you do then?
Cross our fingers and keep brewing to capacity every week, non-stop.

Updated on 20 Dec 2012.

By Aimee Ortiz   |  

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