You’ll always receive a warm welcome at the Scenic Rim Brewery & Cafe, a family-owned and run brewery in the tiny township of Mount Alford. Mike and Wendy Webster bought the heritage-listed old general store in 2014, and opened their doors to keen locals and daytrippers in late 2016. They offer a delicious Dutch-inspired menu, as well as fresh cakes and good coffee, and, of course, a range of quality, thirst-quenching craft beers. They are open from Thursday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm, and by appointment on Wednesdays for large groups and bus tours. (www.scenicrimbrewery.com.au)
MIKE & WENDY WEBSTER
How did the Scenic Rim Brewery come about?
MIKE: We’re Brisbane born and bred, and I had come out to Moogerah Dam and Christmas Creek all my life. We always came to the Scenic Rim when we wanted a country escape. I was a builder, but I’d had enough of building and I saw this beautiful shop.
I had also brewed all of my life. I started in the garage, in the shed. We were freshly married, two children and no money, and I loved beer. I had a mate who taught me, and I grew it from there. We moved here about five years ago and the year before that I went to Berlin, Germany, to do a short craft-brewing course. It covered every aspect from the size of the café and how many tables you should have, to how you clean your tanks, how to brew your beer and how to treat your customers. It was a very extensive course. I came back from that and said, ‘Righto, here we go.’
We bought this place, and then spent all year actually renovating. We opened the first day of December 2016. We were getting a thousand people through a week for the first six weeks.
How did people find out about it?
WENDY: Our daughter did a video the week before we opened, just walking through the store, and we had 65,000 views. It went viral!
And you’re a café as well as a brewery?
WENDY: I’ve always loved to cook and entertain. We used to throw really good parties when we lived in Brisbane — themed parties and all of that sort of thing. I always thought I’d like to have a café or something small, so we are combining both of our wishes, I suppose. In that year before we opened, I read, I Googled, I used Pinterest, and I did a chef ’s skills course, which was only eight weeks, but I tried to get as much knowledge as I could.
MIKE: With our research over probably a ten-year period — we travelled Victoria and Tasmania where a lot of micro-breweries are, and, to an extent, through Europe — we realised it is not enough just to be a brewery. We want to be a tourism destination. Obviously, my main business is producing beer at a great little old general store, and Wendy has her Dutch food, plus tea and coffee and all of the things that come with it. We found that a lot of the small breweries we visited, two years later they’d be gone. They weren’t presenting the whole gamut that you need to do these days. It has to be more than just beer.
WENDY: I’d gone to many breweries and they’re great, but at that stage I wasn’t a beer drinker — I’ve been converted now — so I’d be just walking around and there wasn’t anything to look at. I’d have been happy to sit down with a cup of coffee and read a book or something like that, while he was talking to the brewer. That’s why we wanted to have a café. It has been successful because we’re catering for everybody. And it is a kid-friendly place — we do milkshakes — and we do things for the oldies, too.
MIKE: They are coming out of the woodwork for Wendy’s scones — freshly made every day.
You started product-testing the beer before you opened, didn’t you?
MIKE: During the two-year period between buying and getting the doors open, I had two of my beers out on the market as I was contract brewing with another guy — Beard and Brau — and it was a godsend to be able to get your product out there, tested and accepted. Forty-five per cent of our followers on Facebook are female. I always knew females weren’t targeted in the beer industry, so one of our beers is Shazza, and it is aimed at the female market. It is a big part of our marketing, the fact that females love beer.
How did you come up with the names?
MIKE: We are very fortunate that our daughter is a graphic designer who went into marketing, and she is very good at her job. She kept us on track.
WENDY: We have three adult children, who are all married, and we have family meetings. We sit down and we work everything out. One is a teacher, one is a salesman, and one is a graphic designer. We have little pow-wows. We trial the food. We taste it. Our oldest daughter runs it like she’d run a meeting at work. Our daughter-in-law is a hairdresser, so she does customer service; our son-in-law is a manager at Bunnings, so he’s into customer service. We all work together.
What is the story behind the names?
MIKE: We wanted to honour Aussie characters, so our beers are the Larrikin range. Digga’s Pale Ale is actually a caricature of my dad. Not just diggers that fought in the war but, because we’re so close to Ipswich, diggers in the mines. Fat Man Maroon Ale is based on an Irish red recipe. Through the think tank, we thought red, then we thought maroon, I love football … and that’s what it is all about: the old footballers and honouring them. With the Shazza Mid Strength, we honour the ladies.
So, tell us about the beers.
MIKE: Digga’s is a pale ale. Pale ale is a phrase coined by the crafties, about fifteen or twenty years ago when the whole craft thing started. All it is is a pale malt, which gives you a pale beer. I use a Belgium-type yeast called Ardennes, so you get a fruity, spicy finish to it.
The next one is called Fat Man, based on an Irish red recipe, so you start to use your roasted malts. Roasting barley is no different to roasting coffee beans: the longer you roast it, the more burnt flavour comes through. You don’t need a lot of roasted barley in there to change the colours and change the flavours. It starts to get the chocolate flavours and the caramel comes through, and because of the colour it is a bit easier on the eye. You want to have your five senses tantalized, not just your tastebuds.
Then we go to Shazza, which is a mid strength pale ale. Because it is a mid strength, what you have to do is drop your sugar value down to drop your alcohol down. What happens in a lot of commercial beers is you also drop your flavour. So, what I do is put in a lot of hops right at the end of the boil through a hopback, which is actually an instrument that you push your liquid barley through the actual hops themselves. You still get a lot of hop flavour, even though it is a mid strength beer, and you are not losing out, even though you can still drink and drive responsibly.
The fourth beer on our menu is called a Sheep’s Back. That started with Eat Local Week three years ago. We had Digga’s, we had Fat Man and we thought it would be nice to have a third beer. There is an English tradition where they mull their beers and wine — they heat their beer up, boil it, put a spicy apple puree in the beer, it floats to the top and looks like lamb’s wool. We did an Aussie twist and called it a Sheep’s Back. It is the Fat Man, still in its cold state — we put a really cold and spicy apple puree in that and, as you drink it, it gets infused with the Fat Man and you get a cidery, appley finish to it. Eventually, I’ll aim to have six standards and a few seasonal beers.
What style of food do you serve in the café?
WENDY: The food is good basic food. It is lunch. People are out here and they want a lunch for ten or twelve dollars. The hot dogs go well. The grazing platters work well. People come by in the afternoon, they have a few drinks and something to nibble on. We make my bitterballen, which are like a Dutch croquette. We go through thousands. They’re my mum’s recipe. They’re something different, but they’re a typical Dutch drinking snack. They are a little time-consuming to make, but they’ve become a signature thing. We also do our own hotted-up take on the retro chiko roll. It has been a big hit. Michael always loved a chiko roll when he was a builder.
The beer tastes great — very clean.
MIKE: The only preservative in this beer is hops. That is why it was originally put there, that is why it is still there and that is what it does. People have made beer for centuries. All we are doing is taking it back to the way it used to be made, without any chemicals. Everything is natural in it. It is a natural product. It won’t travel and be as tolerant to weather changes as other commercial beers, but if you treat it right, it will be good in two years time.
WENDY: It is brewing beer the way it used to be made.