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Young Henrys on Beyond The Pass

An O.G. craft brewery that puts as much thought into what they put into their community as what they put into their brews.
In this episode, Oscar McMahon (Founder & Director of Young Henrys) and Graeme Alexander (Lightspeed’s Hospo Oracle) talk craft beer, sustainability, renewable energy, the live music community and Sandra Bullock movies, as well as brewing up a batch of Young Henrys famous Newtowner Pale Ale.

Who are they?

Brewery & distillery

What do they do?

Brew beer, make gin, save the planet

Since when?


Craft brewery located in the heart of Newtown, Sydney

Over a decade strong

Over the past 10 years, Oscar McMahon and the Young Henrys team have cemented themselves as one of the heavy hitters in the Australian craft beer scene.

From its genesis as an idea between friends in the back room of a pub, to its early days in a single section of the space they call home to this day, Young Henrys has earned its stripes.

But instead of resting on their laurels, Young Henrys continues to look to the future, not just in a business sense, but in a much grander scheme.

With community-owned solar powering their brewery, and a collaborative science experiment squeezing every last bit of usable product from their waste, it’s fair to say Young Henrys is making the right moves to ensure there’s a future for everybody.

Brewing the famous Newtowner with Oscar McMahon, Young Henrys’ Founder & Director

It all starts with malted barley grains

"Sort of in between beer and cereal—beereal!"

In the loudest closet in the world, malted barley grains are milled in preparation for being spun around in water heated to around 60 degrees. This converts the starches within the grains into sugar, specifically maltose. This makes things fermentable, a very important property to have if you want to brew, well, anything! Once enough of this fermentable, sugary mixture is made, it’s passed through an enormous hydraulic press to squeeze out all of the good stuff and it’s then boiled at around 101 degrees into a terrifying, hot Weetbix-smelling, sticky mess.

Next come the hops

"It’s hot! It’s so hot!"

The hot Weetbix lava is pulled from ‘the kettle’ into ‘the whirlpool’ where it’s spun onto itself, over and over again. This is where the hops are added and where the beer gets its flavour. For Newtowner, this means a familiar passionfruit-like taste. But be warned, metal bowls containing hops are excellent thermal conductors and gloves are highly recommended when dumping hops into 101 degree, spinning liquid.

A final dose of yeast

"I’d hate to actually have to brew something!"

The hoppy, maltosey (is that a word?) mixture is pulled from the whirlpool, through a heat exchange to cool things down a little before adding the yeast because, although yeast likes a little heat, like us humans, 101 degrees is a touch warm for its liking. The whole batch is then pulled into an enormous tank to ferment and become beautiful, wonderful Newtowner Australian Pale Ale, ready to be canned, kegged and bottled, delivered to your waiting mouths.

More about Young Henrys

“We’re not a beer company that wants to talk about beer all of the time, we’re a beer company that wants to talk about good, fun occasions where you go and yeah, you might drink beer there.”
– Oscar McMahon, Founder & Director

Pioneering sustainability for all breweries

"For a bunch of died-in-the-wool Inner Westies, sustainability is pretty up there."

Young Henrys likes wastage, but not in any sinister, everyone for themselves kind of way. No, they like their wastage because of the opportunity it gives them to create good.

The spent grains from the brewing process are sent to feed livestock, but it’s the CO₂ that interests them more.

In collaboration with UTS, Young Henrys is pioneering a method in which the excess CO₂ created when they brew is fed to micro algae, who then feed off it and transform it into oxygen. The micro algae is then sold as a food additive for cattle to help reduce their methane emissions.

Plus, it glows bright green like we always wished every science experiment would.

About the beer

"It all started in the back room of a pub."

Young Henrys can trace its roots to a fabled beer appreciation club. Co-founders Oscar McMahon and Richard Adamson held ambitions to start a beer company that was as in touch with beer drinkers as their beer club was, and so Young Henrys was born.

Since then, Young Henrys has expanded to offer not only a constantly-evolving beer selection, but an award winning gin: The Noble Cut.

“We like making things, we like new challenges."

“We thought it’d be a great idea to create a gin that was using hops in it as well. We’ve just recently done a G&T tinny which is probably the most-drunk thing at YH barbecues.”

A collaborative beer company

"We’re a beer company, of course we’re going to make beer!"

Young Henrys makes beer. I know that, you know that, everybody knows that.

That’s precisely why Oscar and the team at Young Henrys like a collaboration. It’s an opportunity for them to work with others (most often musicians) and create something great out of the creative friction that occurs.

“Collaboration is a really interesting tool when used well. You’re actually forcing yourself to be creative, not just to your own standards, but to someone else’s.”

This also gives them the opportunity to not have to talk about beer all of the time—that’s what everybody else does.

“Just making a beer and saying hey, drink this beer. It’s too one-dimensional. You’re a beer company, of course you’re going to make a beer. Tell me something more interesting!”

