This article originally appeared in the July edition of Froth Craft Beer Magazine.
Squid ink, wasabi, yams and rhubarb. Over the years, Darren “Doc” Robinson has added some strange ingredients to his beers. He’s the one-man brewing operation (pun intended) behind Doctor’s Orders, a Sydney-based brewery renowned for creating unique, thought-provoking and sometimes downright crazy styles of beer.
“Every craft brewery had their pale, pils, amber and stout. I wanted to do what others weren’t,” says Doc. When asked to choose the weirdest thing he’s added to a beer, the answer doesn’t come easy. “Probably the combination of Atlantic red seaweed, porcini smoked salt and squid ink that went into the Marine Gose [Mutagenic Cephalopod] we made for GABS this year. Oh wait, quinine powder for bittering in the Tonic Beer we did with Yeastie Boys and Wheaty Brewing Corps a few years ago. Oh, or the Atom collaboration last year [Isotope], with bog myrtle.”
Doc learned his trade through home brewing, with a system given to him by his mother-in-law for Christmas in 1999. “My non-beer drinking wife still reminds me that it’s all her fault for where I am now!”
Ten years later, he won a home brew competition at the Schwarz Hotel (now the Sydney Brewery, based in the Hunter Valley). The win gave him the opportunity to commercially brew his winning beer, a chocolate hazelnut porter named Secret Squirrel. It was released two days into a heatwave at the end of a long and cold winter. “Craft beer drinkers loved it. Traditional beer drinkers hated it,” he says.
With a full-time job in IT and a group of generous friends (including The Australian Brewery, Nomad Brewing Co, Rocks Brewing Co and Young Henrys), Doc has never found the time nor the need to invest in his own brewery. He’s affectionately referred to as a “cuckoo brewer” – just as the bird takes over the nests of others to lay eggs, he takes over the brewery of a friend to make his beer.
Since 2011, Doctor’s Orders core range has consisted of four seasonal beers – Prescription 12 (Belgian Black IPA), Zephyr (Double White Ale), Iron Lung (Black Imperial Pilsner) and Plasma (White IPA). Autumn 2016 saw a change to the core range with the release of Anaphylaxis, a manuka-smoked black IPA with chipotle. (Try saying that five times fast!)
This winter, Plasma will also be retired, as Iron Lung was for autumn. “The working name of the new beer is Saccharophobic. It’s a salted caramel brown ale, where I’m also gently smoking the salt with whisky barrel apple wood.”
Aside from the core range, Doc has also taken part in a variety of limited-release collaborations. “Each is unique in their own right, but the one that stands out the most is the Sixpoint collaboration a few years ago,” says Doc. “I was waiting for co-founder Shane at the airport at 6am on brew day, but he never arrived. He’d missed his flight, because he’d been admitted to hospital with a concussion after a motorcycle accident.”
That didn’t stop him taking part in the brew day shenanigans, though. “We made a mask of his face and put it on the assistant brewer to act as Shane. We sent him pictures and videos throughout the day, as he lay in his hospital bed.”
More collaboration beers are due to be released in the near future, including the second incarnation of Dr Funk, with Funk Estate in New Zealand. “We’ll be brewing that when I’m over there for GABS Auckland. It’ll come in 330 mL cans and should hit Oz shores in late July/early August.”
Also making its triumphant return at the end of June is Dr Shedlove 2016, which last year featured sweet potatoes. “This year, it features taro and yams as the root vegetables. They were a pain in the ass to deal with!” Unlike last year’s release, it will be come in smaller, 330 mL bottles: “640 mL was just too big for this beer.”
Obey Doctor’s Orders by grabbing a beer, the tastiest of all medicines, in bottle or on draught nationwide.
Permission has been granted for all photographs used in this article.