Two friends shop in a small market in Spotswood, Melbourne. It’s been a while since they last saw each other. They joke, they laugh, they hold up earrings and necklaces, asking for opinions.
A musician sings in the background, entertaining a small crowd with her guitar. There’s free nail art being made in the sun, and one woman excitedly shows off the frothy beer glasses painted on her thumbs. Behind us, six feet away, glints the stainless steel of a brewery. The pair in question owns this place. That’s their kit, and that’s their space: The Nest, a combination brewing facility and tasting room.
Two Birds Brewing was founded by Danielle Allen and Jayne Lewis in 2011, and now its beers are sold in most corners of Australia, as well as parts of Southeast Asia and China. What began as a contract-brewed Golden Ale is now a fully fledged production brewery, taproom, and occasional market in the industrial west of Melbourne.
Today, Allen and Lewis are together to celebrate Fempocalypse, an event they’re hosting as part of Melbourne’s Good Beer Week. They’re also launching a new beer, Free the NEIPL, the proceeds of which will go to a breast-cancer charity.
Later, there will be jazz, lessons from a local dance crew called Culture Queenz, and burlesque. Also in attendance are two of the most prominent women in the industry: beer writer Melissa Cole and Wild Card head brewer Jaega Wise, both of whom are visiting from London. Good Beer Week’s two permanent employees, Siobhan Kerin and Kerry McBride (who has since taken a full time role at Two Birds), are here as well, along with Allison MacDonald, the president of the Pink Boots Society’s Australian chapter.
It’s clear, in this moment, the duo has created a welcoming space for women in the beer industry and women love it. But given the quality of the beer, the taproom, and the spirit of the event, it’s also just a welcoming space for anyone who enjoys drinking in a friendly, positive environment.
I ask MacDonald to tell me her experience with Two Birds. Not only as a brewer, but also as the Pink Boots Australian president, a role which Lewis held before her. She says she first came across Two Birds in 2013 when she moved to Melbourne from Sydney. She met Jayne at the Great Australian Beer Festival, where Two Birds were awarded the People’s Choice trophy.
“That’s my distinct memory of finding out about this new brewery, these two women who were going out on their own, and being so excited to find other females in the industry.”
By 2016, the pair had formed a friendship. MacDonald was now working at White Rabbit Brewery, and Lewis suggested that MacDonald organize a Pink Boots brew day. MacDonald was initially hesitant but what came of it was an incredible confidence boost.
“It was such a great experience because it showed me what I was capable of doing. It was a large scale brewday, and creating a recipe for one of the first times,” she says. “Jayne had entered it into the AIBA (Australian International Beer Awards) without my knowledge, and it won a gold medal. It just set me up so much for having a belief in myself and what I can do, being more involved with Pink Boots and what I can influence.”
Allen and Lewis have known each other since their university days, when their then-boyfriends-now-husbands lived together. Lewis is a winemaker-turned-brewer, while Allen spent years in marketing and product development, most recently at Australian supermarket Woolworths. Both were relatively content, but beer was beginning to enter the picture.
The two can trace their love of beer back to Little Creatures. The internationally renowned Australian brewpub, located on the Fremantle Harbour in Western Australia, was where Allen discovered beer was more than just cheap swill for students. And it was where Lewis got her first brewing job.
“I distinctly remember a number of years prior to that, sitting in Little Creatures drinking beers, and going, ‘I’m going to work here,’” Lewis says. In 2004, the brewery advertised for a brewing assistant position in the local paper and she applied, despite the fact that her knowledge of beer at the time was “literally, actually nothing.”
“I had the worst fucking interview of all time because I don’t drink coffee. I love the smell of it, don’t love the taste of it. In the interview they asked me if I wanted a drink and I said I’d love a cup of tea,” she relates. “It literally took them 15 minutes to try to work out how to make me a cup of tea. And then I lied and told them I homebrewed.”
While she didn’t know how to do that, she did know how to use a pump, and understood packaging lines, thanks to her winery work. In the end, Lewis got the job, and used the opportunity to soak up everything she could from the experienced team.
