Over the Moon

We chat with Moon Dog's lead innovation brewer Adrian McNulty about champagne beers, not loving NEIPAs and getting to meet Michael Jackson (the beer one). 

As lead innovation brewer at Moon Dog, what does your job entail?
It’s the fun stuff without too much of the bullshit. I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day of getting beers to places for sales targets, it’s more about getting beers to places for launches.

Moon Dog lead innovation brewer Adrian McNulty. Photo: Emily Day

With Moon Dog World opening up in Preston, you guys have expanded massively. How’s that been for you?
For me it’s been largely something has been happening in the background. It’s obviously taken up almost all the time for Josh and Kyle, and Adam the head brewer to a degree, just because we’re brewing in Abbotsford still with one eye to brewing in Preston in however many months. So that’s been I think stressful for them – I don’t know that they have as much hair and it was the same colour that it was 12 months ago. But I think we’re getting towards the end of it, but also now just the beginning of what’s going to be fucking crazy period of time where shit is going to get really real. It’s gonna be awesome. There’s not going to be another brewery like that possibly in the world. Or maybe there will be, maybe there’s some really small brewery somewhere that’s fucking extra cool with a lagoon and a water slide just to trump us. 

It’s got a lagoon, an indoor waterfall, a secret tiki bar, tropical rainforest and a playground … who came up with the idea for Moon Dog World?
It was definitely led by Josh and it was a joint effort by everyone in the company. He put out an email probably 12 or 18 months ago saying ‘What do you want to see at the new venue?’ And we just blurted out the most ridiculous things we could think of, and some made the cut and some didn’t. I don’t know whose idea the lagoon was. Five years ago when I started and I sat down for an interview, Josh and Karl were like, ‘This is what we’re aiming towards, we’re going to be making more beer than you can imagine’, and now five years later we’re actually here. I’m like, ‘Fuck this is literally a vision that’s come to pass’, because at the interview I was like, ‘Oh yeah cool, let’s just see how things go’. But now we’re here it’s like it’s fucking insane, they’ve managed to make it happen. I’m glad I don’t to have to sit down for an interview with them now because I can’t even imagine what they’d say. First brewery on Mars. Sure, why not? I believe all things to be possible now. 

Moon Dog World in Preston. Photo: Tim Allen

Are the innovative, experimental beers still an important part of what Moon Dog is?
Yeah I’d say so, probably though because that’s my job. I think that’s part of how the brewery started. It’s part of the legacy and it’s part of what the owners want to see continue. I think you have just got to keep doing that sort of stuff, the innovation and the crazy stuff. You’ll have some failures but you’ll have some successes and that’s what you build on. I think particularly for Moon Dog that’s something that we rely on. That innovation, pushing the envelope, is a big part of how we came to be and how we got to be where we are now. 

That was a big part of the reason why I started working there. But at the same time I was a bit trepidatious about working here because I really like doing weird and new stuff, but I also like the traditional beers as well. I was definitely keen to start working with those guys because they are some of the smartest people I’ve met in my life, but I was like, ‘Can you just keep doing new stuff?’ Five years in, I think we’ve repeated too many ideas, I think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel. But sometimes you just find something and you strike gold. But you’ve got to dig through a lot of shit to get there. 

Do you have anything in the pipeline you are really excited about?
We’re redoing Mr Mistoffelees, I’m going to be using a new strain of Brettanomyces and Lacto and Pedio with this one. So I’m hoping it’s a lot more tropical and a lot punchier than maybe some of the previous ones. We’ve got a sticky date pudding Belgian quad in the pipeline and a barley wine that’s going into Starward barrels. 

Moon Dog World in Preston. Photo: Tim Allen

Looking back over all the beers you’ve made in your career, do you have any favourites?
There’s probably four that I look back on with 100% confidence that that was a fucking awesome beer. First would be Bad Boy Bubbly [barley champagne], and that’s partially because I fucking love the movie but also the beer was great. 

I’m trying to forget the movie because it was horrible.
No, it’s the greatest rom-com that Australia has ever seen. And I got to meet Nicholas Hope from Bad Boy Bubby last year at Cinema Nova. He’s such a nice dude. We had the beer there, we were pouring it for people. That’s actually a life highlight. 

