Author: Cassi Camilleri
Put a physicist and an engineer together and what do you get? A brewery. Obviously. Cassi Camilleri sits down with Jean Bickle and Miguel Camilleri to talk about entrepreneurship, beer, and how variety really is the spice of life.
As you read this, a warehouse in a Qrendi quarry is bustling, undergoing hefty conversions as it morphs into a dream brewery. Water and electricity supply is solid, the walls have a fresh lap of white and the steel housings are in place. Now, the countdown begins until the tanks are set up. But they’re used to it. This waiting business.
The Huskie Craft Beer company was but a twinkle in their eye when Jean Bickle and Miguel Camilleri first met as workmates during a stint in Leeds, which is where they discovered a thriving craft beer scene.
‘We were part of a club at the Wharf Chambers,’ Bickle remembers. ‘It’s what we did after work. We played table soccer and tried beers.’ Learning about the process, the recipes, and the different flavours that are possible to incorporate in a beer, planted a seed in them both. ‘Eventually, when we came back home, we wanted to give brewing a shot ourselves,’ Bickle adds. And so they did.
Getting the basics down
Their first investment was in education. ‘We spent quite a bit on books and materials to learn how to brew,’ Jean says. They had the ingredients down—water, malt, yeast, and hops. Hops being the flowers of the hop plant which are used as a bittering, flavouring, and stability agent in beer. They understood the role temperature played and gained plenty of experience with identifying flavours through taste tests. Beyond this, however, they also needed to be familiar with how these ingredients interact with one another and the techniques involved in creating a beer.
They were more careful with their purse strings when building their first set up in early 2017. ‘We could have very easily gone online and found these home brewing kits. But you have to spend a lot of money to get those. And this was all coming from our own pockets. So, with Miguel being an engineer, we just bought stainless steel tanks and sheets, shaped them, and welded the parts together. We even built the control panel and electronics ourselves. Everything was done from scratch.’
This is not to say that it was all smooth sailing. ‘Sometimes you get ahead of yourself. You start rushing in your eagerness to try out new things. Which is fine. But sometimes you have to take a step back and go back to basics. We keep each other in check,’ Jean notes, smiling. ‘We both come up with radical ideas on how to approach the task at hand, but you can’t do everything at once, otherwise you get careless.’
‘You’ve also got to be adaptable and not follow others’ rules to the dot. Malta’s ambient conditions and accessible raw materials make brewing harder than in many other countries. With the right technique though, it’s definitely possible,’ Miguel points out.