Three years later, her geologist partner, Louis Bucci, was asked to transfer to Melbourne from Perth. Lewis was ready for a change, and joined him in the cross-country move. Initially, she didn’t have much luck finding work in Melbourne’s beer industry, and decided to make a career switch and train as a veterinary student instead. On the day of university sign-ups, she got a call from Dave Bonighton, co-founder of Mountain Goat Beer. He was looking for a head brewer, and Lewis’s Little Creatures experience fit the brief. She describes the resulting role as “the best beer job in Australia,” though it wasn’t long before some frustrations began creeping in.
“I was head brewer at this amazing, up-and-coming, growing brewery with two awesome owners, and I still wanted to have more input. I wanted more,” she says. “I was like, ‘Well, shit, who else am I going to work for now? I’m just going to have to create my own, then.’”
In the meantime, Allen was still working at Woolworths but dreaming of running her own business, and in 2009 it all clicked during a last-minute decision by Lewis and her future husband to elope to Las Vegas and travel the States. When Allen heard a trip was being planned, she asked if she could tag along, and her husband John joined in as well. Once there, Lewis dragged the other three to every brewery she could find. While sitting in a little brewpub in San Luis Obispo, Allen remembers turning to Lewis and remarking:
“I finally understand what you have been on about.”
“I knew I could help and I couldn’t let it go,” says Allen. “I sat up one night and wrote this huge long email basically saying ‘this is our destiny.’”
While the email has been lost to time, Lewis remembers it, too. “I got an email from Dani that was like, ‘I don’t really know if I can help, or what I can do. I’m thinking of opening a bar in Sydney and I can pour your beer there.’ I don’t remember how that progressed to opening our own brewery, but it did.”
The two began working on a business plan in earnest. While Lewis remained in Melbourne, Allen and her husband had since relocated to Sydney for his job. Ultimately, despite Lewis’ dreams of starting her own brewery, it was Allen who took the first leap into their new project. “I said to Jayne, ‘I just quit, so you’ve got to quit.’”
On her first day as a brewery owner, Allen remembers waking up, walking to her study, and creating the Two Birds Facebook page. Lewis, meanwhile, officially parted ways with Mountain Goat, deciding it was unfair to continue planning behind her employers’ backs. In 2011, they began contract brewing beer at facilities around Melbourne, and nearby Geelong, while building a long-term plan for a permanent home.
“The plan was that we would always have stainless steel. I was a brewer without a brewery for three years. Just trying to pay the bills, sell some beer and do a lot of shit [like ]sales that I wasn’t good at,” Lewis says.
Their inaugural beer was a Golden Ale, a decision that the two weighed carefully. “I started this company for a reason, and that was to make beer that I want to drink, but also the kinds of beers that I think are going to sell. If no one buys it, then what’s the point?”
Lewis is quick to add, however, that the beer had to be much more than just a money-making exercise. “I stand behind the beers that we make, I love the beers that we make. I’m proud of them, [but] it’s constantly under review, and that’s the right way to run a business.”
In 2014, they finally had enough capital to move into The Nest. There, an 18-hectoliter (15-barrel) brewery served the taproom and keg sales, while packaged product was still done under contract. It took another two years to bring all operations under one roof. Additional warehouse space conveniently came up next door, and Two Birds was able to move its offices and create a production floor in the space. Installing a 12-head bottling line and additional tanks gave them the capability to brew up to 2 million liters (17.6K BBLs) per year.
Puns abound in the beer world, but those unfamiliar with Australian slang may miss the reference in Two Birds’ name. Here, “bird” is dated, patronizing slang for “woman.”
“I like it because it’s a bit cheeky. I’ve always liked the discovery angle,” Lewis says. “Ninety percent of the people drinking [our beer] have no idea that [the brewery] is owned by two females, so I love the ‘aha’ moment when people work that out.”
In the early days, Lewis remembers attempting to convince drinkers and festival-goers that yes, Two Birds was her brewery, and no, it wasn’t a novelty thing. Most of the time, she’d end up saying, “‘Just shut up and drink my beer.’ [Then] they’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s actually quite good.’ It was the surprise impact, that not only do I own a brewery, but I’m good at it too.”
