Startup series: Mogwai Labs
Yeast, malt, hops and water. The four simple ingredients that bring us beer, and in recent years, an ever-expanding selection of craft and boutique varieties of ales, lagers and stouts.
As more consumers eschew big brands in a trend towards craft beer and independent brewers, the boutique brewing scene is exploding – the Australian market is worth $875 million, according to IBISworld – and so is demand for unique and different ingredients and techniques.
Biology graduate, Josh Allen has established his start-up, Mogwai Labs, to address this demand by focusing on one of the “overshadowed” ingredients of beer brewing, yeast.
The yeast used by brewers in Australia is typically purchased from overseas, and because of yeast’s volatile nature, this presents a number of challenges to local brewers including cost, logistics, variety and quality control, according to Josh.
This is where Mogwai Labs is looking to step-in, by establishing an Australian based yeast laboratory showcasing a library of brewer’s yeast , including new strains – and therefore flavours – that Josh forages and isolates from the local environment.
It sounds simple, but it’s not: yeast is difficult and time intensive to cultivate.
“A single forage will produce months and months of work, from the growing to the processing of samples and identifying a viable strain. The majority of work is actually done in the lab, adhering to strict quality control procedures, we set up basic yeast propagations, performing tests on yeast performance and taste characteristics.”
Though it’s early days, Josh is already working with local brewers to trial and validate the products of his intensive lab work, with the aim of having larger scale commercial propagations available for breweries in the not-too-distant future.
As the propagation and validation aspect of Mogwai Labs grows, Josh plans to amass yeast library of quality-controlled product for brewers right around Australia, that will include the ability to request strains grown from plants native to their local region.
Fortunately, Josh has the scientific background and connections to the University of Wollongong to focus on streamlining the propagation process.
“Being able to access the laboratory at the University of Wollongong has been just so critical for me to be able to develop the business, as I can apply microbiology techniques to perform propagations and test for valid strains, and then reproduce that. So that’s been critical to the business and a huge reason why I’ve started in Wollongong.
“Wollongong is also just an hour from Inner Western Sydney which is craft beer central – it has more brewers per square metre than anywhere in Australia – its not far to there, where the scene is just exploding,” Josh says. “And then I can be back home and surfing, which I love, in a day.”
“The support from the iAccelerate programs and the people you can connect with for support and advice has been so important, it’s world-class and right here in Wollongong and that’s been so helpful to starting up and keeping the momentum going.”