Q & A With Australian Brewery Mountain Goat Beer: Surfboards as Collateral + The Influence of American Craft Beer
At the Brewery
Mountain Goat Beer
Australia doesn't just produce enviable beer commercials, as we learned last week, they produce beer equally worthy of our interest. One such brewery, Mountain Goat Beer of Melbourne, Australia, is kicking off a launch party for extended distribution at Rock & Brews in El Segundo tonight, and Congregation Ale House in Long Beach on Thursday.
Available in California is their flagship beer Hightail Ale, an English-inspired amber, and a Pale Ale brewed with Australian hops. In a collaboration that garnered them international prestige, they partnered with nomadic microbrewery Mikkeller to produce Mountain Goat's Cross Breed: Gypsy & the Goat Black Pepperberry IPA.
Co-owners Cam Hines and Dave Bonighton began as amateur homebrewers in the early '90s before setting out to try to persuade banks that a few surfboards and mountain bikes were enough collateral for a loan. They barely squeaked by with the bank and had the help of friends and family to get Hightail Ale to Australian drinkers in 1997. Their beers are available at over 80 bars in Melbourne -- and very soon, Los Angeles.
We picked the brain of brewmaster Dave Bonighton, just before he boarded a plane to the States for this week's events.
At the Brewery
Mountain Goat Beer
Squid Ink: Tell us about your flagship beers.
Dave Bonighton: The Hightail Ale is a rich, malt-driven amber ale -- think toffee and caramel -- that finishes with a subtle hit of tropical hop spiciness (6.8% abv, 35BU). The Australian Pale Ale is one where we show off our Aussie Hops -- Tasmanian Galaxy to be precise. It's copper-color and eminently drinkable (6.2% abv, 55BU).
SI: What differentiates Mountain Goat from other Australian breweries?
DB: We're a small brewery run by by two former homebrewers who, for 15 years, have been making the kinds of beers that we like to drink. Most breweries brew to a formula, something born in a focus group or in a marketing team meeting. We come up with our ideas at the bar.
SI: Why are you expanding to L.A.?
DB: The U.S. craft beer scene was an inspiration for us to start this brewery -- it just seems natural to go back to the source and become part of the place that started it all.
SI: Do you have concerns about quality control or not being able to experiment as much because of the focus on expansion?
DB: No, we'll always make sure there's room and time enough for experimentation; it's what gets us up in the mornings. I can't imagine owning a brewery I couldn't make interesting beers in.
SI: How does the Los Angeles beer scene compare to Melbourne?
DB: Melbourne is a great city for food, bars and coffee. Craft beer is (thankfully) getting a solid foothold -- more so than any other city in Australia. I think while L.A. is maybe slower out of the blocks than some other cities in the West (like Portland or San Diego), there seems to be a growing number of bars and breweries here; it's great to see.
SI: Will you be tailoring your beers at all to the American market?
DB: No, we make these same beers here in Australia; we're really excited about a couple of new Southern Hemisphere hops we have available to us. There are some great New Zealand and Australian varieties we're really happy to show off to you guys.
SI: What's your distribution plan at this point and what can we hope to see?
DB: Mainly the Hightail and Aussie Pale Ale, but from time to time, some more out there beers will surface -- it'll be pretty commando at this stage -- there are no grand plans to take over the world just yet! Bottles and draft -- and mainly in L.A., maybe some will trickle down to San Diego. We also have some small distribution in New York.
This week's events are really to show off some pretty interesting beers that haven't made it the U.S. yet: Our Coffee IPA and The Pepperberry Black IPA, which is a collaboration with Mikkeller from Denmark. Both these beers are being tapped for the first time in the U.S. at these events.
SI: What style do you personally gravitate toward?
DB: I like hoppy beers -- IPA, Summer Ales -- stronger beers when the time is right. I'm intrigued by what the humble little hop flower can achieve in a beer, and how different brewers can tickle out something new.
SI: Do you ever cook with your beer or transform it into cocktails?
DB: I cook with beer all the time -- it just seems natural to eat food cooked with the beer you drink. I know there are beer cocktails popping up here and there, and it's great they're expanding what beer can be. But at the end of the day, there's nothing like drinking a great beer straight.
SI: Is there an American brewery that has been especially influential to you?
DB: I visited New Belgium in Colorado earlier this and was very impressed with the feeling of the place -- everyone obviously loved their job, and would have worked for love of it I'm sure. The beers were excellent too. I also have great respect for what Garrett Oliver at Brooklyn Brewery has done for craft beer in lifting its reputation and profile to so many people. The man is on a mission.
SI: Is there an American brewer you'd most like to collaborate with?
DB: I love collaboration brews. It's one of the great things about this industry -- the openness and sharing that goes on. We're all in this to make the best beer we possibly can. I'll be on my way to London to do a brew with an old mate from Australia who is now Production Manager at Thornbridge Brewery in the U.K. That'll be great fun. I'd love to make a beer with someone like Garrett Oliver.
SI: Why are your beer commercials so much cooler than ours??
DB: That 'big ad' is really pretty special, huh? I don't know, all I can say is I wish we had a budget to make a commercial like that. It'd be so much fun putting it together.
Meet Mountain Goat Beer Owners Dave and Cam and sample their beers Tues., 6:00 p.m. at Rock & Brews in El Segundo, or Thurs., 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Ale House, Long Beach.
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