Back in 2016, Mitch Pickford, along with two of his friends, Gerard Martin and Matt McIver, came together to start building a brewery that would become Range Brewing in the heart of Brisbane, Australia.
By 2018, with the build complete and brewing set to begin, Head Brewer Mitch ordered Simpsons Malt from our distributor Bintani – having been familiar with our products in previous jobs – and hasn’t looked back since.
In this Q&A, Mitch talks about his journey in the brewing industry to date and how experiences in the UK have helped to shape Range’s brewing output today, while also chatting about his love of Simpsons base malts and the brewing scene Down Under.
How did you get into the brewing industry?
I’ve been directly involved in the brewing industry for probably around seven years now. Initially, I started out working in bars, then managing bars, and then the opportunity came about to go back to my home area, which is the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, to work at Stone & Wood Brewery. Fortunately for me, when I got there they’d just built a new production site and I was in the smaller site, so I got thrown into an environment where I was around brewing every day and I was able to work with and learn from brewers every single day. So for a year, I was setting up their cellar door but six hours a day, I was assisting the Lead Brewer running that site and that’s how I really got started. From there, I moved up to Brisbane to become a brewer full-time.
How did the setting up of Range Brewing come about?
When I was back in Brisbane, I worked at a brewery called The Catchment Brewing Co. for two years, where I was Head Brewer. While I was there, I started talking to a couple of friends of mine, Gerard and Matt, who are now my business partners. They were living in London at the time but their visas were ending and they were thinking about what to do and yeah, it somehow ended up in us opening a brewery together! Before starting the building work at Range, I decided to take some time out to do something fun so with the help of Matt and the team at We Are Beer, I reached out to a few breweries overseas and spent three months at various breweries, including Wiper & True and Gipsy Hill in the UK and Basqueland in San Sebastian, northern Spain. So I had a pretty cool three months and then when I came back to Brisbane, we found a site for Range and we started building!
How did your experiences in Europe influence you?
A lot of the influences I take in our brewing today come from the UK, Central Europe and the USA – definitely not here in Australia as we’re probably about five years behind when it comes to styles and trends, although I do think we’re starting to catch up quite quickly. But I took a huge influence from the UK. Wiper & True make amazing beers and Gipsy Hill was an amazing experience because of the styles of beer they were making at the size and scale they were making them. They were upgrading to their new production facility when I was there. Basqueland’s innovation and quality in what was a very new craft market was a great learning curve as well, while visiting Mike and Dave at Lervig in Norway was also a highlight for me and something I learned a lot from.
Do you lean towards brewing particular styles of beers?
We say hoppy, dark and sour are our styles. We don’t have a core range of beers, so we continuously change and although we might be brewing similar styles of beer – that’s why we say hoppy, dark and sour – we actually make a different beer all the time. I think there have only been six beers we’ve made twice in nearly three years now.
How successful has not having a core range been for you?
When we first started out, there was a lot of scepticism about that model. But for the other guys, when they were living in London, that’s when Cloudwater took off and it had worked there and it was the same in the USA with the likes of The Veil and Other Half. These breweries were doing it and were being successful, so we knew that if we made good beer of a consistent quality all the time, then people wouldn’t be disgruntled if it’s a new beer. So the key for us was – and continues to be –that the quality of the beer outweighs having the same beers on all the time. That’s allowed us to have a bit more fun in the brewhouse in terms of experimenting and not getting tied down to making the same old beer all of the time.
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We constantly strive to use the best ingredients we can source, from all around the world. This malt arrived in Australia from the UK just last week. We’re especially excited as @simpsonsmalt Extra Pale Ale malt isn’t seen much in Australia. We’re making a style of beer you haven’t seen from us before and we can’t wait for you to try it.
You started brewing in 2018 – have you used Simpsons Malt throughout that time?
We’ve been using Simpsons Malt since day one and we placed a big emphasis on that, getting everything through Bintani, who are great and super easy to deal with. At the start, we didn’t like the products that were available in Australia at the time – particularly base malts. I love Simpsons’ base malts and we use Extra Pale Ale and Golden Promise, with Maris Otter for our darker beers. The Extra Pale Ale and Golden Promise add so much depth of flavour without having to add so many extra ingredients into the beer itself. More recently, some Australian malts have become available that we experiment with occasionally, but I don’t think anything really matches Simpsons. Some fellow Australian brewers often say to us that it’s not very cost effective, but to us, that doesn’t matter if we’re producing a better beer because of it. That, for us, comes back to what I was saying before in that quality is our number one priority and that’s why we decided on using Simpsons from the start.
Do you have a favourite malt of ours?
The base malts I really do love and the Extra Pale Ale is probably my favourite base malt. It’s got such a lovely light colour with so much depth of flavour and it’s everything you want sugar wise – I think it’s an absolute winner. But if I had to pick my favourite malt overall, it would probably be the Imperial. I love throwing it into our lighter beers at around 5%-10% and up to 25% in our darker beers like an Imperial Stout. It has such a good depth of flavour and for me, it’s like the perfect blend of Vienna and Munich malt with a beautiful, nutty but clean flavour profile. What’s not to love about that?
What is the beer scene like in Queensland and, more widely, Australia as a whole?
When we started out three years ago, we were one of around five breweries in Brisbane. Now there’s about 15-20. On the Sunshine Coast just north of us, there was one or two and now there are 15-20 and just below us on the Gold Coast area, there was one and now there are 5-10. So I think we’ve almost trebled the amount of breweries in Australia in the past three to four years. Our Government isn’t particularly great when it comes to grants but it’s getting better and they’re starting to see brewing as more of a promising industry, whereas previously I don’t think they wanted to be seen to be a part of an industry that was, say, contributing some of the poor drinking habits shown in our country. There’s been a lot of new developments with regards to training, brewing schools and courses that are starting to become available, so things have developed in a more sophisticated way I’d say over the past year or so, but we’re still a little hit and miss when it comes to brewing consistent quality. There seems to be a lot of people brewing beer for the sake of brewing beer but it’s getting better and I think in the next five to ten years, we’ll see greater consistency from the country overall. That’s what we hope to see, that the industry standard comes up overall and the industry as a whole in our country starts to become more recognised.
What’s next for you and the Range Brewing team?
We’ve been quite fortunate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in that, firstly, here in Queensland, we only had one full shutdown and it only lasted two weeks, which was much different to the likes of Sydney and Melbourne. Secondly, we probably sell about 95% of our volume through our own brewery and 5% wholesale so for us, the transition during all of this has been quite weird because we already had an online store and a canning line, so all we had to do was close our bar and transfer everything into cans instead of doing kegs and we sold it all online. This has seen us put a heavy focus on our packaging processes and procedures to ensure we are sending out the best possible product across the country. It’s a work in progress with not much cold freight available in such a warm climate but we are constantly trying to be better. Next up for us is that we’re opening a bar in Melbourne in the next few weeks. That’s our most popular area for selling beer outside of Queensland, so we wanted a bar down there so we could shift beer to there and make it a focal point for our beer in the city, which we see as a natural progression for us as a business.
For more information on Range Brewing, visit their website HERE.
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