Matilda Bay is the unfinished business of Master Brewer Phil Sexton. Sometimes referred to as the father of Australian craft beer, he’s been on a mission to create the perfect beer for over 40 years. Such is his pursuit of perfection, that after every great brew he completes, he simply seems to move onto an even better one.
So, on that fateful day when he gathered the brewers on the freshly-hosed floor and announced that they would be developing the first draft for his next masterpiece, the excitement in the room was tempered with an acceptance that this was sure to be just the start of the journey. Which it was, as you can tell by the fact that this malty, delicious beer was anything but the finished product to Phil.
Making it the very first of the 27 beers Master Brewer Phil Sexton rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 02
Name: NOT THE ONE
It was late on a Friday night. Possibly early the next morning. The room was full of weary eyelids. It had been hours since our Master Brewer Phil had declared to the group that he thought this batch might be “the one”.
But something seemed to be niggling him as he took repeated sips of the pristine golden ale. Stopping after each to stare at the roof. Then it happened. He simply turned and walked away, muttering something under his breath as he closed the door loudly behind him.
The words “not the one” hit us unpleasantly on the way out.
Much like the aftertaste of this beer, which is now just another one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 03
“It’s in the ballpark”. Those were the exact words that came out of our Master Brewer Phil’s mouth. Something we’d never heard before.
The team gathered themselves and following a moment of intense discussion on the brewery floor, came to the naively logical conclusion – we’d done it.
But then, Phil did exactly what he has always done, and ripped the rug out from under us. Painstakingly explaining to the team that while relatively small compared to some other things – a ballpark is in fact a rather large measure. Over 90 feet on each side to be exact. Stadium seating withstanding.
What Phil really meant was that while this beer was imbued with a delightful aroma and many qualities others would view as an absolute home run, it still had a fair way to go.
You’ll find it warming the bench along with the other 26 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 04
Name: A FABULOUS EFFORT
Like all good father and son brewing combinations, our Master Brewer Phil and his son Harry spent a great deal of time enjoying intercontinental pub crawls. For research purposes, of course.
Which is how they found themselves ensconced firmly in the middle of an impassioned discussion around the merits of classic British ales with thirteen of London’s loveliest drag queens and a publican called Steve at 3am one frigid February morning.
It might sound too fabulous a tale to believe, but the truth is in the tasting with this one. Because this very beer was the next one that Phil and Harry brewed. Inspired by that very night.
A beer that while fabulous by Miss Lily, Jade Shakra, Zha Zha Beaverhousen and Steve’s reckoning, still isn’t fabulous enough to bear the Matilda Bay name. Making it yet another of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to brewing Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 05
Any brewer worth their salt knows the importance of water. But Phil is no ordinary brewer. The man is so committed to using only the purest spring water, that rather than simply move the water to his premises, he moved his entire brewery to the water source instead.
Legend has it he did it by hand. Legend also has it that people are prone to exaggeration.
Whatever the case, you’d think moving the brewery floor to sit atop some of the world’s clearest water in the Yarra Valley was a great start. But for someone with such refined tastes, even nature’s finest work can be a bit off. A mineral off here. A fraction of a pH off there. Something that might pass through anyone else’s net, but not Matilda Bay’s, where the pristine Yarra Valley waters are now double filtered before every brew.
Except this one, which was only filtered once and is now one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to crafting Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 06
Name: Splitting hairs
Around the Matilda Bay brewery, beers fall into one of two camps – brilliant enough to put the Matilda Bay name to, and the rest.
Things were pretty cut and dry like that. Except for this beer. Which saw the brewers in a heated discussion over whether it was slightly brilliant or slightly not.
On one side of the fence, Elle and Harry were espousing the biscuity malt tones. On the other, Angus and Bruce thought that in this case, biscuits were better paired with a cuppa.
Our Master Brewer Phil, of course, found himself with the deciding vote. A vote he already knew the answer to. If the team were splitting hairs, well, that meant the beer must still be a hair away.
Which is why this beer is now one of the the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 07
Name: Tantalisingly near
We’ve all seen it. The forlorn face of a donkey with a carrot dangling in front of its nose.
A cruel torture at first glance. Until you realise that every now and then something rather splendid happens, and a freak combination of some force of physics and a touch of good luck sees the carrot swing just close enough for the mule to enjoy the smallest of nibbles before it inevitably falls away again. The residual taste acting as a reminder that it’s all worth it.
That’s how we felt when we took our first sip of this beer – a wonderful blend of floral tones and hop notes. It was all worth it. Until Phil snatched it away from us. Because, while this absolute carrot of a beer came tantalisingly close to being perfect, it wasn’t even worth a sniff to him.
Making this yet another one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 08
Name: Rounding error
The brewery floor was awash with the sound of vigorous clicking and clacking. Though the staff surveyed their surrounds, it wasn’t immediately clear where the noise was coming from. The machinery sat quiet. All the computers were off.
