A crafty career move

Happy returns ... Colin Larter at his Mount Kuring-gai brewery.
Happy returns ... Colin Larter at his Mount Kuring-gai brewery.

Reminiscent of Homer Simpson's episode as a beer baron, Colin Larter began brewing beer in the garage of his Normanhurst home in 2003. While there were no exploding beer barrels, Larter admits there were a few mishaps.

''It was pretty grotty and it definitely wasn't a nice, clean garage,'' he says. ''It was really primitive and I was using Eskies for part of the brewing process.''

Larter eventually decided to use his beer for more than just supplying the parties he and his friends held and, in 2006, made his hobby into a business. After getting a licence for his Happy Goblin Brewery, he moved it into the Mount Kuring-gai warehouse where he is now based.

It was a very different career to the one he envisaged while studying chemistry at the University of Sydney. ''I was supposed to be a research scientist but then I discovered that the university had a bar, which caused all sorts of trouble,'' he says. ''I got into brewing partly because of my chemistry studies, where I ended up reading a lot about brewing. Mostly though, I just wanted to make good beer.'' His biggest challenge now is ''meeting the demand that people have for our beers''.

In 2006, he sold about 2500 litres; by the end of this year, he expects to have sold 25,000 litres.

He credits his success to the growing popularity of craft beers.

''Only in the last four to five years has craft beer really taken off in Australia and I really have been a beneficiary of this,'' he says.

The brewery is set to expand output by the end of the year.

Larter has bought new equipment to lift output from 250 litres per brew to 600 litres.

He's supplying a niche market. ''The trend in craft brewing nowadays is for these American-style beers that are really hoppy,'' he says.

''I don't do that and instead make a very simple pale ale, which is quite malty.''

As well as the popular pale ale, the brewery also produces dark ale, strong ale, stout, ginger beer and the more unusual fresh beer. This is similar to an English cask ale, albeit ''a dodgy colonial interpretation'' of one, Larter says.

''It is the same as the normal pale ale but rather than putting it in kegs and gassing it up, it is served completely flat, apart from a very small amount of natural carbonation that occurs from the yeast,'' he says.

The newest addition to his range is a bitter. An English-style beer, it is malty and a little darker than the brewery's pale ale.

Larter adopted his usual method of improvisation to come up with the final product in February this year.

''It is very much a matter of trial and error and some exhaustive testing on friends,'' he says. ''It took me about three or four batches to develop the bitter. The first batch was good but wasn't quite right. I continued trying to make an English-style bitter without using English malt but soon realised that that was a little stubborn.''

The bitter has proved popular and is now a permanent product of the brewery. Larter, fortunately for NSW beer-lovers, has been much more successful than his cartoon counterpart.

Stockists include Annandale Cellars; Jim's Cellars, Waitara and Crows Nest; Platinum Liquor, North Strathfield and Bellevue Hill; Australian Hotel, The Rocks; see happygoblin.com.au.

This story A crafty career move first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.