As the cold nights of the past winter were lashed with rain and storms I have been kept warm by a rich, dark nectar. Strong and a little on the sweet side, this beer has its origins in one of Australia’s most celebrated and expensive beers, Nail Brewing’s ‘Clout Stout’.
Initially I was unaware of its pedigree however soon comments on social media linked Clayden Brew Imperial Porter to its esteemed sibling.
In order to understand how this came about I caught up with Nail Brewing’s owner and head brewer, John Stallwood. John was warm, funny and very open about the challenges he faces.
Not only did I uncover answers to this question but I learnt a lot more about Nail, the friendly sibling rivalry with Nail’s ’brother brewery’ and a little something about a planned anti-collaboration release.
Although relatively young, Nail’s ‘Clout Stout’ has become an icon of Australian Brewing. How did this big, beautiful beer come about?
“Originally we did it for Nail’s tenth birthday. We did three hundred bottles. It turned out really good. Moo Brew (Imperial Stout) and Boris (Feral Brewing) were the good reasons for doing it and the fact that Nail Stout was one of Nail’s core beers. We only had Nail Pale Ale and Nail Stout part-time”.
“For ten years we pretty much concentrated on Nail Ale and we actually perfected it at a time where it got Gold in 2008, 2009 and 2010, three years in a row at the Australian Beer Awards where there only had been given another gold to an Australian Pale Ale which is Coopers Pale. So it was all I did at one stage but Nail Stout we would do every now and again over those ten years”.
“So Clout Stout was a good beer to choose for the celebrations and something that I wanted to, I needed to make money from because I wasn’t making money and I needed to make a mark for the tenth anniversary. Not many breweries are ten years old”
“Excise laws were even tougher back then and I was lucky to brew at Edith Cowan. They would get the Excise Rebate so I could brew over 10000 litres”.
“Brendan O’Sullivan who now works at Josie Bones (now closed) was a student at Edith Cowan while I was brewing there. He’s got a good mind and I got good advice from him”.
“I hadn’t brewed anything that was high alcohol. I would say “this is four weeks old and this isn’t looking too good” and he educated us a lot which is good, a young student educating me. He’d say “Give it time, give it time” and it was a slightly low carbonation but probably one of the best beers I’ve brewed, Clout Stout 2010”.
“If you can find a bottle around you’ll be lucky. I actually ended up buying bottles back from Purvis in Melbourne to learn from. I bought some and had them sent back across the Nullabour. So it’s been across the Nullabour twice!”.
Have you tried the original 2010 version recently?
“I don’t have it much. Actually I haven’t had it in 18 months, I’m overdue for it. Imperial Stouts are an ageing beer. I’ve gotta drink every bottle I brew for the next ten years to really understand it because they change”.
“When you spend $90 on a bottle of beer you want to know when to drink it. People say ‘how long should I keep it for?’. I don’t know how long you should keep it for because each batch does change”.
“Master Brewer Tim O’Rourke (Brilliant Beer Technical Training) from the UK, he came over (to Australia) and said ‘most Imperial Stouts you can keep for ten years’ and I was like ‘Keep a beer for ten years?’. That shocked me”.
So how did you settle on the Russian Imperial Stout style as the tenth birthday beer?
“Nail and Feral are like brother breweries. Feral and Nail are very competitive towards each other so whatever I say in the next amount of time I will give a lot of shit to Feral but that’s because we are brother breweries but I won’t give them shit for this one”.
“Nail Stout was originally the beer that won lots of awards and then Feral brought out Boris and then Moo Brew brought out an Imperial Stout as well. I can remember thinking with the Moo Brew one ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money for a beer’. I love both of them”.
“Brendan’s a great brewer but I brew better beer. I got some advice from him and it’s probably wrong but beers like Boris really hit me”
“Beers like Nail Stout were one of my strongholds so I wanted to brew a revved up Nail Stout and also be able to make money from it”
At over $80 a 750ml bottle, Clout Stout is admired but is does come with a price tag to match. Can you let me know more about how you positioned Clout in the market place?
“Clout Stout is a very expensive beer for all different reasons but it is hard to sell an expensive beer and people do complain about the price”
“I’ll answer this in many ways. If you were selling a car would you sell it for $8000 or $20000?”
You would sell it at your best price.
“That’s one reason but then again you’ve got to be able to sell it and have people that are able to feel happy. You don’t want to sell a car and get consumer affairs on to you or whatever. You want you to be able to buy that car again”.
“I’ve never really had anyone complain that’s bought it which is a good thing”
“Every year I think I’m nearly getting to the level to be financially stable. Clout Stout helps dig me out of that hole a little bit. It’s the only beer I really make money from and even though it’s hard work and I wouldn’t want to brew it all the time”
Clout Stout was released in 2010, 2011 and 2012. What happened to the 2013 vintage?
“There’s also a lot of pressure brewing this beer which is where Clayden Brew comes about”.
