Rogue scholar Adam Hardy is standing, with a beer in hand, amid the historic timber framework of the old barn located out the back of ‘The Old Vic’ in East Maitland. Sunlight glints through a cross section of timber struts and onto the slightly uneven sandstone blocks that form the floor of the building.
“Since returning from Europe, all I’ve wanted to do is open a brewpub where I can serve and sell my beers directly to the punters,” says Hardy.
Sort of like Foghorn Brewhouse, in Newcastle, I suggest.
“Yeah,” replies Hardy, “only a little bit smaller.”
Hardy has been brewing beer since it was legal for him to drink the stuff. An “elaborate” set-up in his parent’s garage saw him and a mate handling hops, mucking about with malts, and inevitably blowing up bottles as they experimented with the many different ways to boil, cool, ferment, carbonate and condition various brewing recipes in order to skip the bottle shop altogether and go straight to the source.
“I must have made just about every mistake you can make during those years,” recalls Hardy.
“So, when I started Rogue Scholar, I wanted to have as much knowledge as I could. I wanted to know all the ins and outs of brewing.”
The Rogue Scholar name comes from Hardy’s penchant for tertiary education, studying mostly via correspondence.
“I started a history degree at uni before leaving to work in the mines for a while,” Hardy explains.
“That led to a structural engineering degree, which I flipped over to chemical engineering when I started thinking about brewing more seriously.
“Now, I’m studying a brewing and distilling qualification by correspondence through Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (Scotland).”
While travelling in the UK, Harvey says he became smitten by the real ales poured locally in London pubs.
“I drank a lot of draught beers and lagers when I was younger, but I think the first beer I ever really enjoyed was a Kilkenny and then a Guinness … they both had so much flavour,” he says.
“When I went to the UK, I fell in love with beer. Especially with the ales that were served off the hand pumps.
“I remember tasting a few beers in London, one was served around 14˚C and it was one of the best beers I’d ever tasted. I love drinking red ales and brown ales.”
Hardy’s time in London inspired him to want to try his hand at brewing his own version of a red ale when he got back home to Newcastle.
“I threw a New Year’s party and put on two different versions of the red ale and just let 40 people or so in my backyard decide which one they liked best,” Hardy says.
“The most popular one became the Rogue Scholar Red Ale that I brew today.”
Hardy reckons this is “by far” his most popular beer.
“The Red Ale is my attempt at making an English ale, like the ones I loved to drink in London. I still have to carbonate it, though, and make it a bit colder for it to sell in pubs. That’s because I realised pretty quickly that you’ve still got to make beers that lots of people will like, not just what you like, if you want your business to be successful.”
Today, Hardy is on a scholarly mission to slowly introduce flavour and refreshment into the beers he brews under the Rogue Scholar name.
“Personally, I prefer to drink red ales, brown ales and dark ales,” he says.
“I love the rich biscuit flavours you get when you concentrate flavour with malts, but pubs always tell me they can’t sell them as easily as pale ales and lagers.”
To slake the thirsts of those who prefer a lager or a pale ale to a dark brown stout, yet still want to actually taste something when they drink a beer, Hardy has been perfecting his own version of an alcoholic ginger beer to accompany his refreshingly flavoursome lager which he calls Summer Ale.
“The Summer Ale is basically a hopped-up lager which has proven to be very popular, and now the Ginger Beer is starting to appear on a few taps around town as well,” says Hardy.
Not since the early days of Bluetongue’s time on the taps at Queens Wharf Brewery have I enjoyed an alcoholic version of a ginger beer (give me a bottle of Saxby’s any day) as much as I did Hardy’s Rogue Scholar Ginger Beer (full review in today’s Beer & Wine section).
And I certainly enjoy a pale ale, or a cold, clean refreshing lager as much as the next person (Reschs ‘silver bullet’ Pilsner, anyone?) but, as Hardy admits, it’s even better when you find real flavour in your beer, one that is driven by malts more so than hops.
“Hopefully, once we get the brew pub out the back of The Old Vic opened, people will come and find us and might even fall in love with one of my beers, like I did over in the UK,” says Hardy, standing in the dappled light of The Old Vic’s old barn, soon to be the site of Rogue Scholar’s microbrewery.
If people know what’s good for them, they will.