Paul McLaurin caught up with club stalwart and life member John Kingston to talk Westgate history, competition success and drain pours.
Paul McLaurin (PM): I have wanted to do an interview with you for a while now in respect of the life membership that was bestowed on you at the AGM. Firstly, congratulations! I have been a member for a few years now, and when I arrived at the club, you were spoken about with a lot of reverence for your brewing ability, but also for your service to the club as a past president and long standing committee member. What are some of the things you’ve been most proud of?
John Kingston (JK): Yes, I was on the committee for a while and helped to kick the kitty up. We had a 21st celebration and needed a few dollars, so we started up the sausage sizzle at Grain and Grape and with the help of Tabby and Dawn and Robin and a couple of others we were able to get enough in 12 months to be able to do our 21st all catered. That was at Footscray/Yarraville bowls club and was good.
PM: When did you join Westgate?
JK: In early 2000. I brewed kits before that in the 90’s, a little bit of extract. Then I was on a gourmet trail that took me to a cheese factory, a smokehouse and the Robin Hood Brewpub in Mirboo, where I discovered a beer called Gippsland Gold made by Grand Ridge. There I met some guys from Westgate who were there on a club day; I went along to a club meeting and I have been here ever since.
PM: It’s a simple question, but why do you brew?
JK: I enjoy the challenge of brewing. I like making beer that’s enjoyable to people and if I enter a competition and my beer is placed, then I feel as though I’ve beaten the system. I enjoy building the equipment too, it never stops; I have a three-pot HERMS (Heat Exchanged Recirculation Mash System) rig and I keep building onto it. I have a freestanding brew house with overhead water and electrics and a proper concrete floor that I am able to keep spic and span.
PM: So you’ve gone from kit and kilo and extract brewing to winning the “Competition Hero” competition, which is the award for the club member with the most external competition points.
JK: That was a bit of a surprise actually, I didn’t know that was on. I make sure I have something to enter in all competitions, and that’s mainly because of the club’s standing. If we don’t support each other’s competitions, it’ll die. At the moment, it’s very, very good; more and more people are taking on the challenge of brewing their beer at home. We’ve come a long way from when club members used to share the one pot for brewing.
PM: In terms of your brewing journey, from kit and kilo to becoming one of the most decorated brewers to come through the club, what would you say has been the most important change, or thing you have incorporated to improve your beer?
JK: I think a quick chill through my system’s heat exchange where you can get a lager down to 10C in 20 minutes and you have pitched your yeast and are ready for your clean up. That’s the biggest advantage. It’s faster too; my old brew day was about 8 hours, now I can get it down to 6.5-7 for 55-60 Litres.
PM: Do you find it difficult to get through all the beer you brew?
JK: No, I bottle and keg, and bottle stubbies too. I mature my beers for about three months in the cupboard before I even chill them. There are some that you take the top off after that period of time to find that they’ve gone nowhere, they are winey or sweet and you just discard them. I don’t have any problem with that - my sink is very used to having beer thrown at it.
PM: OK, that’s interesting. I think it’s common when people to make beers that they don’t like that there’s an expectation that they will suck it up and drink them anyway. It’s interesting to hear someone with a pretty reasonable pedigree in terms of brewing success say they aren’t scared to tip one out if it’s no good.
JK: If I can’t drink it, I won’t give it to anybody else.
PM: I’ve tried an Atholl Brose (infusion of whiskey, oats and honey) that you made. I’ve had a mead that you made and a couple of sours - you have a very broad range of things that you make.
JK: Well, I like the sours. I’m about to start kettle souring soon – the souring agent that’s been brought out by Lallemand makes this easy. I’ve just made a mellomel again (a mead infused with fruit) and I always have something like that on the go. I pop it in a fermenter, leave it at the back of the couch and it goes through summer, autumn, winter and spring and then it might go through summer, autumn, winter and spring again. You taste it, if it’s alright: bottle it. If not, chuck it out.
PM: It’s a silly hypothetical question because hopefully it won’t come to this, but if you could only brew one beer, what would it be?
JK: (No hesitation) It’d be a low alcohol pilsner. One grain one hop – either a hallertau or a saaz or even spalt. I always have this on tap at home.
PM: Let’s come back to the club. You are coming up to be 20 years a member, which is a long time to belong to any organisation. If you were speaking to a new brewer now with so much information online, what would you tell them you get out of being a member of a brew club?
JK: In the early days it was about information, but I was helped enormously by the members of this club in improving my brewing, especially with my bigger beers. I think they are just as helpful to newer brewers now. In summary, be part of a brew club simply because it’s beneficial to your brewing.
PM: Thanks John, it’s been great chatting.