Moon Dog brings quirky brews to the Ballarat Beer Festival

Sarah Gamboni
06 January, 2016

Visit the Ballarat Beer Festival on Saturday 16 January to sample top drops from Australia's best brewers, including the experimental creations from the Moon Dog crew.

Moon Dog Ballarat Beer Festival

As Karl van Buuren (right) and his brewing partners Josh and Jake Uljans gear up for the Ballarat Beer Festival, we chat with him about their madcap brews.

How did you get into brewing?

Myself and brothers Josh and Jake Uljans started home brewing about 10 years ago now, while we were working in office jobs just out of uni. We were brewing the kind of beers that you couldn’t get here – those high-concept, experimental beers that were taking off in the US, but hadn’t been explored here. They were using different ingredients, such as pumpkin and spices.

How did the Australian market respond to your beers?

It was interesting. We moved into the factory here in Abbotsford and it took us about nine months to get up and running. As we didn’t have any big financial backers, we had to fund, source and build everything ourselves. We found the beer was really polarising initially. A lot of people hadn’t been exposed to that kind of stuff. We made gingerbread beers and pumpkin beers, and we found that people either loved them and couldn’t get enough, or couldn’t stand them. We were evoking emotions from these people.

The first beer we commercially released in bottle was a Cognac-barrel-aged double IPA that was sitting around 9 per cent alcohol. For the first few years we made one-off batches in small amounts. We wanted to have a brand following, rather than a beer following.

Is there a seasonal bent to what you do?

For the past few years, we’ve tried to release a new beer each month, and that’s quite seasonal – we wouldn’t do anything too dark and roasty in the middle of summer. We keep the stouts and darker beers for the winter. In the warmer months we look to the lighter beers and fruit sours, using lighter, tangier ingredients such as passionfruit.

How do you come up with a new beer each month? That must keep you on your toes.

It’s a lot of fun. We have a program here called our ‘Single Keg Program’, where we brew one or two beers a week in our single keg system, which produces around 50 litres. And that’s put on at our bar here at the brewery every Thursday – that allows us to have a lot of freedom experimenting with different processes and ingredients. If it’s a successful keg, it can graduate to one of the monthly releases.

And the feedback is instantaneous?

Yes we have a bit of a following of people who come down every week to tell us what they think. We’ve got a pizza caravan out the front that’s open whenever the bar is open.

Besides the brewery, where can we find your products?

We’ve released a few core products, such as the Love Tap lager, that are stocked across Australia. Our specialty stuff is more selective, mostly around Melbourne.

Is craft beer becoming more mainstream?

I think so. We’ve had a couple of out-there beers stocked in Dan Murphy’s, our Double Scoop Ice Cream Beer – it’s a two-pack, with one bottle of our pine-lime Splice of Life beer and another of our Golden Haytime. Dan’s jumped on that – the kind of stuff they’re experimenting with is indicative of what’s happening in the market.

Do events such as the Ballarat Beer Festival help to introduce your products to a new audience?

Definitely – the regional ones especially are fantastic. It’s great to put the beers in front of these guys who normally wouldn’t have the desire or ability to access these beers. Doing these one-off event-specific beers is great fun – the drinkers are trying something for the first time, and essentially we’re trying something for the first time too.

Pay a visit to Karl van Buuren and the boys at the Moon Dog stand at the Ballarat Beer Festival on Saturday 16 January, 11am-8pm.

Thirsty work: beer recipes

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