Luke brews up a leading role
Brewing graduate and Indigenous man Luke Cooper is heading up the lead brewing role with pioneering non-alcoholic craft beer company Sobah Beverages.
Luke, a Wailwan man, joins founder and director Gamilaraay man Dr Clinton Schultz (Clint) at the First Nations-owned and led brewery at its Burleigh Heads headquarters on the Gold Coast.
A 20-year liquor industry veteran, Luke decided to switch from retail in a major chain to brewing beer after meeting members of the industry Royal Queensland Beer Awards.
"I was working as a steward at the 2019 awards, and I loved it. I met people from the industry and knew it was what I wanted to do. And with COVID impacting my job at the time, I decided to take some long service leave and study," explained Luke.
"In 2020, I worked at the awards as an associate judge and met the course's teacher Steve Henderson, and he encouraged me to apply to study the Certificate III in Food Processing (FBP30121). Fortunately, I was accepted, and as there's only room for 14 students at a time, you've got to be there for the right reasons."
Helping Luke to learn his new craft was the hands-on learning, where the class learnt the whole process from cleaning to recipe design and brewing in the BrewLab's state-of-the-art equipment, all the way through to entering into competitions.
"We were brewing from scratch, and our first beer won a bronze. It was terrific, and working with other passionate people and passionate teachers made it a great environment," said Luke.
"Everything about TAFE Queensland sets you up for success. They've invested in the BrewLab, created a great learning environment, and employed teachers from the industry – it was awesome for learning, and my skills improved so much.”
“I know other states are doing brew courses, but I don't think it's at the level of BrewLab – there's nothing else like it in the country."
Having met Clinton during his retail career, Luke reached out to him to discuss the Sobah story with the class, as non-alcohol is an important and growing part of brewing.
“We had a Zoom call, and everyone was a bit surprised because Clinton told us how he makes non-alcohol beer with specialty yeast and pasteurisation. But that's Clinton; he’s honest and open.”
"Clint then reached out to me and invited me to have a yarn about joining Sobah, and the rest is history. Since graduating, I've been brewing his recipes and I'm about to release two of my own nationally."
"I'm also overseeing the contract brewing that we do for our core lines, running pilot brews and trying different ingredients and organising the building of our new brewery, so it's been a whirlwind."
As well as the opportunity to work in one of Australia's very few First Nations breweries, Luke was also attracted to Sobah for its sustainable credentials and the support the company gives the community and environment.
"We source native ingredients from around Australia. We get Pepperberry from Tasmania, lemon aspen from Far-North Queensland and finger limes from Northern NSW, all to flavour our beers and raise money for the environment where we can."
"For example, $4 from every 16-pack of our Tropical Lager goes to the Coral Sea Foundation. A fund that helps the Sea Women of the Great Barrier Reef, a marine biology training program that supports First Nations women to act as guardians for the Great Barrier Reef in their communities."
"We're also getting B Corp certified, which is about being responsible and sustainable. Our entire social and environmental impact is being measured, which is very tough, but it's something that we're striving for."
While Luke's brewing career is based on the Gold Coast, he's taking Sobah global after a recent visit to London as part of the Mayors Trade Mission during the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
"Selected businesses went over for trade meetings in Birmingham, during the games, to network in the UK and understand their market better," he explained.
"Seeing and understanding their market, we saw an opportunity to export our products, so we’re building relationships to distribute there in the future."
Now a head brewer, Luke is focused on perfecting his craft, learning more about the art of alcohol-free brewing and opening the brewery early in 2023.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have that conversation with Hendo during the Royal Queensland Beer Awards,” Luke said.
“How he and Kate Stuart used their industry experience to teach the technical side of brewing and all the support they give after graduation is fantastic.”
For anyone thinking of studying brewing, he has some sage advice.
"You've got to have a passion for it because when you do because to be a brewer, your 90% a cleaner. But when you’re working with other passionate people in a collaborative industry, the hard work that goes with it doesn't feel that hard. This is the most supportive industry I've been a part of, and it’s full of people who will help you succeed.”
"By studying with TAFE Queensland, I got hands-on training at the BrewLab that built my knowledge and skills – and I never thought I would be as excited and passionate about yeast as I am - it's an amazing little ingredient,” concluded Luke.