Modus Operandi Brewing Company: Big IPAs Down Under
At Australia’s first-annual Craft Beer Awards last October, little-known Modus Operandi Brewing Co. introduced themselves with a half-eaten sandwich and four-letter expletive that echoed through Sydney’s Giant Dwarf Theatre. “I had two beers in one hand and a pork sandwich in the other, thinking that maybe we’d get an honorable mention, and then the first award comes up and we win a gold,” recalls brewer DJ McCready. “The crowd got completely quiet, and all you hear is ‘Holy shit!’ come out of Grant’s mouth.”
Grant Wearin co-founded the brewery with his wife, Jaz. “We had no idea what to expect,” she says. “We just went along because we hadn’t had a day off in a very long time, and thought it’d be great to meet some other folks that we hadn’t yet.”
Seventy-eight breweries across Australia submitted over 280 beers to the event, which was hosted by the country’s Craft Beer Industry Association. Modus Operandi won eight awards, including Champion Small Brewery and the grand prize for its Former Tenant Red IPA.
“I accepted the first award holding a half-eaten pork sandwich, thinking ‘Shit! My mom will be so pissed that I’m holding a sandwich in my picture,’” says McCready. “Then we won the second award right after that and I was still holding the sandwich; I thought my girlfriend was going to disown me.”
Inspiration for Modus Operandi struck when the Wearins embarked on a great American road trip that kicked off in Colorado, continued through the rolling mountains of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and then wound back down the West Coast. At the time Grant worked in a bottle shop while Jaz was, as her husband playfully described it, “an office drone” in Sydney, but they’d spent a few years adjusting professional and financial priorities with the goal of opening a brewery.
“We got the guts to pull the trigger during the States trip,” says Grant. “The desire was already there; I just needed about 10 years to convince myself it could be done.”
The couple treated their American sabbatical like a reconnaissance mission, meeting with brewmasters, noting venue likes and dislikes, and trying to figure out how each brewpub fit into its respective hometown. “Communities in the States are very supportive of local breweries, a dynamic that isn’t all that relevant in Australia,” says Grant. “We wanted to see what these guys were doing right, and what features their communities showed that would enable us to also do something like that.”
The Wearins even squeezed in some brewing sessions along the way, including in Ridgeway, Colo., where Grant credits Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery owner Tom Hennessy for sharing his wisdom from years of brewing, building, expanding and downsizing. It was here, too, that the couple realized that although Grant was a homebrewer, they shouldn’t brew themselves if the brewery came to fruition. “Some Australian breweries have set up very successfully on the back of expanding their homebrew knowledge and developing it commercially, but I took the attitude that it was not the right path for us,” says Grant. “I think it’s the best decision I’ve made.”
Jaz agrees. “We thought that if we’re going to do it, let’s do it with a bang and get an American brewer who’s got experience on smaller and bigger brewing systems,” she says. “Someone who’s had experience with the big IPAs, which Australia is still breaking into.”
Crafting the Modus Operandi
“I like to tell people that I learned how to brew beer with a lot of YouTube videos, spare time and trial and error,” says McCready with his typically self-effacing wit. Though the North Carolina native did teach himself how to brew while between jobs, that was only the first spark.
Before long McCready volunteered at a small Asheville brewpub, and within two years he’d taken over as head brewer. That experience led to a major gig at Oskar Blues Brewery, where for roughly two years he managed the specialty beer program on the East Coast. “I gained all of my knowledge through working in the industry and learning from other folks,” he says.
Though he’d never been to Australia, McCready liked the idea of joining a nascent craft scene in Sydney. “I turned the specialty beer program into the ‘Modus Operandi Test-Batch Program’ for a couple months there,” he confesses. “They started to know something was up when I stopped coming up with kooky recipes every week and started to do 20 different Pale Ales on the pilot system.”
Armed with seven signature brews, Modus Operandi launched its brewery and taproom in July 2014 in the northern beach community of Mona Vale, a 40-minute drive from central Sydney. “A lot of places in Sydney are quite refined, like a restaurant,” says Jaz. “We wanted that whole brewpub experience of walking into a working brewery.”
The building itself has a dubious history, one that inspired the name of Modus Operandi’s grand prize IPA, which has some vaguely hemp-like characteristics. “There was a former tenant in this building who had to leave under… curious circumstances,” says Grant. “I think they’re in jail for growing something they shouldn’t have, so their misfortune was our fortune.”
McCready says that Former Tenant, brewed primarily with Mosaic hops, isn’t a typical IPA, a fact that may speak to the beer’s warm reception. “It’s one of those beers that if you calculated out the IBU, most people would scoff and say it’s not an IPA,” he says. “With the amount of finishing and dry hops we put in there, though, it still has that bitter-enough kick, but the hop profile definitely makes it stand out.”
Since last year’s awards ceremony, Modus Operandi has expanded its range of seasonals—a Double IPA brewed with fresh mangoes and a Russian Imperial Stout aged in Port barrels are among those on the way—and will soon add more unitank fermentors. It also has a lineup of wood-aged sours currently aging in barrels. Accolades continue to roll in, as well.
“We run a popular national poll each year, called The Local Taphouse’s Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers,” says Steve Jeffares, co-founder of acclaimed craft bar The Local Taphouse. “For 2014 the Former Tenant came in at No. 15 and the Zoo Feeder at No. 92, which is an impressive showing for such a young brewery with very little distribution. I expect Modus Operandi will feature strongly at the pointy end of future polls.”
With the second-annual Craft Beer Awards just around the corner, McCready says he may just bring his lucky charm with him. “We’ll see—I think I might be double-fisting a pork sandwich.”
12-hectoliter (10 bbl) brewing system
– 4 24-hectoliter (20 bbl) unitank fermentors
– 1 12-hectoliter (10 bbl) unitank fermentor
– 2 12-hectoliter (10 bbl) bright tanks
Pepper in the Rye: Peppery aromas bend to a mildly spiced flavor redolent of honey-dipped tree fruits in this Belgian farmhouse-style ale. 6.2% ABV
Zoo Feeder: Sunset orange in color, this English-style IPA flexes its muscles with a wallop of bitter American and Australian hops. 7.2% ABV
MOFOS: One of the brewery’s few sessionable signatures, this Saison draws much of its dry, citrusy profile from fresh orange peel. 4.2% ABV
Former Tenant: Dry-hopped with Mosaic and Galaxy, this luscious, full-bodied Red IPA tastes of passionfruit up front with malty caramel trailing behind. 7.8% ABV
Silent Knight: Nine different malts add up to a chocolaty, ink-black Porter that is far lighter than it looks. 5.6% ABV
M.O.na Pale: Crisp, well balanced and mildly bitter, this resinous Pale Ale is hit with Centennial hops six times before it’s finished. 5.8% ABV ■