5:30am - by anyone’s standards a ridiculous time to be conscious. I didn’t think writing for a beer review website would ever require waking up that early but we - Jack, Sydney On Tap’s fearless leader and me, the guy who updates the website sometimes - trudged out of bed and made the trek over to Manly as the sun came up. We did it because we love beer, we did it cause it was a romantic as hell thing for a couple of bros to do, but mostly we did it because 4 Pines and the Botany View Hotel were doing a collaboration for craft beer week and they invited us to go have a behind-the-scenes look at the process.
We get to the place - a beachfront hybrid of microbrewery & bar that serves as the smaller of the two 4 Pines breweries and also a sick place to hang out - and meet the 4 Pines brewer Andrew. Super nice, super hospitable, he greets us as he dashes around the 600L kettle in the middle of the room, adjusting gauges and pulling levers like a madman. Everything he does is precisely timed, engineered to get the exact aromas he’s looking for in the red ale that he and the guys at the BVH are making. Sitting around the room are different containers of hops - he adds them each individually at precise intervals.
“What’s the difference between adding one now and adding one later?” Jack asks.
“It’s essentially the difference in how you want the flavour to come up - the later you add the hops the more aromatic they are in the final product. You add the bitter ones first to get the base flavour, and keep adding as you go on to add overtones” Andrew responds, unphased by our lack of knowledge of the brewing process. “It’s like adding a garnish to a meal” he explains, seeing that we have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Andrew is a beer-brewing genius, and a lovely guy at that.
“I was aiming for about 5.7% alcohol on this one.” he says, just before getting the actual number. It comes up as 5.6%. This guy knows what he’s doing, down to the decimal point.
There’s a quick break between adding in ingredients where we’re all just standing around the kettle chatting. While we’re here we figure we may as well ask what else they’ve got in the works. Andrew points around the room at the other nine 600L vats, and tells us they’re almost all full at the moment. “You’ve gotta try this one actually, it’s only just ready” he says. It’s 7:30am at this point but I don’t have the heart to tell someone so passionate about beer that it’s too early, so I take a glass. To his credit, his passion has paid off - the Mürzen he’s given us is light with fruity aromas, almost buzzing from freshness having been poured straight from the vat.
“Do you try all the beers you brew when they’re finished?” I ask, expecting him to tell me that someone shares the load with him, or he sometimes waits until at least after midday. No such words come out of his mouth.
“You only know that it’s safe to drink if you drink it yourself” he says with a grin.
After a rigorous and stringent cleaning process, the brewing is done. The beer is being left to ferment and we’ve moved from the microbrewery section, with its pungent yeasts and heavy, humid air to the lighter and airier bar section.
“Well, time to knock off” Marty says casually, like it’s not still ridiculously early.
“Cool, I’m ready for a beer. Boys?” Andrew looks at Jack and I. We look at each other. We look at James and Marty. They look expectantly at us.
We look at the taps, trying to determine which beer is most reminiscent of our normal early-morning milo & weetbix. Jack goes for the 4 Pines stout and I do too. The 4 Pines stout on tap is unbelievably smooth, almost creamy. Stouts normally aren’t my thing, but I was incredibly impressed purely by the science that Andrew was explaining went into the delivery system of it - talking about how they’re making a larger-scale switch to nitrogenated beers rather than carbonated to keep them as smooth as possible.
“If you’re serving stout, it needs to be nitrogenated. We’re only using nitrogen for this, none of our stout taps are carbonated anymore” Andrew explains. We can’t help but believe him. The results, after all, were amazingly good.
Andrew casually mentions that since we’re in the area, we should head around at the Brookvale Brewery for a tour. Within 15 minutes, we’re on our way.
We meet up with the guy Andrew had called for us, Adam, and a sales rep, Tristan. Both lovely, both enthusiastic & passionate about what they do. The reception area at 4 Pines is like any other office but in high spirits - lovely people joking about how they refuse to let their computer update to the latest version, talking about office parties and generally managing the entire back-end of the 4 Pines Brewing operation from a single space. They lead us down the stairs to their massive warehouse of a bottling facility and enthusiastically show us how all the money from their new found fame has gone into improving the speed of packaging process, which is great news to us - it may mean cheaper 4 Pines! We then moved on to the brewery to see where the magic happens and were surprised to find their soon-to-be-opened brewery bar, complete with retro ute that serves as both a sick decoration and as the actual bar (they cut bits out of the flatbed and they use it to serve drinks - have a look through the pictures for it it's amazing). They’re very proud of it and they all say we should come back when it opens. We definitely will.
We get to the warehouse and immediately see about 14 of the most enormous vats we’ve ever seen, at least the size of a two-story house, some still wrapped in plastic from only being delivered that day. We get greeted by a few more people, all incredibly hospitable to a couple of guys with a camera who want to poke around their business. We also get introduced to Rachel, who speaks with an American accent and I’m convinced is the smartest person I’ve ever met. She takes over the tour duties as she’s the…I want to say lead scientist? Science Expert? Evil Genius? I don’t know what her title is, but she has a laboratory and tells me I have to wear safety glasses, and explains as she walks around collecting samples of some of the beers that she has to continuously check the levels of the various chemicals in the beer to make sure that each fermentation has the same results - that the 4 Pines Pilsner turns out as the same Pilsner every time they brew it. In hindsight, this seems like an obvious thing that needs to happen, but seeing it and hearing about the process for the first time was mind-blowing to me.
Overall, it was an unbelievable experience. Waking up at 5:30 is my worst nightmare, but to see the people behind the scenes of one of Australia’s favourite beer brands working, meet them and get to experience their passion for their product was a unique experience. Everyone we met was incredibly nice and everything they do requires massive amounts of intelligence and commitment. The best part is that you can see how their passion translates into a good product. Knowing that Andrew is behind the scenes brewing and dedicating himself to making the best beers he can, knowing that Tristan is out trying to expand the reach by getting it on tap at more places, and knowing that Rachel is walking around the floor, cracking jokes and making sure the beer they’re brewing is coming along at the correct pace on the molecular level makes the beer more enjoyable. Next time I have to drink stout, it’ll be a 4 Pines.
thoughts & feelings - extended edition
This is where we at Sydney On Tap post all the things that couldn't fit into the paragraphs on each bar page, or the comments under each beer.