Then they saw it – Phil sitting in the corner staring at a beer as he vigorously poked and prodded at his prized abacus.
You see, the man was a genius at determining exactly what was wrong with a beer and the abacus was giving him a clear message. Something about a rounding error. The beer was clearly a little less than perfect.
We’ll likely never know if it was his aggressive bead handling or the fact that this beer was brewed just a little longer than it should’ve been.
However, we can be certain that at that very moment this beer joined the other 26 almost perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 09
Name: Cheeky silver
This week’s brew had been a good one. The team were enjoying the best sleep they’d had in months. Until they were rudely awoken by a call around 5am, Saturday morning, and the words, “Phil’s at the brewery. He’s tasting the beer”.
“5 AM?”, you might be thinking. But that’s the thing – we’re not sure the man sleeps.
Eyes half shut, they waited patiently on the edge of their respective beds for a phone call, a text, an email… heck, it was Phil, perhaps a carrier pigeon?
When word did finally come, it came in the form of a short but sweet email bearing the subject line “Nice brew”.
“This is the best one yet…”, the email began. “Reckon it’ll win a cheeky silver!”, it ended.
And just like that, due to a touch too much bitterness, this unabashedly golden ale became one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 10
When our Master Brewer Phil raised this beer to his perfectly pursed lips, the brewery held its collective breath. He took a sip, swooshed it around his mouth for a few seconds and swallowed, before gazing into the distance for what seemed like forever. A moment of silence.
“It’s good…”, he said, forcing an audible gasp from one nervous brewer at the end of the board room. Fair to say, the team thought they’d finally done it… until his mouth let out a single rather unwelcome word “…but”.
Ah. The killer of so many dreams. Yet after 9 rejected batches, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt, it’s that the road to perfection is a rewarding, but long one.
And so, this became yet another one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 11
Name: A day shy
Whilst there’s no doubt he holds his cards close to his chest, it’s well known our Master Brewer is not a man of faith. Largely because we crafted this brew on weekends.
When the Sunday morning came to test this batch, the air was tinged with a sense of anticipation as we waited to see the result of our efforts. Unfortunately, the air also contained an abundance of static electricity as a thunderstorm rolled down the Yarra Valley from the alps that morning. Coincidence? Surely.
Just as the first sip hit Phil’s lips, a blistering white hot crack of lightning struck outside the brewery.
As we stood motionless and our senses slowly returned, we looked to Phil. He turned to us unfazed and simply said that the beer didn’t have enough flavour and that we should’ve given it another day of rest. It seems the heavens agreed.
Which is why this crisp golden brew that was finished that bit too early is one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to crafting Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 12
Name: Frighteningly close
Cold. Sweaty. Pale in the face. And with a heart rate of almost 200. It looked like Phil had seen a ghost. The entire crew gathered around him on the brewery floor, flapping their hands in vain, trying to get the man some air.
But as it turned out, he just wasn’t happy with the latest brew he had sampled. The ever-so-slightly-untoward aroma had snuck up his nose, sent shivers down his spine and caused him to have some sort of out-of-body experience.
We tried to explain that perhaps this was because the beer was frighteningly close to perfect, but he disagreed, and demanded we exorcise the entire vat from the brewery floor.
Making this yet another one of the 27 almost perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to brewing Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 13
Name: Wake up call
Our Master Brewer wasn’t known for wetting his whistle mid-week. Meaning we knew something pretty special was underway when he proceeded to pour himself a pot of our latest brew – on a Tuesday.
Naturally, the team followed his lead. As it transpired, it was indeed a special occasion, as he proclaimed this beer to be ‘most excellent’. And so we celebrated with one or two more and made our merry ways home.
We subsequently awoke early the next day, feeling the mildest of headaches, only to find Phil back at the urn. No one knows if he slept that night, but what we did know was that the perfect beer shouldn’t leave you feeling even the tiniest bit like this.
Which was the first and only reason he needed to make this yet another of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 14
Name: Yeah… nah
Phil wasn’t one to be anything but entirely forthright with his thoughts. He never stumbled over a word. Or even contemplated a decision beyond his gut instinct – the rare choice between a parma and a schnitzel at the pub aside.
So, when he followed a sip of this beer with two of the most contradictory words possible – yeah and nah – the entire brewery took notice. Even Elle. And Elle was usually too busy emptying the mash tun or centrifuging to notice much.
The place was so silent you could hear a bubble pop. Which was when we heard something else. A tiny voice chattering away in Phil’s ear. The man was multitasking; commenting on craft beer with one ear and discussing dinner preferences with the other.
