This article originally appeared in the April 2017 edition of Froth Craft Beer Magazine.
Two mates, both homebrewers, turned pro. It’s a story we hear so often in the craft beer world it’s become common lore. But, when it comes to predictability and following the trend, Sydney-based gypsy brewers Shenanigans do anything but.
Founded by Sam Haldane and (appropriately named) Dan Beers, it took almost two years of careful planning for the pair to release their first commercial batch in 2014. Hitting the ground running, they launched with a funky, farmhouse-style Saison named Grisette, brewed with rye and oats, fermented with Belgian yeast.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. At a time when every new brewery was launching with some sort of pale ale, it was refreshing to see something more unique – and things only got more interesting from there. A jasmine and hibiscus IPA, a coffee-infused brown ale and a rum-soaked, oak chip aged porter were amongst the first releases. They were joined, ironically enough, with a pale ale, Winston. Loaded with ANZUS hops, it’s one of their only two permanently available brews and has now become synonymous with the Shenanigans name.
“We brew beer that we ourselves would want to drink. Beer that we find fun, interesting and want to share,” says Sam. “We get our inspiration everywhere from food combinations, to new brewing ingredients, to reading about old and new beer styles, and what’s happening in overseas beer scenes.”
In general, the pair’s brewing process for a new beer follows roughly the same procedure. They’ll come up with a new idea, which will be brewed on either Sam or Dan’s home pilot systems. Then, they have one shot to brew that beer on the big scale. That could be at breweries such as Wayward or Rocks, whose owners were once gypsy brewers themselves, or perhaps at a contract facility in the case of a well-established recipe.
However, that one shot doesn’t come about because of limited equipment rental time. Rather, it’s because of the sheer volume of extra ingredients added to their brews. Take Death by Hibiscus, for example, a Saison brewed with hibiscus flowers for Sydney Craft Beer Week last year. It took around 20 grams per litre of flowers to give the beer it’s distinct, vibrant red colour. Hoppy Gonzales, on the other hand, required 20 kg of jalapenos for its warm and spicy character. “Chopping and de-seeing that many jalapenos is dangerous work,” says Sam. Of course, that’s something you’d only want to do once!
Both of the aforementioned beers were part of Shenanigans’ “stunt beer” series, experimental, one-off releases that are designed to try just once or twice. The rest are “seasonally adjusted” brews, tailor made for each calendar season. Recently, Hoppy Gonzales has graduated from stunt to seasonal and features this month as their autumn release. Overall, Sam and Dan average a new beer every one to two months, something that’s quite impressive given the pair still have their day jobs. What’s more, they’ve been juggling working and brewing for several years now, having celebrated Shenanigans’ third birthday last month, in March.
But, gypsy brewing for this long hasn’t come without its struggles. Brewing on unfamiliar equipment, often at odd working hours, can lead to mistakes. “Twice now we’ve accidently pumped wort from the kettle in to the hot liquor tank instead of the fermenter,” says Sam. They’ve also once done a brew day without realising it, which they good-naturedly cite as “one of the wonders of gypsy brewing!”
Yet, even without a brewery, Shenanigans have firmly cemented themselves amongst a talented club of Inner West brewers. Unfortunately, the Inner West is where they will predominantly remain, at least for the foreseeable future. Although Sam and Dan ultimately aspire to have their own brewery and taproom, their distribution is limited until then.
For 90% of people reading this magazine in Melbourne, that means a beer from Shenanigans should be high on the bucket list on your next visit to Sydney, or perhaps on your tasting list for GABS. We’ve been assured that last year’s entry, brewed with the world’s hottest chilli Bhut Jolokia, will not be making a reappearance. But, who knows what weird and wonderful creation will take its place.