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Ten minutes with... Lewis Maschmedt, Pirate Life Brewing

Companies

We caught up with brewer Lewis Maschmedt as he wound up the night shift at Pirate Life Brewing’s state-of-the-art digs at Hindmarsh in Adelaide’s west, to talk about his move into craft brewing in SA from Western Australia’s oil and gas drilling industry.

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Maschmedt, 30, made South Australia home about 18 months ago, stepping away from a chemical engineering background and jobs in oil and gas drilling to join fast-growing micro brewer Pirate Life. The brainchild of fellow Western Australians, Jack Cameron and Jared ‘Red’ Proudfoot, Pirate Life has seen epic growth since its first slickly-branded cans rolled off the line in Adelaide in 2015. It has since grown its brewery and packaging teams, more than doubled the number of fermenters, added a second canning line and established its own distribution company, Pirate Cartel.

What was the impetus for becoming a chemical engineer?

In all honesty I just chose it when I was 17 because I enjoyed the sciences. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but it turned out to be an amazing degree to have. It’s so broadly applicable.

You found your way into the mining boom in Western Australia, doing what specifically?

I worked in consulting for RPS and Oracle Risk Consultants. The bulk of my work was helping big drilling companies develop their drilling programs for Australian waters but I also worked in construction during the mining boom.

How long were you in that game?

All up five years or so. I spent a pretty long stint of time overseas in my 20s, so it was punctuated by some long periods of travel.

How does one go from mining to brewing?

It all happened when I was overseas in Canada – Vancouver specifically. I was working in a bar that specialised in craft beer. I loved all the beer and the industry in general so when I came home I walked up to a brewer at Little Creatures Brewing in Fremantle and asked for a job. I got lucky. It was a right place at the right time situation.

What drove you to move to Adelaide 18 months ago?

I returned to working in oil and gas after Little Creatures sold to Lion Nathan in 2012. In 2015 the oil and gas industry began a downturn and Pirate Life Brewing was steaming ahead. I had a chat with friend and Pirate Life co-founder Jack (Cameron) and they needed a hand in the brewery. I decided to take the plunge. I had always wanted to work in a fast-moving startup-style business and the fact that it was a brewery made it even sweeter.

Were you attracted to, or even aware of the growing small bar scene in Adelaide?

I love the small bar trend, I think it’s a really positive movement in Australian hospitality culture. I knew that Adelaide had a bit of a scene popping up and it’s always a huge drawcard especially working in the brewing industry as it provides plenty of spots to enjoy a beer and a chat.

What appealed to you about brewing a particularly ‘hoppy’ brand like Pirate Life?

Well that’s easy. I love hoppy beers.

Talk a little about what your daily – or nightly if you’re on the night shift – work involves. Is it all test tubes and trial and error?

Brewing is a bit of art and a lot of science. The art is in dreaming up your recipe. There are thousands of different styles to brew and every brewer has their own interpretation of that style. Day to day brewing is a little drier and relies on tried and tested science to help us replicate each recipe so that the customer enjoys the same flavor every time they reach for one of our beers.

Is there a particular beer you feel ownership of – one that you brewed from scratch and love? Or are their recipes that you follow for each type of beer?

Most of the recipes are the brainchild of co-founders Jack and Red (Proudfoot) but they are always open to any suggestions when it comes to making improvements. Our brewery team works hard to make sure that each beer that leaves our doors is as good as it can be so that in itself comes with its own sense of pride and ownership.

What is special about the Pirate Life brand; to be sure the business has grown quickly since it kicked off in 2015, adding brewery staff, growing its packaging team and more than doubling the number of fermenters. Add to that a second canning line, new real estate and the establishment of its own distribution company, Pirate Cartel, and it’s been a massive ride.

Number one – we are brewing great beer and package it exceptionally. Beyond that we have a great story behind the brand and we make a huge effort to get out around the country and engage with our customers. Little things like that resonate with craft beer fans and I think that makes a huge difference especially in a close-knit community like SA.

How involved are you in the overall business – from brewing to branding to retail?

I have worked across all sections of the brewery from the brew house to packaging. I also write the blog and try to as often as possible get out there to beer shows and festivals and spread the good word about Pirate Life’s beers.

So you have skin in the Pirate Life business?

I have been good friends with co-founders Jack and Red for years, so when they did the initial fundraising drive I encouraged my old man to get on board. Since then I have invested.

You’re studying MBA at the University of Adelaide. What are you hoping to gain from the course?

I just feel like no matter what career you choose a good understanding of business is always handy. I have intuitive knowledge of the concepts that the MBA deals with so it’s pretty cool to back that up with some formal learning.

What do you hope to do once you have the MBA under your belt?

I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead. The next two years (which is probably how long it will take for me finish) are going to be very busy down at the brewery so I am focusing on helping Pirate Life continue its rise. But I’ve learnt that the next opportunity is never far around the corner!

What plans for the future – do they involve a long-term commitment to SA?

I guess that depends. So many things can happen so it’s pretty hard to say for sure. I love working at Pirate Life so it’s a pretty fair chance I’ll be around the traps for a while.

Is there anything about living in SA that strikes you as enormously different to WA?

I’d have to say that the thing I miss the most is Perth’s beaches – there is nothing like that here in Adelaide. I also think that having been in the economic wilderness for so long has instilled South Australians with a healthy entrepreneurial spirit. There are so many young business owners here in SA, which is really cool to see.

Did you pack Pirate Life cans to take home to WA for the holiday festivities?

I definitely planned to drink a few Pirate Life Pale Ales over the break. It’s nice to make a product that you genuinely enjoy consuming and our pale ale has recently been dosed up with some extra hops which makes it all the more delicious.

Solstice Media has partnered with the University of Adelaide to profile MBA graduates.

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