Dave Padden, or the Hop Wizard Of The West* as he is known, is a stalwart member of the Sydney beer scene. A brilliant brewer of hoppy American style beers at Riverside and now Akasha, Dave very kindly spoke to me a couple of weeks ago ahead of Akasha's first birthday.
When did you start brewing?
I usually answer this question saying that I started with a Coopers kit, back probably before you were even born. In the 80s or certainly the very early 90s. It was the usual kit and kilo setup. I brewed shit beer for a while and then gave it up. I came back into all grain brewing 7 or 8 years ago now and I helped start the Western Sydney Brewers homebrew club about 6 years ago. That was a really important forum for us as homebrewers who were just brewing in our backyards and not really getting any good feedback on our beers.
What was the good beer scene in Sydney like in the early years of the Western Sydney Brewers?
It was pretty limited. I remember going to the James Squire Brewhouse which is now Red Tape and the King Street Brewhouse. I also used to spend a lot of time up at Paddy’s Brewery at Flemington which I think is still there. Apart from that there was Mountain Goat out of Victoria, but in Sydney there wasn’t really much going on. 4 Pines would have just been getting started but that was just a little brewpub out at Manly and Dan Murphy’s didn’t stock much so it was pretty hard to get good beer. You had to go all around Sydney to find those bottle shops with the little corner of craft beer. It was a completely different scene even just 6 years ago.
Did the homebrewing come about due to the inability to buy the beer you wanted to drink?
There was definitely an element of that. I did a lot of traveling in the States for the last 15 or 20 years and that’s where I fell in love with craft beer. You couldn’t getthe big IPAs or pale ales in Australia at that time, so that influenced my homebrewing.
But I really fell in love with brewing as a science and as a process, not just to brew beer that I couldn’t easily get. I’ll never forget brewing my first all grain beer. I built my own 3 vessel system and the first time I brewed on it, it scared the shit out of me and I had no idea what I was doing. People always say that their first all grain brew tastes terrible but it wasn’t like that for me. That first beer worked and after that I was away and brewing almost every weekend for quite a few years which allowed me to really hone my brewing skills.
Was there anything in particular that you enjoyed brewing during that time?
I was always a great proponent of SMASH (single malt and single hop) beers which really teaches you about what different grains and hop varieties can do. When homebrewers ask me for advice the thing I always tell them is temperature control first and foremost and then brew SMASH beers. Until you do that, you won’t really know how to build good beer recipes. It’s like cooking. My mother was a fantastic cook and I learned that sort of thinking from her. Until you understand the ingredients in cooking, how can you put them together to make something that really tastes awesome? And it’s the same with brewing.
When you started Riverside Brewing, was the plan just to have a small brewpub and go from there?
I always wanted to be a manufacturer and wholesaler. I love the idea of drinking my beer in someone else’s pub. But while we were planning on having a small brewery I’d heard that Mountain Goat were selling their brewing kit and I went down to Melbourne on business and dropped in to talk to them about it and it turned out to be good value. So while we were planning for a 3 or 400L sized brewhouse we ended up with a 2000L brewhouse for about the same price.
Riverside seemed to develop an excellent reputation very quickly, even in Brisbane each shipment of 777 was very eagerly awaited on.
Absolutely, we were a lot more successful than I ever could have imagined. I knew I was a good homebrewer so I was just hoping that it would all work at a commercial level. I became well known for my hoppy beers relatively quickly which still blows me away to this day. A lot of those beers were just my homebrew recipes. 77 for example was my homebrew IPA recipe that I spent years perfecting. The only change was I had to tone it down a bit. The commercial beer was 7.7% but my homebrew version was about 8.5%. The 777 I spent 2 years building, practising and perfecting as a professional brewer.
After you left Riverside, was there ever any thought of not being a commercial brewer again?
There was never any doubt that I was going to stay in the industry, at the time I just wasn’t sure what that was going to look like. I took some time off to remind my family what I looked like and had to think about what I was going to do.
Did you get any offers from other breweries?
For sure, there were many other employment opportunities but I just couldn’t see myself brewing for anyone else. So we made the decision that we would build our own brewery but of course that was going to take the best part of a year so that means there was going to be a lot of sitting around waiting which can’t be helped unfortunately. In the end we made the decision to contract brew in the meantime.
Was the decision to contract brew at least initially, an easy one?
Not at all. But we wanted to test the market first to make sure people would like what we’re doing. The guys at The Rocks Brewery are good mates of mine and were kind enough to let me brew there whenever I needed to so I made a lot of beer at that brewery. I also worked a few shifts there in my spare time to give them a hand.
The recipes for your core beers now, did you develop them while out at The Rocks or on your homebrewing gear?
During my break I developed the recipes. It gets to a point as a professional brewer, and again I always correlate what I do with professional chefs, where something clicks and you can write out a recipe and know what it’s going to taste like. It’s just practise and knowing your ingredients really well. I drank a lot of American beers and did a lot of research over in the States. I was looking at what seemed to be happening to beer styles over there and the malt backbone of hoppy beers was getting very light, crystal malt was just being thrown out the window and I really liked that. So you’ll find that a lot of our beers have very little crystal in them.
So you’re not using sweeter malts at all in most beers or just small amounts?
We use a lot of Gladfield Malts which are just stunning and we use a product of theirs called light crystal. It’s very light but still gives you the body, the mouthfeel, a little bit of colour, head retention and stuff like that. So we’re still using a bit, but nothing like what I used to.
Was it just the lack of crystal that seemed to be changing in the American beers?
Well in the pale ales the Yankee beers have backed off on the bitterness and the crystal, are adding their hops a lot later and dry hopping beers like they never have before, but as a result they’re creating hoppy beers that have so much flavour but aren’t as challenging as they used to be. They’re not insanely bitter, they’re just backing off on everything a little bit in order to showcase the wonderful American hops and that’s the style I wanted to follow.
