The journey that ultimately brought us to the Heart of Darkness was built on years of exploration into the world of beer. It started mundanely enough, like any Englishman growing up in the 80’s I was bombarded with marketing telling me beers were ‘reassuringly expensive” or “probably the best Lager in the world”. I fell for it and thought that’s all life had to offer, picked my favorite mundane lager style and championed it.
I moved to Taiwan in my early 20’s and continued to drink mundane lagers. Beers that are really just good for getting drunk and giving killer hangovers. I returned to the UK to study Chinese. It was there that I had my first “eureka” moment with beer.
I visited a Taiwanese friend in Edinburg and there in a bottle shop I happened across a bottle of McEwan’s IPA. I don’t know what drew me to this bottle or why I brought it but in hindsight it was the point of divergence. It blew my mind, a beer with big hops and a wonderful Malt profile something I had never experienced before. The experience haunted my memories but as hard as I searched I couldn’t find this wonderful beer south of the border in London so I started experimenting with British Ales. Suddenly those cozy winters evenings in old country English pubs took on a whole new meaning as a new world of flavor opened up before and I started exploring the wonderful world of real Ale.
After I graduated university I decided to head West and moved to New York. This filled me with fear and trepidation, all I could think was I can’t go back!
I can’t survive in a world of Bud, Bud Lite, Coors, Coors Lite, Michelob, and Michelob Lite! So, I found myself at my welcome to the US party at my apartment in New York lamenting to a good friend of mine worrying about how I would get good beer. At the time, my fridge was full of Bud! He laughed and said, “come with me, I have something to show you’. We walked 200 meters around the corner from my apartment to a beer barn. To my sheer joy it was filled with a world of amazing beer, the craft beer revolution was about 10 years old at this point and there were hundreds of cool breweries making amazingbeers. John and I went home like excited kids and my journey into American craft beer was officially underway.
Over the 8 years I lived in the US I made it my personal mission in life to try as many craft beers as possible. There was an amazing Polish Deli at the bottom of the road from my second home in Brooklyn. It was owned by a total beer geek who curated the most impressive selection of craft beer I have ever seen, even to this day. I managed to try new beers from new breweries every day and put on about 15kg in the process. It was worth every kilo! Happy years of exploration took me from my first love Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a classic and still a personal favorite to what were then bigger beers like my much-loved Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA. Dogfish Head are, and have always been, one of my great inspirations. Their birth story and their constant search for new and different beers is now part of our DNA along with their relentless pursuit of marketing excellence.
Then it all came to a sudden end. I moved to China and re-entered the bleak world of mainstream mundane lagers. My heart sank as I went back to drinking beer that really wasn’t worth getting fat for. In my role as a manger of sourcing teams drinking and socializing were essential so I had no choice and for 7 years I had to wander in the beer wilderness with just my memories to keep me going until late one night my dear friend Steve turned up at my apartment with an Indian Red Ale he had made at home. I was immediately transported back to Brooklyn it was an amazing beer packed with flavor – big, hoppy and malty. At the time Steve wasn’t working so we made a deal. We build a home brew system big enough to make 80 litre batches, I’d pay for it and in return he would teach me what he knew.
We cobbled together the system with a 90L Esky as our mash tun, plumbers stainless steel braid as our filter, a commercial 30L kettle as our hot liquor tank and a 100L kettle on a commercial gas burner. We hand rolled 50 meters of copper tubing as our chilling coil and off we went. We hand crushed all the malts on a little hand cranked mill. It would take about an hour in the heat to prep the grains. At the time, I was living in Southern China in Shenzhen so temperatures soared into the high 30s regularly – a constant battle for fermentation. We started out with big fish tubs of water to swamp cool the beer wrapping the carboys with towels and freezing loads of 2L bottles of water to make ice to cool the water and keep the beer under 20 degrees.
While there was nothing beautiful about the system It was a great little system that turned out amazing beer. Steve and I became pioneers on the scene taking our place next to a network of about 6 people in Southern China. We brewed together, and worked out supply chains together. It was a real adventure and a very happy time learning how to make all my favorite beer styles. We turned out consistently good beers and I spent more and more of my time on my computer until the wee hours trawling though chat rooms and forums expanding my knowledge. The more I learnt the more I wanted to learn. Before I know it I quit my GM role for a big UK retailer and committed myself to learning all I could about brewing.
A role at IKEA put an end to my adventure in brewing, as I took up a Managers role for South East Asia managing the Vietnamese sourcing operation based in HCMC. I parked my brewing for a year as I took on the role. But my soul was restless and I decided to convert my master bathroom to an all-electric 100L brewing system and convert my spare bedroom to a fermentation chamber with two double industrial fridges. I lost myself in my brewing at the weekends and started developing my own range of IPA’s, Pale Ales and Golden Ales. I’d brew most weekends and honed my craft.
Then to my sheer joy I heard tales of a craft brewery opening in Saigon. The big day came and my dear friend and fellow craft beer head Toni, dashed to the new bar. We bumped into an acquaintance of Toni’s an Aussie called Andrew. He joined us as the flights started to arrive at the table. We tried a few and Toni decided we’d be better off back at my place drinking the IPA and Pale Ale I had on at the time. Little did we know that they would become Kurtz’s Insane IPA and Pitiless Folly Pale Ale. Andrew took his first sip and came up smiling from ear-to-ear and in his thick Aussie accent proclaimed “Mate! We’ve got to open a brewery”. And so began a great friendship and the Heart Of Darkness was born.
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