Wandering Nomads: Froth chats with Nomad Brewing Co from Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Kerrie Abba and her husband Johnny Latta toast at Nomad Brewing Co in Brookvale. (Photo: Troy Snook / Newsphotos)
Kerrie Abba and her husband Johnny Latta at Nomad Brewing in Brookvale, NSW. (Photo: Troy Snook / Newsphotos)
Froth chats with Nomad Brewing about living in Italy, brewing with seawater and pushing boundaries on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

I remember a while ago I picked up a beer in a bottle shop that had a squid clinging to a surfboard on the label and a bunch of words I had never seen before. I was like … “Freshie Salt & Pepper Gose? What even IS that? WHY IS THERE SALT IN MY BEER!?!?!?”

Since then, a lot of (sea)water has passed under the bridge, and the salty-sour German beer (pronounced gose-uh, I think) is popping up more and more as local palates grow accustomed to more unusual beer styles. Kerrie Abba, self-described “Boss Lady” of Nomad Brewing, says that the gose is “hard to say but easy to approach”.

Launching in 2014 with a saison in their core range and shoving strange beers like goses in our bottle shops way before we were emotionally ready for them, Nomad have continued pushing the envelope, brewing with native ingredients and collaborating with some of the most interesting people in the beer industry.

“Our aim was for people to appreciate that beer is fabulous to match with every cuisine from fish and chips at the beach to the highest level of restaurant.”

Based in Brookvale in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Nomad Brewing was born from a friendship between husband-and-wife team Kerrie Abba and Johnny Latta, and Leonardo Di Vincenzo, founder of Italian brewery Birra Del Borgo. Lovers of food and wine, Kerrie and Johnny had moved their four-week-old baby and 18-month-old toddler halfway across the world for a “12-month experience that extended out to eight years”. They lived in a small village “in the rolling hills of Barolo in Italy’s north-west”, which Kerrie says was “from a gastronomic point of view is world class. Barolo wines, white truffles, porcini mushrooms and as we discovered … great craft beer!”

The local beer scene came as a surprise to the couple. “We moved to one of the most famous wine-growing regions in Italy (and the world) yet were so pleasantly surprised to find most bars and restaurants serving local, amazing craft beers,” says Kerrie. “More than that, craft beer was integrated in all facets of culinary life.”

Beer in Italy is considered an artisan product that is appreciated and served in many restaurants and bars, Kerrie says. “Beer pairing with food is still seen as an event here whilst in Italy is just occurs naturally – eat great product then drink a great artisan beer, naturally!”

Kerrie found herself falling in love with the beverage. “My excitement for beer came from first discovering Italian beers then travelling through Europe and the US discovering many great breweries and beers. My taste is very much swayed towards the sour styles and the less hop-forward European styles.”

As the Australian craft beer scene grew, she also started getting excited about the great range of styles being produced here, “especially the more interesting sour and barrel-aged styles”.

Nomad's Salt & Pepper Freshie Gose.
Nomad’s Salt & Pepper Freshie Gose.

Kerrie and Johnny started a distribution company exporting Italian wines, which also began to distribute craft beer.

“Johnny and I started Experienceit four years ago in Italy, spending many sleepless nights on the phone developing relationships with the great people in the beer industry back home,” says Kerrie. “Through some great relationships with some of the real ‘rocks’ of this industry, including Jade at the Wheaty (best pub in Australia!), Siobhan [Kerin] when she led up Beer DeLuxe and many other we really got ourselves well-entrenched in the industry.”

This involvement inspired the idea to start a brewery themselves. “Two years ago we embarked on another great challenge launching Nomad Brewing, a 25hL brewery in Sydney’s Northern Beaches,” she says.

Juggling logistics and day-to-day production is a massive challenge, but there are plenty of rewards. “To work as a team to create the beer flavours, styles, discuss ingredients, work with artists to develop the labels and then the marketing strategy, it’s a full 360-degree experience that I really love being involved with.”