As it turned out, the ‘yeah’ was for his favourite tuna mornay, and the ‘nah’… well, we’re all well aware that this beer is now one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to crafting Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 15
Name: By a nose
Our Master Brewer shared another one of his stories. This one harked back to his life as a champion jockey. How he had time for so many careers while still becoming a seriously accomplished brewer, no one could understand. But it was simply accepted that the man never told a lie.
So, when he described jumping out of the blocks at the back of the field, working his way up the inside, making his move and inching closer to the lead, the brewery hung off his every word.
The race was neck and neck between his horse and another as they rounded the bend, with the home straight in sight there was nothing but a nose in it.
The brewery floor waited eagerly to find out who had won. Which was when Phil stopped talking. And we all slowly realised it was just an elaborate metaphor he’d created to tell us this beer had missed by a slightly over-spiced nose.
And that was how batch number 15 joined the other 26 beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 16
Name: Fractionally off
The entire team had worked particularly hard on this one. It was undoubtedly the most complete beer we’d ever made.
We rushed it up to the lab where Phil was and burst through the door without even knocking. No one said a word. We all knew the drill.
First he looked at the brew, writing down a number on a sheet beside him. Then he smelled, jotting something else down. And finally, he tasted.
Which is when it happened. Like a scene from Rain Man, numbers started flying everywhere.
He scratched away at his pad with a fervour we’d rarely seen. Maybe we’d bloody well done it this time, we thought as he scrawled down ratios at a speed that was beyond any of us.
Finally, he drew one last neat horizontal line and revealed his answer – the beer was still just a fraction too bitter.
That’s how this became 16/27 of the almost perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 17
Name: Beyond brilliant
This beer was simply brilliant. That’s how the brewers felt about it. And it appeared our Master Brewer Phil did too.
After a long sip and a few “oohs”, “aahs” and “nom nom noms”, he delivered his final word. The beer was “too bloody brilliant”. A sequence of words with the power to warm the hoppy cockles of even the staunchest brew crew… you would think.
But not the Matilda Bay brewers. See we knew that every word to leave Phil’s mouth was as measured and precise as a freshly calibrated hop scale.
So, it was clear that what he meant when he said this beer was “too bloody brilliant” was that this beer was in fact too bloody brilliant – a touch too bright.
Making this golden ale, just another one of the 27 essentially perfect but not quite good enough to release beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 18
Name: Essentially there
The Matilda Bay brewery was usually a hive of activity. But this weekend was different. Thanks to the virus, the place was shuttered for all but essential services.
While that might normally be a bad thing, it turns out that when it comes to lockdown, there are few things more essential than incredibly good beer. So, it was with nothing but time on our hands, we set to work.
The result – a beer that was essentially faultless in every single way. That at any other time would have made the shelf. But with so much time on your hands, you notice things you may at other times not. Like the brewing salts being ever so slightly out of balance. Things you have plenty of time to better on the next brew.
And that’s how this beer became just another one of the 27 essentially perfect but not quite good enough to release beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to brewing Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 19
Name: Hidden miss
The clock had just struck 9. Which meant in these strange times, the whole of the Yarra Valley was in lockdown.
Which, of course, made it the perfect moment for one of the automatic temperature gauges to set off a high-pitched alarm.
The brewing team’s ears pricked up, jolting us out of our respective living rooms. We all came to the same conclusion – it was a crime to head out after dark, but a far greater crime to let a brew go awry.
In a flash, pyjamas were swapped for black items and masks, before the rather ragtag bunch of makeshift ninjas ducked, weaved and sprinted down the back streets, somehow going completely unnoticed.
Easing open the brewery door in silence, the team adjusted the temperature. It all looked good. Until we returned the following morning and realised it had all been in vain; it didn’t have quite the right balance of hops to begin with.
That’s how this beer became one of the the 27 almost perfectly-balanced beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 20
Name: Off note
Our Master Brewer likes to say that you can tell a beer’s ‘the one’ when it sings on your tongue. We’ve never experienced that for ourselves. But the man swears by his mouth harmonics.
So, it was rather unfortunate that while most of his 10,000 taste bud choir were singing a rather delightful tune to this very brew, a couple of the bass notes in the back found themselves thrown a little off balance. And just like that, the show collapsed – it was all over.
Making this brew one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 21
Name: Bee’s whisker
It was a warm spring day. Birds sang cheerfully, flowers stood bright and the air was abuzz with insects. Our Master Brewer Phil had opened the brewery window a little. In fact, just wide enough for a couple of wanton bees to sneak in.
He raised a glass gleefully and took a deep breath. The floral notes in the beer melded seamlessly with the pollen in the air. It was hard to see what could go wrong.
Which is when it all went wrong, of course.
As Phil’s lips touched the edge of the glass, our two friends from earlier landed on his upper lip causing him to let out a scream so loud we could only assume he’d been stung. But as it turns out, the pain was far more real than that. Phil had come eyeball-to-extremity with something that was definitely not a bee’s whisker.