Ogden Nash’s Pash Rash, the stout that we chucked Redskins in – what I liked most about that was it’s such a basic idea that could have been shithouse but actually really worked. It’s easily one of the most asked-for beers to be remade. Then [while working] at Three Ravens I brewed an English ale that won Champion English Pale Ale at the AIBAs. That meant it was better than all the English breweries that entered. I’m really happy with that. We did a beer called the Druid which is a Belgian quad aged in Pedro Ximenez barrels. That was fucking excellent. And then there was one that was only a 300-litre batch called Black Mass. It was a whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout with chipotle and vanilla. I was really happy with that. And I got to share it with a metal band by the name of Conan. So that was fucking extremely special. 

Did you study brewing at university?
Yes, I started off doing food science and then Ballarat Uni was running the beer awards at the time so they put up a sign saying do you want to be a steward – pour beers for judges and wrangle kegs – and I was like ‘fuck yeah, I do’. So I got to come down to Melbourne, tap kegs – and the sort of unspoken rule at the time was, you can drink as much as you want as long as you weren’t really drunk. So it was the first time I got to taste Hoegaarden from Belgium and all these beers, because this was 20 years ago, so there might have been a couple of Mountain Goat kegs kicking around, the original Redback but that was it. It was just amazing. It was like, ‘oh, it’s not just VB. It’s not just Carlton’. So I switched over to brewing and it went from there. 

Did you have a particular epiphany beer?
Cooper’s Extra Stout. That would have been at those first beer awards. I think at either my first or second beer awards, Michael Jackson was a guest judge and I had absolutely no idea who he was. And it’s only afterwards I’m like, well, I met possibly the one person in this scene that every single motherfucker knows. But yeah, I had Cooper’s Extra Stout and I was like, ‘yeah, oh, yeah right. This is a whole new level of deliciousness.’

Do you feel that these days in such a crowded market every brewery has to do something crazy to get attention?
I kind of do. Although I’d probably look at Balter as one that is quite successful not for doing crazy beers but doing pretty standard beers brilliantly. I’d probably throw Two Birds into that category as well. If you’re going to start a brewery now, you probably should be trying to do some of those more out-there kind of beers, but I think if it’s more natural for you to make true-to-style beers and make them well, that’s probably a better option. I think it’s better just to do what you want to do and possibly see it fail than it would be to be stuck in a world of making fucking New England IPAs for the rest of your life and hating it. 

Moon Dog World’s bar with 72 taps. Photo: Tim Allen

So what’s your thought on NEIPAs?
I hate them. Look, I don’t hate them but I so rarely want to drink them. The good ones are great but they’re few and far between. There’s just so many shit ones. And it goes against everything I was taught at uni about brewing which is balance is key, clarity is a desired outcome of your final product, with some small exceptions. I’ve seen some beers that look like straight-up yeast slurry and taste like yeast slurry, and I think that if I was new to craft brewing and I went out and bought that and I tasted it and then I thought ‘well, this is craft beer’, I would be fucking ropeable. There should be just a base level of quality. I’m looking forward to the return of hefeweizens and lagers. I think that’s on the cards, lagers in particular. Lager is where your brewing skills are shown. 

Do you think brewers set the trends or are they just compelled to brew what consumers want?
It’s hard to say. I think the market does dictate a significant portion of what people are doing, and more so now with the instant feedback of Untappd and Facebook and online beer groups. But I think if a whole bunch of breweries start putting out really high-quality lagers or hefeweizens or whatever, people will latch onto that. It may not achieve the popularity of the NEIPA or fruit sour or whatever, but there’s always going to be room for these styles to return. Judging the Indies this year, we had five or six lagers and they were all excellent. I was like, ‘fuck yeah, who wouldn’t want to drink this?’ I mean, it’s a beer for a hot day, but a beer for a hot day is a fucking valuable concept. Anyone can make a lager, but to make a lager well is time and it’s expertise and it’s good quality control. 

What are your thoughts on Untappd and having that kind of instant feedback? Is that something you keep an eye on?
Almost never unless it’s brought to my attention or I need to check a detail about a beer that I’ve forgotten. Having said that, when I come across it incidentally, even when someone has written some of the most vile shit about the beer or the brewery, I have a good laugh. I’ve done the same thing about other things that I’m passionate about, music or movies or books, I’m like, ‘that was garbage I can’t believe they did that’. When it comes to those people, it’s not that I want to make a beer that doesn’t appeal to them. But I’m also not overly concerned that if a beer that I make that has a shitload of blue food dye in it isn’t their favourite beer of the year. 