“If anything, [being a woman] helped me from a professional perspective,” Lewis continues. “I probably got access to things like judging because there was a recognition of wanting to correct the gender imbalance.”
In Lewis’ experience, being a woman in beer did clear some obstacles from her path. “And I’m totally okay with that,” she says with a laugh. “You take your opportunities, but all it did was get me in the door. Then when you’re there, you have to prove yourself regardless. That’s not the only reason I’m here, but yeah, it may have opened some doors.”
Still, Lewis remained an outlier as a female brewer, and she remembers attending numerous industry events as one of only two women in the room (frequently alongside Sam Füss, the co-founder of Sydney’s Philter Brewing). In an effort to correct the imbalance, she helped found the Australian chapter of the Pink Boots Society in 2013.
You aren’t likely to find too many Barrel-Aged Stouts, Double IPAs, or three-year-aged Wild Ales on tap at The Nest. (Although, to be fair, such things do appear from time to time.) You will, however, find beers with plenty of character but no jagged edges. Even the cheekily named Free the NEIPL is on the cleaner side of the hazy spectrum rather than leaning too far into murky trends.
Two Birds’ Pale Ale, which launched in 2016, is now the brewery’s biggest seller. It has a clean body, round mouthfeel (thanks to the addition of two types of oats), and a sharp hop bitterness. Taco, a Wheat Ale that was inspired by a visit to the U.S., is another bestseller. Brewed with lime zest, cilantro, and corn, it’s endlessly drinkable when paired with spicy food and hot weather. The recently released Trail Blazer Lager features the colors of the local women's Australian Football League team, and is brewed exclusively with Australian hops and malt.
MacDonald says that Trail Blazer speaks to her as the embodiment of the impact the pair have had on not only her, but the industry as a whole.
“I just think Two Birds is just really summed up in the concept and the name of the Trail Blazer. Both Jayne and Danielle have done so much and bought so many women along the journey with them as well.”
As a rule, everything on tap at the Nest feels assured, confident, and looks damn good in a glass. While Lewis and I talk, the (now-former) head brewer Wilson Hede interrupts to ask if he can order a whiteboard for the production floor. Lewis has just one rule: “I don’t care, as long as it doesn’t look like shit. Don’t make it ugly.”
Wilson laughs and calls out, “I know how it goes,” over his shoulder as he walks into the office. From our seats in the tasting room, I can see fluro-accented furniture and vibrant prints on the walls. The brewery’s fermentation tanks are decorated with bird and tree decals.
“A good friend said to me early on that it was like my brain exploded all over the walls,” Lewis laughs.
Outside, industrial rail yards are located just over the road, and the noise of trains can be heard every few minutes. Melbourne’s shipping yards are also nearby.
“I love that. I love shipping yards. I love watching the container ships going under the Westgate [Bridge]. I specifically drive that way so I can see that happening. It’s the constancy of it all. It’s knowing that people and things are out there and people are going about their days,” Lewis says. “It’s comforting.”
Recently the brand underwent a redesign, trading solid colors for a more illustrative style. If you line the six-packs in a row, including seasonals, it creates a mural. (Although, as Lewis laments, few get to see it, as bottle shops don’t usually display them in a row). Despite the redesign, the labels and presentation are very much representative of the founders’ shared ethos. As Allen explains:
“I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like. I don’t have a vision—I just know what it should feel like.”
Allen is rarely in the brewery. She still lives in Sydney, and has her own office and small administration team. I ask her if she ever feels left out, or like she needs to be in Melbourne. She says she actively avoids it. She hates working in a brewery, with all the coming and going and interruptions. She squashes any idea of a second taproom in Sydney, noting that the distance also helps their relationship, both as business owners and as friends.
“We’re not in each other’s faces all the time, so when we do see each other we make the most of it,” she says.
Back at Fempocalypse, the market has just closed up for the day. Following an afrobeat dance lesson with the Culture Queenz, everyone’s sweating. Now, the burlesque performances start. Pink lights wash over the brewery as the two birds look on, surrounded by friends, family and fans—in a Nest they all helped to build.