To this day, he still can’t talk about this beer despite it being just about perfect in every other way.
And that’s how this became one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 22
Name: Atoms away
It was often said that our Master Brewer Phil was a ‘big picture’ guy. And it was true. It’s just one of the reasons why he’s considered one of the pioneers of the Australian craft beer scene.
But going big wasn’t his only skill. He had an eye for the smaller details too. The really tiny ones in fact.
You see, while Phil’s eyesight wasn’t quite what it used to be, his sense of taste was better than ever. Almost as if each of his taste buds was wearing its own tiny pair of bifocals. Meaning he never missed a thing when it came to tasting a beer.
Which is why, despite this beer being technically perfect on the molecular level, Phil’s tongue could taste an unwanted bitterness so slight that it escaped the rest of our uncultured taste buds.
Making this beer just another one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to brewing Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 23
Name: Keep dreaming
As far as welcomes go, Phil’s not a “hug” guy. It’s taken some of us decades to make the grade of ‘handshake’. One brewer got a pat on the back and didn’t shower for months.
So, when we cracked open this batch and enjoyed the malty brew, we turned to Phil and saw something truly astonishing.
Phil was hugging one of the brewers, Angus. We couldn’t believe it. Angus couldn’t believe it. If there’s a God I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t believe it. Was this beer so sublime that it could prompt affection like this from the man himself?
Little did we know, Phil had been up for 3 nights sourcing and negotiating an order of rare British hops and was so exhausted he’d simply fallen asleep standing up.
After what felt like an age he woke to see us all staring at him, waiting with bated breath.
“Too malty. Too heavy. Putting me to sleep” he uttered as he ventured off for some well overdue shut-eye, making this one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to crafting Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 24
Name: MISSED THE POINT
Even if we don’t think about it, we all have a favourite number. ‘Lucky’ 7 is popular for obvious reasons, 13 a favourite of those willing to tempt fate, and 23 the choice of those who loved a certain Chicago basketball team in the late 90s.
Not many, however, have a favourite number with a decimal in it. Our Master Brewer Phil does. 4.2. Some speculate it’s because 4.2 minutes is his ideal shower length, others have whispered that 4.2 kgs was the weight of all his children at birth.
That may be true, but what Phil undoubtedly loved most about this number was its taste.
See, according to our Master Brewer, 4.2 is the perfect alcohol percentage of an ale. Phil knew that taste better than his mother’s sunday biscuits. So when this otherwise delicious brew was cracked open, Phil of course picked up on the sweetness and immediately knew it was a percentage point off perfect.
Making this 4.3% brew that had too much sugar added in the mix, one of the 27 almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to crafting Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 25
Name: Partly cloudy
It hailed the day this beer was brewed. Then it shined. And finally it poured. Another lovely Yarra Valley day.
Our Master Brewer held a glass of this magnificent brew up to the light. To the naked eye, the beer was as golden as the sunlight that shone through the window.
One by one, he invited each of the brewers to inspect the precious liquid up close.
It looked clear to Bruce, Elle and Angus, until the exact moment Harry raised the glass and a single stream of Victorian sunlight appeared, just long enough to highlight an untoward speck so small the human eye would have otherwise missed it.
And that’s why this became one of the 27 almost perfectly-balanced beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 26
After countless weeks of fastidiously experimenting with the vigour of slightly-boozed scientists, the team had landed on the perfect ratio of Australian and British hops. It was all over, bar the brewing.
The last grain of hops tumbled out of the hessian sac, glistening in slow motion like a scene from a television commercial. Perfect. Or so we thought. Because at that very moment, as the final sack was removed from the edge of the vat, something devilishly unfortunate happened. A few rogue, powdery bits that had been hiding at the very bottom of the bag fluttered their way down into the ever-so-finely-balanced brew with the destructive force of the dregs at the end of a cereal box.
And that’s why, despite this beer being six decimal places closer to perfection than almost any other beer on the market, it became the 26.000000th and second last beer our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to making Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.
Batch No: 27
Name: Final draught
After dedicating nearly 18 months of our lives to the pursuit of the perfect beer, it felt strange to know that we’d finally reached the end of our journey. We had all sacrificed so much.
But as we stood there, like a ragged troupe of battle hardened soldiers, each with a can of this final, seemingly-perfect beer in hand, we were reminded of a quote by the great Salvador Dali – have no fear of perfection for you will never reach it.
It was then, that our own great Master Brewer Phil stepped up to speak. Channeling all of his decades of wisdom, he let us know, that while Dali was undoubtedly a master of surrealist painting, he clearly knew diddly Dali squat when it came to beer.
So, with one last gasp we gathered our brewing energies and mustered up the enthusiasm for one last go.
Making this the 27th and final of the almost-perfect beers our Master Brewer Phil rejected on the way to crafting Matilda Bay’s award-winning Original Ale.