A selection of beers at Moon Dog World. Photo: Tim Allen

What are you looking forward to doing with your barrel program?
Literally any wild aspect, any fruit, any clean barrel, just anything is fair game. I’m looking forward to blending. Topher from Wildflower is a fucking legend and the stuff he makes up there [in Sydney] is absolutely inspirational. So I’m really looking forward to doing a lot of that stuff. Picking and choosing from barrels to specifically create a beer and have it be however many litres it is with no concern for what the sales guys would want. There’s plans afoot to have a lot of beer in barrel either ageing or souring or bretting or whatever for as long as it needs to. That’s really exciting, not having that pressure to turn a barrel over in two or three months, but letting it sit there until it’s ready. 

And what are your plans with your coolship?
Your guess at this point is as good as mine. We have designed two coolships of about 5000 litres each. There’s a very nice little alcove they will just slot into. There’s a grate that should let in all sorts of bacteria and yeast and whatever from outside in. Once it gets to the right temperature, pump it into a foedre and then sit on it for anywhere from a year to a year plus. From my understanding, three years seems like a pretty standard kind of time. It’s gonna be fucking intense, but over a long period of time. Kind of like watching Apocalypse Now: The Redux version. There will be interludes where you think ‘oh, this is good’. And then it gets worse again and then it gets better. 

Where do you get your inspiration for making beers come from?
Well, so for Bad Boy Bubbly that came to me when I was mashing in. Because you just stand there and you do that for half an hour. I spend most of my time thinking about beer ideas, or I imagine what I would do to that place if I won the lottery. It would be gut the whole lot and start again. But for beer ideas it’s either a pun or I will read about a fruit or a food, or eat something or try a wine or have a cocktail and think, ‘oh that flavour would be awesome in this kind of beer’. And then you unpack that and then rebuild it in the beer. Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes it’s not. We’re also pretty open for anyone at Moon Dog to come up with an idea. If it sounds feasible we’ll give it a crack and if it is we will try it again at a bigger scale. If it’s fucking great there, then we’ll go further. Only one time has anyone come up with an idea from a dream. A friend of mine, Brett, came up with Dunbar’s Dream, a coffee and passionfruit porter. We made it and I was really happy with that beer. But unfortunately it did mean that every second person I know on Facebook is now like ‘I had a dream about this beer … it’s a Chicken Twisties beer.’ 

Are you still brewing on old dairy equipment at the Abbotsford brewery?
That shit will never die, much to my chagrin. They’re particular keen to keep that there and keep it operational. Hopefully as we grow that might become a bit more of a ceremonial sort of thing. I still run that pretty regularly, It stops me from being the fat bastard I could be. I’m looking forward to everyone who currently works on the production brewery [at Abbotsford], when they go up to Preston and they’re working off an iPad, they’re gonna balloon like motherfuckers. 

Do you keep your eye on what’s going on around the world in terms of beer trends?
Not really. If someone tells me there’s something I’ve got to try, I will. But to be honest when I go to the bottle shop I pick up beers that I either have had before and loved or haven’t had before but look interesting. 

So what’s your bottle shop go-to?
Almost always I’ll get a few sours, a couple of IPAs, and either a stout or an English ale. Every now and then an XPA. I love XPAs. I think it’s an underrated beer style that was undeservedly shat on when they first started. But you don’t always need to drink to get shit-faced. Sometimes just to drink a six-pack of a hoppy beer that’s delicious and low-alcohol is a worthy enough outcome. 

What do you think when you see people quitting their jobs to start their own breweries in today’s competitive market?
I wish them all the best. I’m not competitive to the point where I don’t want to see everyone succeed. I think it’s a grim meat-hook reality that everyone won’t succeed and shit is going to go pear-shaped for a lot of, or for some breweries. But if it’s what you want to do I think it’s better for them to try and fail than to not try and be like, ‘I could have been a contender’. So have a go, if it doesn’t work out just fucking sell your equipment and go back to your day job. 

Have you ever thought about starting your own brewery?
Only in probably the most abstract sense, insofar as I would never actively seek investors. It would be if I won the lotto and I would create the most self-aggrandising fucking brewery that’s ever existed and I would run it into the ground until I ran out of money and that would be it. I’ve always had a dream of having a brewery where there is no sales, no marketing, no publicity, it’s just a nondescript brick building on the corner somewhere. And if you know, you can come in and there’s a bar and beer, but if you don’t you just walk past it. And then three years later when I’m out of business, here’s this fucking fancy brewery you can buy. I’m not a long-term thinker. 

Check out Adrian and the Moon Dog team’s excellent beers on tap at the newly opened Moon Dog World, 32-46 Chifley Dr, Preston, or in the original Abbotsford brewery at 17 Duke St, Abbotsford. moondogbrewing.com.au

Interview by Emily Day, venue images by Tim Allen timallenphoto.net