Do you have any particular hop combinations that you love or do you find that you’re using similar ingredients again and again? Not that I’m asking you to spill your trade secrets or anything.
I’m very open about how I brew. Predominantly I’m using all US and Australian hops. In terms of Australian hops I really like Galaxy. Although I’ve only really used it commercially in the Tradewinds Lager which is 100% Galaxy. It’s a lovely hop but you’ve got to be careful and use it late. In terms of American hops, Amarilllo, Simcoe, Centennial, Cascade are my favourites Amarillo and Simcoe in particular are two that I love putting together but all those hops work well together.
The Korben D IIPA that you released recently seemed to have been very well received. Were you surprised at all about how popular it was?
Yeah I was a bit surprised to be honest. Well I mean, if there is any beer that I’ve spent years researching and getting right it’s the IIPA. So I wasn’t that surprised that it turned out well but it was a new hop combination, completely different malts than what I’ve used before and the new brewhouse. I didn’t brew a pilot batch I just went straight in with a full batch because I thought I knew what it would taste like anyway and it turned out pretty bloody close. I wasn’t entirely happy with the way the yeast behaved on that particular batch but I’ll fix it for next time. It took probably 3 or 4 weeks to really come out of its shell but all IIPAs are like that. We’ll brew it again.
Have you got anything else special in the works at the moment?
Actually if you have a look at tank two you might notice something that says pale ale but with 3 Is in front of it.
Is that a full batch?
Yeah we brewed a double batch of it so hopefully it’ll be 1500-1600L. I mean we’ll never make our money back on it. It’s just very expensive to make.
Did you brew it then just because you wanted to or is it more of a business strategy?
It’s a bit like IIPAs in Australia a few years ago. People were getting IIPAs sent over from the States and by the time they got here they weren’t true examples of what IIPAs are. You know they’re getting this big bitter mess because the hop aroma and flavour had died off. I think IIIPAs are kind of in that space now.
It’s still a trial I suppose. It’s a 10% beer and I want the gravity down to around 1.011-1.012 which takes some doing. It’s just an insane beer to brew.
How do you even go about making something like that? What makes it a triple instead of a double?
I actually used some advice from Vinny Cilurzo from Russian River Brewing Co who brew probably the most famous IIIPA in the world, Pliny The Younger. He said he uses one and a half times as many hops in all stages of the brew in The Younger as he does in The Elder which is his IIPA. So I did exactly that for this batch. I’m aiming for a 10% beer with around 150IBUs.
Did you make the decision to start bottling your beer because you’d prefer to get your beer out in that way or is it simply a way to increase you distribution?
It’s definitely a business decision. If I wasn’t running a business I wouldn’t be bottling any beer. But you need to get your products out there. I mean the Hottest 100 Beers is a perfect example of that. Hopsmith came in at 72 and that was one of five beers on the list of 100 that wasn’t packaged. That alone clearly illustrates that if you want to get your beer out into the hands of more and more drinkers you’ve got to package it. So we made the decision to bottle it in 500ml bottles which seems to be the best way to get craft out into the packaged market. It’s not a big bottling line so we aren’t going to be pumping out massive quantities of beer but it should meet our needs. Bottling really isn’t much fun.
Why is that?
It's just a difficult process to get right. We’re going to keep it small and keep an eye on it. We’re going to measure our oxygen levels in the bottles which is critical because we won’t be pasteurising the beer. So you’ve got to be really diligent with your lab work. We’ve got a small lab here, it’s pretty immature at this point but we’re going to be stepping that up very soon. We’re looking at moving on from plating our beer for yeast counts, bugs etc. to a new technology called qPCR which can analyse your beer down to the DNA level. You’ll be able to put a sample through and have results back on the same day which will tell you about everything that’s in there like lactobacillus or other bugs. Currently we use plating samples from a lab which is becoming horrifically expensive, isn’t all that accurate and it can take over a week to get results.
If I’ve got to send off a plate sample for beer I’m bottling today, I’ve got to hold on to that beer for another week until the results come back. If I can get results that day that are going to be more accurate, then that’s going to work so much better for us. Thankfully the machines are getting cheaper and within reach of smaller businesses like us.
Are there any brewers or breweries in Australia that you genuinely look up to or whose beers you would always seek out?
Oh absolutely. I’ve got quite a number of mentors who’ve helped me from the very beginning and who I continue to lean on. Neal Cameron (The Australian Brewing Co.) is one of my favourite brewers in Australia. He’s incredibly smart and we’ve grown to know each other pretty well over the years and he’s never hesitated to help me. He’s one of those guys I can call when everything's fucked up and I’ve got no idea of what I’m going to do. He is the man and I have the utmost respect for him. He actually came down recently but it was our busiest day yet so I barely had time to talk to him. He sent me a message after saying that “Thanks for the beers, quality to aspire to as always.” That just blows me away.
Mike from Ekim Brewing Co. What a great brewer. He does so much small batch stuff that a lot of people will never get to taste. He’s an awesome guy, brewing great beer which never fails to amaze me. His IPAs in particular are just fantastic.
Another guy is Brad Rogers from Stone & Wood. One of the most successful breweries in the country and making such consistent beer. You can walk into a pub, order Stone & Wood and know exactly what you’re getting and that’s not easy. All three of the owners are stellar people and they’ve had all the time in the world for me. I went and spent some time during my break with Stone & Wood in Byron and Brad in particular helped me so much.
So there’s those guys in particular but the whole industry is like that. You can ring anybody and they’ll help you out and that’s why I’ll always try and do the same thing.
* Literally no one has ever called him that, I just made it up.