Episode transcript

Full transcript

Graeme: [00:00:00] It's like the movie Speed and Speed two. It's just like, no control over it.

Oscar: [00:00:04] Yeah, Yeah, it is just like the movie Speed.

Graeme: [00:00:07] Exactly. Sandra Bullock. Keanu,

Oscar: [00:00:10] Obviously, I got a nice hair.

Graeme: [00:00:12] That's it. Keanu is famously bald and Scouse.

Graeme: [00:00:20] I'm here at the Young Henrys Brewery in Newtown, Sydney, to talk to co-founder co-owner Oscar McMahon about his journey over the past ten years, where him and the young Henrys team took an idea and nurtured it to create one of the most well respected and well known names in the Australian craft beer scene. This is beyond the pass.

Oscar: [00:01:02] Richard and I were running this beer appreciation club, which is basically what it sounds like, a bunch of people getting pissed in the back room of a pub trying all these different beers. This is going back about 12 years now. People, they were turning up every month. And I guess that that was probably the most important thing that made it made us take it seriously. When Rick said something like, How cool would it be to start a beer company that was in touch with the people drinking the beer? Like Beer Club is. And it took us it took us two years or a little bit more. We got the keys to this warehouse on the first of the first of the 11th 2011. Full date. Yeah. Well, 111111. That makes sense. Some. Some, like, weird numeral numerological. Is that a word? It is now. Yeah. Good. And look, we it was a really difficult process of trying to find people to invest and put money in and believe in the idea. And a lot of people were pretty, pretty like, Oh, yeah, this is cool. This is a great idea. But, you know, looking back, we would have looked like the fucking weirdest odd couple walking around town asking people for money. Like, look at me and Rich and be like, Yeah, no, I'm not putting money anywhere near you guys. So we managed to get, I think it was around 4 or 5 people and everyone was just all in. There was some remortgages, there was loans from parents, there was someone's inheritance went in like it was just like we were literally all in. If Young Henrys went tits up, I had no concept of how I was going to pay back the money I'd borrowed.

Graeme: [00:02:45] So what we got?

Oscar: [00:02:47] Malted barley grain.

Graeme: [00:02:52] It almost tastes like. Tastes like beer. Yeah, you can almost.

Oscar: [00:02:56] Sort of in between, like beer and cereal.

Graeme: [00:02:59] Yeah. Beereal. .

Oscar: [00:03:02] Beereal. There we go. Trademark that.

Oscar: [00:03:05] If I went back and was able to talk to my young self, the list of things that I would say, don't repeat this, don't do this. It would just be so exhaustive. It's probably easier that we can't go back and just, you know, let all those mistakes happen. Part of a company's story is how you recover from mistakes. And, you know, you if everything just goes right, you don't need to bring in extra expertise and you don't bring in new people and you don't need to be collaborative and to listen to other people. And, you know, I think that you learn more in your mistakes. People who are, you know, owners or founders of a business, they feel very connected to it sometimes can in a not such a not such a positive way. You know, you can have a bit of ego around it. And yeah, being in business for ten years really knocks that out of you, realizes you're not bulletproof, you're not a genius. Yeah, you're a fucking idiot who has managed to lock it most of the way. And you've got some good people around you and you should be thankful for that. That's it.

Oscar: [00:04:14] Okay, so this. That is all of the the grains that we've just milled in there.That is all of them. Just being spun around with water. At around 60 Degrees. Converting those grains. And the maltose within those grains into sugars. Right. Sorry. Converting the starches. Within the grains into maltose, which is a sugar. Okay. We'll run this through this big hydraulic press. Yep. Squeeze out all the good stuff. And then that's what's boiling in here. This is the very, very hot. No touchy. Yep. It's a fiery brew, that one.

Graeme: [00:04:58] So you don't add anything extra in this, in this phase?

Oscar: [00:05:05] We're about to add hops. Not just yet, but.

Graeme: [00:05:10] Oh yeah, that's, that's a that's that's beer. Yeah, that's exactly. Yeah.

Oscar: [00:05:15] I think one of the things behind, you know, young Henrys has always been that we're a company of people who like enjoying the spoils of our labor, to put it nicely. And we're all people that really love the hospitality industry. We love going out, we love well-made drinks, we love cocktail bars, restaurants, you know, So we also like making things. We like new challenges. So we thought it was a really interesting idea to create a to create a gin that was actually using hops in it as well. And that was that was sort of our idea. It was like, well, hang on, we know. We know the flavor and aroma profile of hops. Surely we could apply that to gin and make something pretty interesting, adding a couple of extra, you know, Australian natives like Juniper. Oh, sorry, like Pepper Berry and lemon Myrtle. And we've just recently done a G and T tinnie, which is like probably the most drunk thing at barbecues.

Graeme: [00:06:21] And what what beer is this that's that's brewing right now?

