While there’s no set pathway into craft beer, it’s safe to say that Oscar McMahon’s journey into the industry was a unique one.
After 13 years of hard rockin’ as a band member of the Hell City Glamours, McMahon opened Young Henrys with co-founder Richard Adamson back in 2012. We caught up for a chat on the brewery’s seventh birthday.
This interview appeared in the Winter Issue of Beer & Brewer. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.
Q: Thinking back to 2012 when Young Henrys started, how much has the beer scene changed?
In 2012, if you wanted to go out and drink some good craft beers, you were going to the Taphouse – that was pretty much it. If you think about the pubs of the Inner West now, you can go to a normal pub and they’ll not only have one craft beer on, you’ll have a selection of independent craft, and not just pale ale – there’s a sour on at the Courthouse at the moment, for example.
We’ve basically seen independent craft become adopted by traditional-style pubs. Yeah, they’ll have a Carlton tap, or a Tooheys tap, but they’ll also have taps for beers from the local area because customers want that. Back then, even if you went out to dinner at a nice restaurant, there’d be this incredible wine list – but maybe one international and one domestic lager. These days we’re so spoilt for choice.
Q: How central is Newtowner to the Young Henrys brand?
I’d call it our flagship beer. Not only is it our biggest selling product, but it’s named after our hometown. When you think about Newtown there are certain things that spring to mind: a set of values, an aesthetic, it’s loud, and in some ways Young Henrys reflects those values.
However, Newtowner wasn’t one of our first beers – our first beers were Real Ale and Natural Lager. HOW DID NEWTOWNER COME ABOUT? We’d been operating for about a year and a half when the Newtown Chamber of Commerce hit us up and said: “Newtown is about to turn 150, would you guys like to create a beer for its birthday?” So we had a look at what people were drinking in Newtown and made a beer to suit their palates.
People were drinking pale ales, but people were also drinking old school beer like Reschs. So we took the tannic qualities of Cascade hops, and blended it with Galaxy and Vic Secret to create a new world Australian pale, Newtowner – which was originally supposed to be a one off! It was the first time the Courty ever poured Young Henrys and it sold through the whole batch in a week – we’d never seen anything like it before, and we decided we had to keep making it. It got to the point where, for over a year, we couldn’t make enough to service anyone outside of Newtown.
Eventually we stuck in some new tanks which basically became the Newtowner tanks, and now 65- 70% of our business is that beer.
Q: How would you describe the Young Henrys approach to brewing?
Our motto has always been ‘Serve the People’. We’re not trying to make beers that challenge people, or say “you don’t drink craft beer, you’re wrong”. We’ve always tried to make balanced beers – even our Summer Hop Ale isn’t that challenging; despite the fact it’s 55 IBU and 6% ABV, it’s quite easy drinking.
Our core range is approachable and filled with beers you can drink more than one of. That’s been our focus; we go to pubs, and want to be able to drink a few at a time. Internally, we refer to our beers as ‘pub craft’. But having said that, we’ve got a team of 11 passionate brewers, who are constantly doing R&D batches of weird and wonderful things.
This year we’ve started up a smaller series called Brewers B-Sides, where the brew team come up with different ideas and release them in longnecks.
Q: What beers would be in your dream six-pack?
I’m going to have to put two Young Henrys beers in there: Newtowner, because it’s a go-to for me and a beer I’m really proud of. The other is the Stayer mid, because it’s saving our lives at events these days.
Then I’ll have to say Chimay Grande Reserve, because it’s always been a beer my dad and I have bought on special occasions to have together. Stone & Wood Pacific Ale: my wife and I were married by Ross at Stone & Wood and we had that beer at our wedding.
Then I’m gonna say Sierra Nevada Pale; when I was on tour with my band in America many years ago, drinking Sierra was a huge beer moment for me. The last would have to be Guinness. It’s an old favourite – not exactly craft, but hey!