Interview: Ze’ev Meltzer of Once Bitter

Once Bitter is a story that begins years ago in boarding school. Ze’ev Meltzer showed a passion for beer but his school didn’t. So like a rebel without a cause, Ze’ev would sneak into the kitchen to work on secret beer experiments. Fast forward to years later, Ze’ev had fallen into the corporate world and was working in the finance sector, but he knew deep down it wasn’t for him. That’s why 3 years, he decided to chase his dreams again and quit his job to launch Collins Street Brewing Company and his flagship beer Once Bitter. With a philosophy of creating high quality flavourful craft beer that is thirst quenching, the beer is a celebration of our great city. We caught up with Ze’ev to talk about his beer and the inspiration behind it.

Melbourne and Australia in general, have experienced a revolution in the beer market regarding to the availability and demand for local craft beer. In your opinion, what would you suggest was the catalyst for this change?  

I think it’s difficult to identify a single catalyst for what we are currently seeing in the beer market. I think it has a lot to do with a shift in what kind of products Melburnians and Australians really want. We are seeing and have been seeing a structural shift in what consumers are looking for in every aspect of day to day life. We’re moving away from mass produced products and are looking for more bespoke, high quality, locally made options. We’ve seen a massive shift in the coffee we drink, the wine we drink, the food we eat and the clothes we wear. I think the beer industry is somewhat late to the party and is only now beginning to provide the level of quality that the market is really after. While the number of craft beer producers continues to grow, so does the number of craft beer consumers. I think we are in the very beginning of a significant shift in Australia’s beer drinking habits.

As the brand owner, describe the satisfactions you experience when you see people enjoying one of your beers? 

Once Bitter is a very personal expression of both my journey and my passion. So superficially I feel flattered that somebody would be willing to spend their hard earned money on a beer that I’ve created. But on a deeper level Once Bitter stands for the movement away from the mass market profit driven approach and towards the high quality, passion driven approach.  When I see people enjoying my beer, I feel like my story resonates with them and possibly may empower them along their own path. I hope that this is in fact the case!

What was the inspiration behind the creation of Once Bitter, in terms of flavour, brand and market?

Once Bitter is a representation of my journey and the journey that many Australians are going through at the moment. It represents the movement from big to small and from mass market to craft. Melbourne is our inspiration. The authentic blend between the old and the new, and the energy, buzz and quirk of our laneway culture.

Once Bitter is about being aspirational, authentic and genuine. Our beer thesis is very much about creating flavourful high-quality craft beer that is always thirst quenching. We see this beer as being the go to beer for anybody out there who our story resonates with, is looking for a little more out of life and is not scared to be just a little different.

If I was to order a pint of Once Bitter in a bar or pub, what dish would you recommend to accompany this with and why?

While our Urban Ale is certainly diverse and will go well with any of Melbourne’s incredible street food, for me it’s number one feature is how refreshing it is. I’d pair it with something spicy. Let’s go with Chili Chicken Ribs and Kewpie… Our Urban Ale will be the perfect thing to wash it down!

The art of beer brewing is always seen as dynamic and ever changing, what do you think will be the next evolution for craft beer?

This is a great question, and I’m no master in the industry, but I do think that we have seen plenty of experimentation and exhibition with different hop varieties. We’re also currently going through a sour beer phase, that I’m sure will pick up as we head into summer. With all this in mind, I would love to see malt driven beers come back into fashion. There’s so much one can do with malt, and I think it’s probably time we saw some great innovation in the space…

You can find Once Bitter in Melbourne’s leading venues and retail outlets across the city and suburbs including Cookie, The Smith Prahran, The Workers Club, Pawn & Co, plus more.