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Capital Brewing Co-Founder Tom Hertel talks about the new ALC-LESS + carbon-neutral brewing

June 30, 2022

Canberra's Capital Brewing is having an absolute headline year, becoming the first Australian brewery to receive Climate Active carbon neutral certification across the whole organisation (including all its beers), releasing a smart new alcohol-free brew (called ALC-LESS), and tying with Black Hops for the most beers in this year's GABS Hottest 100. Here, in the latest instalment of our HITS FROM THE TRADE series, Kaddy Community talked to Capital co-founder Tom Hertel.

Kaddy Community: First, let's talk about ALC-LESS. What's the origin story here? At what point did you decide, 'let's have a crack at a NOLO beer'?

Tom Hertel: We believe in a balanced lifestyle at Capital Brewing Co, so we’ve been eyeing off the NOLO space for a long time. We held back because we wanted to carefully R&D on our new Pilot Brew House (installed in March 2022). This small 400L system meant that we were able to brew Alc-Less many times to make sure the recipe was just right.

Trying to build texture and mouthfeel in a low-alcohol beer is always tricky - what's the secret for ALC-LESS?

Building the perfect alcohol-free beer is a journey and a very exciting one at that! We’re constantly discovering new ways to brew ALC-LESS to improve flavour characteristics and mouthfeel. While we can’t say exactly what methods we’ve used to improve mouthfeel and flavour, we can say that trial and error and constant experimentation is key when working on an innovative product.

It's been an incredible growth line for Capital in a short space of time. What do you think has been key to getting from gypsy brewers to now one of the bigger indies?

We’ve got an incredibly passionate team, without them we certainly would not have made it to where we are. On top of that, we’ve got some great fans and are connected with some wonderful bottle shops and pubs that keep buying our beer. Their support means that we can continue doing what we love, and for that we’re very grateful.

On that point, is there anything you look back on and think 'well, that was a mistake'?

We believe it's better to think about learning experiences rather than mistakes and anyone who starts a brewery would say that the journey is full of challenges. When we were first looking at locations we were offered a space that was much bigger than what we ended up committing to. Since then, our growth has far exceeded our expectations very quickly and in hindsight, we should have taken a bigger site from day one. If you’re just getting started in the brewing industry, back yourself and take more space than you currently need (much more).

While it seems incredibly involving, there must be a sense of satisfaction knowing that you're carbon neutral now? Does it just feel right?

We are stoked to finally have our emissions fully calculated each year, it gives us a LOT of data to understand where we can reduce emissions within our operation. Offsetting is the last step in trying to take care of the unavoidable emissions that are left over after our reduction efforts.

Obviously, it's very early days, but do you think being carbon-neutral helps to sell more beer?

Not really sure if it does or not - but we are sure there is no beer on a dead planet. We know lots of people are looking to minimise their impact on climate change personally. Buying goods from organisations who are taking real action is one of the best ways to reduce your personal footprint.

More broadly, how do we solve the challenges of getting more indie beers on tap in bars and clubs? What does the industry need to do?

Well, the ACCC obviously didn't help much - moving on from that, the focus needs to be on quality, brand and co-investing with venues to assist with improvements that develop the consumer experience and sell more beer!

What's next for Capital Brewing? Where would you love to be in five years?

We are very proud of where we are now, and what we have achieved and don’t feel the need to be drastically different. We’re passionate about wellbeing, and we’d love to be considered one of the top producers of NOLO and regular beers!