“Clout Stout won gold at 2012 and 2013 Australian National Beer Awards and Champion Beer and the only Gold at the Sydney Royal Beer Competition and it puts a lot of pressure on you to brew another good one and I felt some much pressure that I felt “I don’t want to fuck this up” because it’s got such a big name for such a low volume beer you need to keep the perfection”
“Last year I did one batch and it was … I don’t know whether I had shaky knees or whatever”.
“I did another one and they weren’t quite … the main reason was they weren’t quite the high alcohol because Clout has to be ten plus (ABV). I’d never added sugars except for priming so I didn’t have the alcohol reading so I blended the two and that became Clayden Brew. My son’s name is Clayden Brew Stallwood and it’s the Brew Log collection number three. There will be more of them in the future”.
“There not many beers that have such a high terminal gravity yet such a high alcohol. I bottled it six months ago and I’ve been drinking it not every day but a lot. Maybe a couple of bottles a day”
“After drinking one of these you think ‘what do I drink next?”
“It’s a mini Clout Stout. Clout Light. And it will happen again”
“It’s actually a lot easier to do a Clayden Brew than a Clout Stout”.
So will there be a 2014 Clout Stout?
We’ve already got 600 bottles of Clout and packaging arrives next week then we’ve got to hand label them.
The packaging for Clout Stout is very iconic how did that come about?
“That was one of the easy packaging ideas where Nick Rawlings, he’s a good mate, I said I’ve got these 750ml bottles, 300 of them, and at low volume not many people help you with things like that but he’s a mate”.
“He said I’ll sort it out and I said “I want a pewter looking label in a box and he came up with the label with the Nail straight down”
You touched on Excise Tax earlier. Can you share your thoughts on it?
“Excise is a big problem in beer. Some weeks I pay more Excise than I earn in a year and that doesn’t seem right does it. I’m doing my dream but I want to appreciate the moments rather than look back and go ‘uhhh’. I can see the light and I’m probably three years away but I want to appreciate the moments because I don’t want to look back because I was stressed and had all these problems. So brewing is a dream job but it’s a nightmare to live it”
“I think all brewery owners are the ones that have the suffering. Everyone thinks that they’ve got lots of money where they actually just work hard and make, hopefully, lots of beer but don’t actually get time off”
“Some of the older ones now are getting their rewards. That makes ones like myself see the light. They are the ones that I bow to, the leaders like Feral”.
“There’s a lot that are starting that think that they are on the easy road but it’s a long road. It’s enjoyable but you’ve gotta love it otherwise you’re fucked”.
The Moo Brew Imperial Stout gets barrel aged in used Moorilla Winery barrels. Have you thought about a barrel ageing project for Clout?
“Brendan (Varis) is good at that but one of the problems I have at the moment is time. Now we have started to get a couple of good people working for Nail that will make things like that easier. They are eager and enthusiastic and someone that I could say “let’s go and do something with that Clout Stout in a barrel” and I think they’d jump to it but I haven’t had that opportunity before”.
“It will come and that’s part of the good thing about being able to share a brewery with Brendan is being able to do stuff like that and being able to get advice from our brother brewery”.
“We are very competitive and there is a beer coming out in the next three months and the best I can say now is it’s the opposite of a collaboration brew”.
Very interesting! Any other news from Nail Brew Log Series?
“The first one did was the ‘Hugh Dunn Brown Ale’ and while we were waiting for the labels to happen we had the malt so we brewed an Imperial Brown called the Hughe Dunn. That’s the one that’s had good dominance in Porter Trophy’s in Adelaide and Melbourne and now we’re making it part of the core range”.
“It’s not a beer that will do great volume. It’s a real specialty beer that’s something that’s not too conflicting. It’s a malt based and a high alcohol beer”.
Clout Stout 2011
Russian Imperial Stout
This pours BLACK. No light passes even the edges of the glass.
Aromas of molassus, raisins, burnt fruit cake, liquorice and alcohol at start this massively complex beer.
Full feel is full with a rich viscousity.
Chocolate, treacle, figs and slightly burnt caramel are enveloped around a boozey alcohol.
This alcohol rises to a warming finish.
A stunning beer!
The 2012 & 2014 vintages were also sampled. Each has it’s own nuance and a vertical tasting would be an wonderful proposition.
This pours black with a dark ruby to brown tinge at the edges.
Caramel and burnt sugar aromas makes me think of sideshow alley. Coffee and a hazelnut-like aromas are also present.
Flavours of light licorice, chocolate and fig show through the a rich malt base. There is a slight oiliness too.
This lacks the depth of Clout when tasted side-by-side but on it’s own it punches well above it’s weight.
Given that is 10% of it’s siblings price, this is recommend for anyone with even a passing interest in trying Clout Stout.
Delicious and affordable.
Nail Brewing ‘Clout Stout 2014’ will be available in the next few months. Previous vintages are still available in specialist Liquor retailers and select Dan Murphy’s stores.
Nail Brewing ‘Clayden Brew Imperial Porter’ is still available in limited quantities from specialist Liquor retailers.