That’s the way to brew it! Craig’s ale trail takes him from Austerlands to Australia

THE grind of a daily two-hour commute ensured Craig Talbot’s glass was often half empty when viewing his future career.

Now, Craig’s glass is permanently full after ditching his job in IT three years ago for a refreshing change of direction.

The former Saddleworth School pupil is brewing his own beer in Australia’s stunning Blue Mountains region.Craig, a 47-year-old dad of two, who grew up in Austerlands, has even helped build his Brew Mountains Brewery after outgrowing his garage operation because of demand.

The Valley Heights business was scheduled to open as the Independent went to press, nearly a year after Craig originally decided to expand his craft ales ‘empire.’

“I don’t have massive aspirations of becoming a global brand,” he explained from his home in Winmalee, around 50 miles from Sydney.

“Taking over the world seems too stressful,” he laughed. “I enjoy making beer and seeing other people then enjoy it.

“The reception has been amazing from the locals. I have had a really positive response with people coming round asking me when the brewery will be ready.”

When fully operational Brew Mountains will produce five core brands including pale and golden ales, an IPA and a porter.There will also be a number of limited releases such as a Grapefruit IPA – made from locally grown grapefruits – a 9.5 per cent breakfast stout “to sort you out for the rest of the day” and a Czech style pilsner lager.

“The craft beer industry over here is quite well developed but Aussies still want a cold lager in the hot sun,” said resourceful Craig, whose enterprise also sees him grow seven varieties of hops.

It is a lifestyle in a country he never envisaged while growing up in Saddleworth though helping his granddad, Jack Mitchel, brew beer as a youngster whetted Craig’s appetite. Dad Nigel and mum Carol still live in Austerlands.

One of the last pupils at the old Doctor Lane school, Craig eventually left Saddleworth School for Oldham Sixth Form before studying at Sheffield University and UCL in London.

Craig spent 15 years in the capital, a lot of the time completing IT projects for investment banks.

A “mid-life crisis at 30 something” saw him take 18 months off, spending the time riding a motorbike back from Nepal to England.

“When I got back, I was ready to settle down and never thought of coming here (Australia). I saw myself moving back north.”

Instead, he met Australian wife Gabrielle and nine years ago started a new life Down Under.

However, when commuting became a chore Craig sought a way out.

“I didn’t really know what to do. But I have always brewed my own beer and wine, even mead.

“We also took five months off to travel round Europe with the kids, who were probably about two and five at the time, in a camper van.

“We visited seven countries and quite a few breweries. I even visited Greenfield Brewery and spent a brew day with Tony Pye who owned it at the time. I don’t think Donkeystone had started by then.”

Once returned to Oz, Craig started brewing from the family garage. “The beers gained a solid following but because space was limited I wasn’t able to ramp up production.

“This expansion with its seven fermenters and new tap room is just what was needed.”

With the help of mates and locals he has made his own bottling machines and his currently manufacturing his own four headed canning machine.

“I try to do as many things myself so in that respect it is like a ghetto brewery. A lot of the traders who have chipped into help I have paid them in beer.

“I use local wherever I can and all my produce is Australian ingredients. Growing up in Saddleworth, in that kind of small, semi-rural environment, you get to know the people around you and try to shop and buy local.”

Sadly, Craig’s ales, including the likes of Last Man Standing, Black Stuff porter and To Die for Amber Ale, will remain the exclusive domain of the Aussies for the near future.

But if you ever happen to find yourselves in the Blue Mountains take a trip to Valley Heights and raise a glass to Craig and Saddleworth. Cheers!

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