In just 15 months, Adelaide-based craft brewery Pirate Life has already made an impressive name for itself throughout the country. Their accolades include top spots in the Hottest 100, Critic’s Choice best beer in Australia, and numerous awards– gaining them a rapidly growing national fan base. When the Empire Hotel announced a five-course beer and food matching event hosted by Pirate Life CEO Michael Cameron, it came as no surprise that the event quickly sold out – and we made sure to be a part of it.
Michael Cameron, who goes by MC, is the father of Pirate Life Head Brewer Jack Cameron. Along with fellow Western Australian Red Proudfoot, the three launched Pirate Life in March of last year, when Jack was 22 and Red was 25. “To invest in a brewery with two young kids was a fairly daunting task,” says MC, “but I realised not only did these guys have a great passion for it, but at their young age they also had great experience.”
The experience he’s referring to includes the years Jack and Red spent together learning the trade at BrewDog in Scotland – one of the world’s leading craft breweries. “They worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Two years later, they walked away from BrewDog having done over 150 different types of beer.”
Their work ethic hasn’t changed much since then. Jack and Red keep the brewery running 24 hours a day, while MC travels the country putting their beer in punter’s hands. “We’ve done over 250 tastings around Australia in 15 months,” he says. The motivating factor behind it all is simple. “It’s passion. We’re passionate about our brand and we’re passionate about craft beer.”
This passion for quality beer led to an early decision to package beer in cans. “We believe, especially with hoppy beers, cans provide the ideal way to get it to market in the best possible condition. There’s no opportunity for any light or oxygen to get in.” Now, the eye-catching cans are one of the defining features of the Pirate Life brand.
Throughout dinner, our six Pirate Life beers were poured fresh from the keg, rather than from the can. Nevertheless, we were still treated to a few interesting anecdotes regarding the design behind each can. MC also shared the stories behind each beer with us, rather than discussing the taste of the beer itself, “I’m not big on that, everyone has their own opinion.”
“The can design for Throwback comes from a 1975 t-shirt from a brand called Golden Breed. In the late 70’s, everyone had this beige shirt with red stripes on it. Just as the beer is meant to be thrown back [as a 3.5% session beer], we thought we’d throw back the design as well.”
HopCo NZ Pale Ale
Matched with: HopCo beer battered goujons with tartare.
“HopCo is a [Tasmanian] company that imports hops from around the world. They’re one of our major suppliers and they do a lot of work with New Zealand hops. They came to us late last year and kindly asked us to make a NZ Pale Ale that would showcase some of the hops [Pacifica, Motueka and NZ Cacade] that they were trying to bring to market.”
Golden Era Records Golden Ale
Matched with: Golden Ale house baked wholemeal bread with beer & jalapeno cheese dip.
“A couple of weeks after brewing the HopCo beer, we got a call from the guys of Hilltop Hoods. That came out of the blue, I can tell you, I wasn’t quite sure who they were! They’re also South Australian and had been waiting for a brewery with a sense of energy and passion to come along to brew a beer for them.” “They wanted something with a fairly low ABV, sessionable and not too challenging. Obviously, Golden Era was an easy flow in to Golden Ale.” “It’s been terrific to share our business with people like HopCo and Golden Era.”
Matched with: Pale Ale braised lamb riblets with BBQ & beer sauce.
“Red and Jack wanted to make a beer that they could quite comfortably sell in San Diego, in Portland, in Seattle. This beer was made to be drunk in the West Coast of America.” “It’s a bit darker than a regular pale, but we wanted some extra backbone in the malt structure. It’s about an extra kilo of darker malt – that’s not a lot but it adds a bit of colour to it and help with the balance.” “The can design comes from a record label which was totally dark blue with the only two words on it being the band’s name. That’s what Red wanted it to be… and brewers are always right!”
Matched with: IPA braised beef cheek with creamy mash and spicy Bangladeshi curry sauce.
“We introduced this beer in March because we knew we had a gap between the Pale Ale and the Double IPA. We didn’t want to change the structure of the Double IPA – we love it how it is – but we needed a beer that would fit in between.” “It’s still got the danky resin we love in a West Coast IPA, but without that extra 2% alcohol.” “Jack thinks it’s the best beer we’re brewing at the moment.” “The can design comes from a late 1970’s, early 80’s American sports car, the Ford GT Golf.”
Matched with: White chocolate cheesecake with IIPA Chantilly cream and salted peanut & pretzel beer brittle.
“When we started the brewery, I sat down with Jack and Red and asked what we were going to brew first. Without hesitation, both of them said ‘double IPA and we’ve already decided to put it in a 500mL can.’ That sort of gave me an indication the type of characters I was dealing with!” “We’ve received some lovely accolades from this beer. It stems from a beer called Delirium Tremens, a 9.2% Belgian product – my go to beer when I lived in America. The three of us agreed to make a beer that would sit in that world, along with BrewDog’s Hardcore and Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.”
After the dinner, we were left with a taste of what was next for Pirate Life. “We have plans for two dark beers. We’re making a 6.8% stout, being brewed next week, and we’re also going to knock out a 3.2% session porter. I think we’re a nation in need of a really good, balanced, fresh and flavoursome mid-strength.”
One thing is clear – Pirate Life is going to continue producing the same hoppy beers that have already provided them with so much success. “People want to drink fresh, flavoursome and well-balanced beers.” “Look at our Double IPA. It was voted the number one beer in Australia in the Critic’s Choice. It’s pretty special – it’s a big, bold beer and it shows me the palate of the Australian craft beer drinker is really changing.”
Photography Credits: M.C.J., S.S., Kate Marsden (Empire Hotel Annandale) and Pirate Life Brewing.