When I first started drinking craft beer about eight years ago, there was one beer in particular in those early days that stood out for me. It was a dark, rich porter with a lovely chocolate malt nose, a velvety, rich chocolate mocha flavour that coated my mouth and tongue that finished with a lingering chocolatey sensation.
That beer was the Holgate Temptress Chocolate Porter, and even though I’ve had some amazing beers since then, I’ll never forget how that first bottle of Temptress, well, tempted me to try even more craft beers, just to see what other amazing flavours I could get.
So when I heard the founder of Holgate Brewhouse himself, Paul Holgate, was coming to Paus Craft Beer Bar in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, to conduct a tasting of his beers, I immediately reached out for an interview.
Considered one of the pioneers of the Australian craft beer industry, the Holgate Brewhouse is a family-owned brewery founded in 1999. Paul and Natasha Holgate started Holgate Brewhouse in their backyard in the village of Woodend, just outside Melbourne.
The idea of starting a brewery first occurred to the Holgates in 1997 when they were on holiday in the United States.
“We saw many small brewers starting up there, and thought to ourselves, ‘hey, we can do this too!’. These tiny breweries were owned by ordinary people with no money and just having a go, just like us!” Holgate recalled.
“We were brewing out of our garage, had two little babies, and I still had a day job at the time, so it was a pretty crazy time!”
Now, Holgate Brewhouse has grown into a full-blown brewing and hospitality business that employs about 40 people.
Before starting his own brewery, Holgate was already a home brewer.
“I was a science graduate and always loved to cook or bake things in the kitchen. When I was a teenager I used to make bread, or ginger ale, so I was naturally drawn towards brewing my own beer,” he said.
“When I started brewing, the beers I was trying to brew were non-mainstream beers, European traditional beers like British ales, German wheat beers. Then as my palate expanded, I went into hoppy beers as well.”
The first beers he produced was an English ESB (extra special bitter) and a German wheat.
“My parents were from England originally, so I wanted to brew an English style ale. Back in those days, we were not trying to brew a mass market beer to suit everybody. We just brewed beers we wanted to drink ourselves, to prove that we could do it commercially before taking the next step,” he said.
Holgate also has three beers that focus on Australian ingredients in particular. “Don’t get me wrong, I love brewing using American hops and I also make a German lager with Czech hops, but I also want to promote Australian raw materials, to give that essence of providence,” Holgate explained.
Holgate currently has three beers that use solely Australian malts and hops: the Mt Macedon Pale Ale (4.5% ABV), an “easy drinking pale ale”; the Alpha Crucis XPA (5.5% ABV), or “extra pale ale”; and the Norton Lager (4.3% ABV), a Munich-style helles (or pale) lager.
Guests at the tasting got to taste all three, as well as the Hop Tart Semi-Sour Pale Ale (4.5% ABV), a nice refreshing ale that serves as a decent introduction to sour beers for beginners; the Road Trip IPA (5.8%), which is also a sessionable IPA (India pale ale) for those not used to the bitter hoppiness of some IPAs; and of course, the Temptress Chocolate Porter (6% ABV), porter infused with Dutch cocoa and whole vanilla beans.
According to Holgate, it’s good to see the vibrancy of Australian craft beer these days. Back when he started, craft beer would have amounted to less than 1% of the total beer market in Australia. “Now, we’re probably about 3% … more, if you include the bigger corporate ones like Little Creatures,” he said.
“In America it’s probably about 12-15%, so we do still have a long way to go. Still, it’s getting crowded out there, with more and more brands coming up.
“For us, everything has to be about balance. Even if it’s a big hoppy beer, it’s got to have balance. That is part of the Australian brewing scene, where there is a place for well-done, sessionable, well-balanced beers as well.”
Paul reckons craft beer should be enjoyed by everybody, not just a specific type of beer drinker. “Our business mantra is to be creative and innovative, and we’ve got a broad range of beers because we want to educate everybody about craft beer. If people can appreciate good coffee or good wines, they can also appreciate good beer.
“Sometimes I don’t even want to use the word ‘craft beer’. I prefer to call it ‘good beer’!” he said with a laugh.