The Courier-Mail

SECRET BEER BUSINESS

RORY GIBSON

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The phone rang. It was Chuck Hahn, brewing guru.

“I hear you’re coming down to Sydney tomorrow. If you’ve got time, pop into the brewery and I’ll shout you a beer,” he says.

Hahn is a relentless­ly cheerful man and a major figure in Australia’s beer industry. You can learn more about beer while having a chat over a couple of schooners with him than you can in 10 brewery tours.

I didn’t need to be asked twice. The brewery he referred to was the Malt Shovel Brewery in Camperdown. It started life as the Hahn brewery in the ’80s, making Hahn’s eponymous Premium Lager, the first beer to challenge the strangleho­ld CUB’s Crown Lager had on the premium beer market.

His success as an independen­t brewer led to an offer he couldn’t refuse, which is how he ended up at Lion. After a stint as chief brewer, he yearned to get back to getting his hands dirty creating new beers and talked his employer into starting the James Squire range of beers that have done much to drive interest in beer diversity in Australia’s fragmentin­g market.

Lion let Hahn loose in his old workshop, which was renamed the Malt Shovel Brewery and this is where many of the James Squire beers are produced.

These days, Hahn lets others do the heavy lifting in the brewery and mentors MSB’s young brewers when not travelling the country talking up the Squire range.

So I’ve turned up for the promised beer – it never gets any better than drinking it fresh in the factory – and stumbled on their secret project. Inside, there’s a small bar with five taps and I was very happy to see that one of them indicated that if the lever was pressed, the excellent limited-release cherry porter would come out. I was about to ask for it when I saw the last tap, which instead of a decal had a little slate with the words “Project Knave” handwritte­n in chalk.

“Tell us what you think of this,” Chris Sheehan, MSB’s head brewer, says as he hands me a glass of whatever Project Knave was.

It was a summer ale prototype using a blend of wheat and barley malt, light golden in colour and nicely hopped. It tasted great to me, but then what would I know?

“It’s a bit thin,” Hahn says. “Try dropping the wheat down to 15 per cent.”

Yeah, what he said. I had to stop liking it immediatel­y and fret about the high wheat malt content. What were they thinking?

When they have it tasting to their satisfacti­on, Knave will take the place of Sundowner ale, which has been a disappoint­ment in sales terms. But it will be a while yet. It needs to put on some weight first. rorcuss@gmail.com

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