Any hipster worth his hops knows that Melbourne is all about craft beer. The last few years have seen a move away from the stock standard on-taps and bottled imports to the more artisan ales, brewed and bottled just a few suburbs over. One such Victorian craft brewery, Wolf of the Willows, has earned a stellar reputation for its hand crafted, modern ales, each batch produced from start to finish by Scotty and Renae McKinnon.
The husband and wife duo launched Wolf of the Willows in November 2014. Starting with an XPA Extra Pale Ale, Scotty and Renae gypsy-brewed for their first year, borrowing other people’s equipment to develop their range, before teaming up with Bad Shepherd Brewing Co and setting their roots in a Cheltenham. A fitting move for the couple, who have called Bayside home for the last 15 years.
Scotty’s love of brewing started young, helping his dad brew homemade ginger beer on his family’s property in rural Victoria. Years later, time spent as a ski bum in Colorado gave Scotty an introduction to the world of American craft brewing. This, he says, was followed by many years of perfecting beer recipes, growing hops on the family farm and of course, plenty of market research.
A sales and marketing gun, Renae made her start working late night hospitality shifts (at a number of reputable restaurants and bars in Melbourne and London, no less) before moving into events management and wine marketing for a highly-regarded distribution company. With a brain for business and a love of all things craft beer, launching Wolf of the Willows was just a natural progression for Renae.
As for the inspiration behind the name, they say Scotty’s nerdy love for beer history is to blame. We loved the story about Pliny the Elder, a Roman military man, naturalist and botanist, who was known to have named the hop bine Lupus Salictarius…Latin for Wolf of the Willows. The hop bine, as the story goes, looked as if were trying to strangle and take down the willow trees, much like a wolf would take down its prey.
This appreciation for history can be seen throughout the Wolf of the Willows brewing process; Scotty and Renae use traditional craft brewing techniques and no bullshit rubbish additives and chemicals, foregoing the pasteurisation process and giving the brews plenty of ferment and conditioning time. The result? Exceptional crafts beers that, while staying true to style, can often stray from the norm.
Our ISA India Saison is one that tends to push the boundaries, Renae explains. While a standard Saison style does not have hops included, but since our name is all about hops, why not put some in. And why not, indeed. Nelson hops gives the beer a wine-like, Sauvignon Blanc character, with spicy berry nut and a refreshing hit of mango, passionfruit and tropical fruits. Best paired with Asian and seafood style dishes, we’re told.
Their third brew, the JSP Johnny Smoke Porter, is a different take on the robust classic. Influenced by Scotty’s love of nerdy beer history, the JSP Johnny Smoke Porter is a historical throwback to what they believe a traditional London Porter would have tasted like, back in the times when open fire was used to malt barley. The end result is a firm malt profile that is smoky yet balanced by sweetness on the palate. A go-to winter warmer.
Now settled in the their Cheltenham brewery, Scotty and Renae have had time to work on more brews, recently releasing the final piece of their core range puzzle, the IPA India Pale Ale they call Homage, along with some limited release beers.
So, what’s next for the brewing duo? Lots, it would appear. As part of Good Beer Week, Wolf of the Willows have teamed up with famed Melbourne chef Daniel Wilson for Cooking with Craft Beer Master Class. Held at South Melbourne’s Urban Kitchen on May 17, guests will be taught how to cook favourite dishes, all prepared with craft beer, before they cook and consume their own three course fine dining creations. And, just to sweeten the deal, the full range of Wolf of the Willows beers is included as part of the experience, including rare and limited releases. Now we’ll cheers to that.