Oscar: [00:06:25] This is Newtowner. newtowner all day, man. Newtowner all day.

Graeme: [00:06:30] Excellent. Yeah. So these are the. These are the hops,

Oscar: [00:06:34] The hops going into. The whirlpool.

Graeme: [00:06:36] Hops going into the whirlpool. Hopefully. Hopefully, hop-fully. Want to get in as well. Get a shot of it.

Graeme: [00:06:49] Oh, it's hot. It's so hot.

Oscar: [00:06:50] Hot, hot, hot. It's.

Graeme: [00:06:54] That bowl got so hot, so quick.

Oscar: [00:06:58] Young Henrys is a brand that sort of reflects the values of the people that make it up. And, you know, for a bunch of dyed in the wool inner west, sustainability is it's pretty up there. You know, like have a look at the last elections. It doesn't necessarily make someone start drinking your beer, but it might make someone who already drinks your beer feel better about supporting your company on on an ongoing basis. A whole bunch of people from the local community invest in that system and we buy solar power back from local investors at a fixed rate of return. Really good deal for us. We didn't have to spend the money that we didn't have on putting in the solar and a bunch of, you know, local investors get to basically invest in a local business going going greener instead of waiting for legislation. You're putting some change into the hands of the people and the community, which is really cool. The algae project, that was another conversation between Richard and Dr. Peter Ralph from UTS about the sort of symbiotic relationship of Brewer's yeast and microalgae. Basically, Brewer's yeast, eats sugar, creates CO2 and alcohol, microalgae ingests CO2, uses that to make more algae and releases oxygen. So you've got these two like microorganisms that live in a liquid environment that basically are doing these completely opposite jobs. That microalgae then gets sold as a as a food additive for cattle to reduce the methane emissions of cows. It's kind of nuts. But if you think about the brewing industry, if everyone adopts that, you have all of these urban businesses that stop releasing CO2, they become oxygen creators. They are then creating another sellable product, which then goes to reduce the emissions of a whole different industry. It's this weird, glowing green thing and it's kind of wacky and weird.

Oscar: [00:09:09] So when that whirlpool. Is ready, it's going to come shooting out through these hoses and yeast is going to get dosed out of these tanks into the line, which is then going to go in. One of these big tanks, and you might recognize this handwriting.

Graeme: [00:09:27] My wife did the handwriting on the tanks? Proud husband. I had no idea they'd still be on there. You know what? She'll be happy.

Oscar: [00:09:37] I'd hate to actually have to brew something.

Oscar: [00:09:40] Collaboration is a really interesting tool when used well. We're a creative business and doing a collaborative project with anyone, be it a band or another brand, you are actually forcing yourself to be creative, not just to your own standards, but to someone else's. And that little bit of sort of creative friction can be really, really good for learning and progressing your brand a little bit. I reckon about 80 something percent of young Henry's employees are either in a band, have been in a band or are just huge music fans. It's it's just part of our DNA. We collaborate with musicians because we've always found that to be an interesting thing. We're not a beer company that wants to talk about beer all the time. We're a beer company that wants to talk about good, fun occasions where you go and yeah, you might drink beer there. We'd rather talk about a gig or make a beer with a band, then just make it a beer and saying, Hey, drink this beer, you know? Yeah, it's kind of. Yeah, it's just too. Too one dimensional, you know? Beer company. Of course you're going to make a fucking beer. Yeah. Tell me something more interesting. Don't know. Gives our brand a little bit of purpose.

Graeme: [00:10:56] This is like the spent grain.

Oscar: [00:10:57] This is spent grain. Yeah. So this gets picked up by farmers? Yep. And fed to their animals, mainly cattle. Good. Good roughage. Good protein. Yeah. We've. We've got what we need out of it. They get to use the rest of it.

Graeme: [00:11:13] Yeah. And it's like full circle. Yeah, that's.

Oscar: [00:11:16] It. Otherwise, like, this would be a waste product for us. We don't need it anymore. They use it as feed. Yeah. Yeah. Really good thing. It's so much easier just to put caps on. Resche's kegs than it is to actually make this. Stuff yourself.

Graeme: [00:11:32] Who's got weeks and months. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Oscar: [00:11:34] Who's got time to dedicate to actually making beer? Yeah.

Graeme: [00:11:37] Just clean skin it and. Yeah. Yeah. Chuck a cap on it.

Oscar: [00:11:40] Yeah, yeah. This is this this is some off Heineken that we purchased really cheap.

Graeme: [00:11:44] They won't know The difference.

Oscar: [00:11:46] I think, at the end of the day. We want to be able to look back on young Henrys and know that we made a positive impact. And we did things within our value system the whole way. When it's not fun anymore, something's gone wrong.

Graeme: [00:12:06] It looks about ready.

Oscar: [00:12:07] Yep. Just about ready. Yep. Yep.

Graeme: [00:12:14] So cold.