With Mountain Culture Back to Cali West Coast IPA having just been named national winner of the Weird and Wonderful category in the 2023 Best of Beer Awards, we sat down with head brewer DJ to find out what it takes to keep wowing beer lovers in a market with plenty of competition.
I was living in North Carolina working as a wilderness guide and had very little money but a lot of off-time. My roommate, Josh, and I decided to make beer at home to save money, and we’d invite friends over to decide who’s beer was best. I started working for free at a brewery to try and learn from the brewers and before I knew it, I’d been there three years and became their head brewer.
I was bored living in North Carolina where I’d grown up and heard about a couple starting a beer brand in Sydney who needed a brewer. I arrived nine years ago and met my wife Harriet. In 2016, we decided we should do this for ourselves.
We spent a lot of time in the Blue Mountains hiking and climbing and thought opening up here would provide endless inspiration for making the beer. And we’d get to be part of a unique working town that has a ton of character and is a catch-all of artists, hippies and climbers.
One of the styles we really jumped onto is the New England IPA-style, which hadn’t been perfected in Australia yet. I was putting a lot of focus into water quality – you could see the biggest flavour change in beer by the water manipulation.
It was a scrappy time! I was working as a brewery consultant, Harriet was doing whatever odd jobs she could – it was a case of scrounging as much cash as we could to pay for the next stage in the development application so that we could eventually borrow some money. When we finally got the Katoomba building, we lived in it while doing as much of the demolition and renovations as we could.
Early on, the business model was to sell a couple of beers and a burger after hiking or climbing, and maybe send customers home with a six-pack. But that got turned on its head immediately after opening when the [Black Summer] bushfires came through, followed shortly after by COVID lockdowns. We took the brewpub mentality – crafting new beers and experiences with beers – and started canning beer to sell online. We sold maybe 20 cases of beer the first week, but most of the folks who ordered it were craft beer connoisseurs. They started posting great reviews of this ‘unheard of beer’ and the next week we sold out. Now we have a factory in Emu Plains, but we’ve stuck with that idea of keeping it interesting, with new beers coming out that people are excited about.
Here’s DJ’s guide to the Mountain Culture beers you need to try, starting with the winning brew in the Weird and Wonderful flavour profile category at the Vintage Cellars Best of Beer Awards 2023.
Mountain Culture Back to Cali West Coast IPA “When I started out as a brewer in the States, West Coast IPA was all the rage, so I’ve had a lot of experience with it. What’s unique about our Back To Cali is that it incorporates hops from the States with a small amount of Australian hops as well. It’s a dry, clean-finishing beer that makes a great barbecue beer, it pairs great with lamb or steak.”
Mountain Culture Cult IPA “This was one of our original ‘limited release’ beers we made during COVID – we wanted to create a bridge between the dryness and bitterness of a West Coast IPA with the rounded, juiciness of a New England IPA. It’s hazy with tropical notes and a drier finish …and people seem to like it.”
Mountain Culture Scenic Route Session Hazy “This is our lightest beer, made for a hot summer’s day session. It’s got a berry, passionfruit character and is our drinkable version of a hazy beer.”
Mountain Culture Status Quo Pale Ale “Of the 250 different beers we’ve made to date, this is the beer that best represents what we do at Mountain Culture and the one we produce most of. We incorporate all the big flavours of an IPA, but lowered the ABV to be more in line with a pale ale so it can be your everyday beer.”