Needing a head brewer to match their adventurous philosophy, they recruited Birra Del Borgo protege Brooks Caretta, who is something of a nomad himself – he was born in America, grew up in Italy and discovered craft beer while visiting friends in Belgium.

“We joke that Brooks is the ‘love child’ of Leonardo, but in all seriousness we are incredibly lucky to have Brooks at the helm,” she says. “He has had amazing experiences in his brewing career, having worked with the legends of the Italian brewing industry Teo Musso (Baladin) and Leonardo di Vincenzo as well as Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. He’s not a one-dimensional brewer, he’s versatile and as capable as brewing a great sour as he is a well-balanced IPA.”

Brooks says moving to Australia was “exciting and adventurous”. “Moving here from Europe where the craft beer industry is well-established and somewhat connected to regional brewing traditions – to Australia, a new-world country with infinite possibilities of evolution … It’s very moving and inspiring to be part of the growth of craft beer in Australia and see it happen first-person.”

Kerrie says the goal with Nomad was to bring European brewing techniques and knowledge and combine this with great Australian ingredients.

“Australia as a craft beer market is still quite in its infancy and our aim was to bring that culture of appreciation of craft beer to not only the beer geeks but to the masses,” she says. “For people to appreciate that beer is fabulous to match with every cuisine from fish and chips at the beach to the highest level of restaurant. To change drinking habits to appreciate the work, effort and time that it takes to make great craft beer … instead of heading for tasteless industrial-style beer.

Nomad head brewer Brooks Caretta was born in the US, grew up in Italy and discovered his love for craft beer in Belgium.
Nomad head brewer Brooks Caretta was born in the US, grew up in Italy and discovered his love for craft beer in Belgium.

“Coming from the background we did, we wanted to make sure that we were instrumental in shifting away from just the classic pale that everyone wanted to drink,” she says. “Our Jet lag IPA is brewed with finger limes, our saison with wattleseed and coffee and one of our most popular beers, Freshie Salt and Pepper Gose, is brewed with seawater.”

Kerrie says even their pale ale was “quite divisive” at first, with many complaining that it was too hoppy. However, she says, “it’s a beer that is becoming more popular as people’s palates mature and they look for more complex styles of beers”.

Nomad is also known for their collaborations with US breweries such as Jester King, Sixpoint, Cigar City and Stone. “Between Leonardo and Johnny and myself we are lucky to call some of the greatest brewers in the world friends,” says Kerrie. “The opportunity to brew with them is a personal pleasure but also from a brewer’s perspective, a great privilege. No collaboration is about someone rocking up and throwing in a few hops. It’s about mutual respect, sharing ideas and then great experiences that culminate in often amazing beers.”

Despite a portfolio that includes a smoked saison, chocolate orange imperial stout and lilly pilly brown ale, head brewer Brooks says his favourite Nomad brew is the Sideways Hoppy Pale Ale, because it’s “a simple and sessionable beer with character”.

“It is also challenging for some and after some reluctance from locals to step outside of their comfort zone it is now one of our most popular beers,” he explains. “For that reason it is probably my favourite because as a craft brewer it is important to gently (sometimes not) push people’s boundaries to discover new intensities and brew beer with the most flavour possible.”

The Freshie gose will be released in cans this month, in a distinctive can featuring an enormous squid, and Kerrie hopes it will be a hit come summer. The original Freshie gose was dreamed up when they were setting up the brewery two years ago. Leonardo and Brooks took a break and went to nearby Freshwater Beach and were enjoying the beautiful smells and sights when they thought, “If only we could bottle this in a beer”. So they gathered up some seawater and brewed a gose with it.

As Kerrie says: “When it comes to terroir, what greater terroir is there than the beaches around us?”

Nomad’s tasting room is open Thursday through to Saturday (Sunday as of October), with food trucks and music every Saturday.

5 Sydenham Road, Brookvale, NSW. Ph: (02) 9907 4113.