Celebrating 30 years in 2023, the Melbourne Royal Australian International Beer Awards is the largest annual beer competition in the world, judging both draught and packaged beer. In 2023, the Awards attracted over 2,800 entries from more than 400 breweries across 21 countries. It is a valuable benchmarking opportunity for breweries of all sizes to secure internationally recognised credentials that will help their beer stand out in a crowd.
Esker Beer Co. took home Best Modern Pale Ale for their Esker Hazy Pale, proudly sponsored by HPA. The idea behind the New South Wales brewery centres around the journey more than the destination. They craft beers to be enjoyed every step of the way. After giving Esker time to celebrate their big win, we got in touch with Head Brewer Dan Shaw to congratulate the team and ask a few questions about their beers and the place they call home.
Q: Congrats on your recent success at the 2023 Australian International Beer Awards. As proud sponsors of your trophy for Best Modern Pale Ale, can you tell us how you build the beautifully layered and complex hop profile in your Hazy Pale?
A: Thank you! It’s a fantastic award to pick up, and our first trophy at the AIBAs. James, one of our brewers, created a limited release Oat Cream Hazy Pale Ale earlier in 2023, and when the team tried that beer we all agreed it should form the framework for what became the Esker Hazy Pale. We used several different types of oats, an NZ dominated hop bill, and some US hops for that familiar hazy flavour profile. Multiple hop additions during fermentation really puts the yeast to work on the biotransformation of the hop oils, creating a strong and well-rounded fruity character.
Q: You use a combo of modern NZ and US hops in your Hazy Pale. Have you been experimenting with any other new hop varieties or hop products in the brewery?
A: We’ve only just started tapping into what’s available in the market. We’ve installed a 400L Premier Stainless small batch kit into our brewery, not only for small batch brews but also to experiment with different ingredients using the same brew base to see how they enhance desired flavour profiles. We’re definitely looking forward to trialing more of the ingredients that have come out in recent years.
Q: Your beers are crafted for drinkability, but you often collaborate with other brewers and venues on one-off beers. Do you have a favourite collaboration to date?
A: Three instantly come to mind. Many years ago we brewed an Imperial Pilsner with Feral Brewing, and people constantly ask for that beer. So we might have to make some calls and brew it again. We were also lucky enough to collaborate on the festival beer for the 2018 Sydney Beer Week. And most recently, our first collaboration under the Esker brand with Seeker Brewing as part of Collabruary 2023. All great, fun experiences.
Q: You recently changed name from Australian Brewery to Esker Beer. What’s the story behind Esker?
A: Our facility, venue and home are still the Australian Brewery and Australian Hotel & Brewery, but the brand has taken on a different personality in Esker. When we first started talking about a rebrand we wanted to look more locally and think geographically smaller. As Australian Brewery we exported to 10 countries around the world over the years, but never really looked to our, very large, local area of the Hills district. So we knew we needed to find a way to connect with the potential in our own backyard and create something special for the residents, since we have been the only production brewery in the Hills for 13 years.
Q: How has your home, the Hills Shire in Sydney, inspired the Esker brand and beers?
A: We wanted to develop a brand that linked to our local area so we could engage people and build a story around it. Something that really spoke to our team and our local customers. We spent a good amount of time trying to find something that stood out and linked us to where we are. Rouse Hill, Sydney has some Irish heritage and Esker is an Irish word for a ridge or a hill, so it made sense to take an interesting looking and sounding word that had a link we could trace to the story of Rouse Hill and the Hills Shire.
Q: You’ve created a modern venue for modern beer drinkers complete with café, restaurant, sports bar, beer garden and playground. How do you stay in tune with your community?
A: With such a big venue we have to make sure we have good communication with the staff talking directly to the customers. So we have a group of staff members who are part of our Beer Experience team. These staff work the bar, cellar door, provide tastings, and potentially brewery tours for patrons in the future. This team is made up of staff who work with us directly in the brewery, on our packing line, deliveries, cellar, and stock work. They have a direct line to the brewing team as well as to the customers. Having only just rolled out the second phase of our Esker brand we are also planning on doing many more small beer focused events at our venue for people to attend, something that we haven’t really done in the past.