BY ALANNAH MAHER
Sydney Craft Beer Week (SCBW) is back for our city’s sixth annual celebration of finely brewed beer and the culture that comes with it. Brewing up more than 100 events over 75 different venues, the festival is at the biggest it’s ever been and punters are spoilt for choice.
In its current iteration, SCBW is for the most part a week-long party in honour of Sydney’s thriving array of local brewers and the venues that pour their product – but when it comes to craft beer, Sydney’s cup has not always runneth over.
“We’ve seen this magical progression from…a barren wasteland of just [average] beer, all the way to now in 2016 where we’ve just got the most amazing amount of choice out there,” said SCBW Director Joel Connolly.
Joel came on board with the festival a year in, at a time when he says the extent of Sydney’s craft beer scene wasn’t much more than “a couple of pubs that [offered] the occasional craft beer”.
“One of the big misconceptions [is the] perception that beer is a simple drink that shouldn’t have too much thought put into it. I mostly agree, you don’t have to go in and have a ‘12 per-cent Russian empirical stout’ in order to get a craft beer experience,” said Joel.
“Craft beer is anything that has had some real effort put into the way its made, that’s made with flavour first rather than profit…and there’s a certain local element.”
“[Local] brewers have been slogging their guts out for years, and publicans are really taking a chance on putting more and more beers on tap, and weirder and weirder beers. It’s been one big community effort.”
Matt King from the Marrickville-based Grifter Brewing Company has been a part of Sydney’s craft beer awakening since before many micro-breweries had jumped on the bandwagon – if only “by accident”. He and mates Trent Evans and Glenn Wignall weren’t thinking about commercial prospects when they first started experimenting with home brewing.
But the opportunity to brew something special for Young Henrys (back before they were the bearded, tattoo-sleeved giants of the craft beer market they are now) led to the cult-like popularity and critical acclaim of their signature pale ale (humbly named ‘Edward’) and eventually to the opening of their own brewery.
“It’s pretty hard work standing out from everyone else nowadays,” admitted Matt. The Grifter gang certainly haven’t lost their touch however, collaborating on more than one specialty beer for SCBW. This includes partnering with Canberra brewers Capital on ‘White Cockatoo’, an Australian Wheat IPA launching at The Unicorn Hotel; and messing around with the Frankie’s Pizza guys on something uniquely fruity and full-bodied, which will be officially unveiled at the SCBW Opening Gala.
“Four years ago if you had said there’d be five breweries in Marrickville, I would have said ‘no way’. But at this stage it’s ‘the more the merrier’…we’re all helping each other out and building something together,” said Matt.
The inner west is arguably at the heart of Sydney’s craft beer boom, and the hop fiends at Dave’s Brewery Tours are celebrating this with the Marrickville Magical Mystery Tour. Changing up their usual shuttle bus approach, this walking tour encapsulates the area’s unique history with pit stops at several craft beer venues along the way – including Grifter Brewing, Willie The Boatman, Batch Brewing Co. and others. “Everything [in Marrickville] is within easy ‘striking distance’ on foot,” added Dave Phillips, the founder of Dave’s Brewery Tours.
“My passion comes from helping people understand and really get immersed in our local beer scene, to understand who’s behind the beer and to become fans of it,” said Dave.
Zak from the Good Beer Company, which owns and runs three of the city’s most well loved craft beer venues, believes that the demand for local craft beers is tied to a growing social consciousness about the quality of the food and drink we consume and where it comes from.
“There’s a lot of care for the local, small guys. Everyone wants to be their own entrepreneur, and they appreciate the effort that goes into these handmade craft beers rather than mass-produced, internationally owned businesses. And aside from that, they taste a lot better,” said Zak.
A member of the Good Beer Company family, The DOG Hotel in Randwick boasts a whopping total of 59 craft beers on tap. The DOG will be showcasing the best that NSW and ACT brewers have to offer as part of SCBW’s Pint of Origin series. Reigning in five more pubs across Sydney, Pint of Origin will transform Sydney into a microcosm of the Aussie beer world for the week, showcasing beers and brewers from the six Aussie states to give small breweries a chance to wow beer lovers.
“I see beer as a vehicle for a whole bunch of different things…community is a really big part of it, it draws people together who are passionate about something,” said Joel from SCBW.
SCBW has played an integral role in growing Sydney’s craft beer culture. At almost any given Sydney pub nowadays you’ll find a craft beer selection on tap wide enough to rival the variety of wine and spirits on offer.
“My opinion is that craft beer is for everybody…there is such a giant variety of flavour, taste and style,” stated Joel.
With a massive range of events, from the all-inclusive Opening Gala which kicks off the festival over two sessions at the Giant Dwarf, through to the sold-out Ladies High Tea to Tinnie Cricket and everything in between, SCBW is a great time to find your own flavour in the world of craft beer.
Sydney Craft Beer Week
Oct 21–30. More than 100 events over 75 locations, various prices. Info: www.sydneycraftbeerweek.com
Grifter Brewing Company
1/391 Enmore Rd, Marrickville. Open every day over SCBW. Info: www.thegrifter.com.au
Good Beer Company – The DOG Hotel, Dove & Olive + Keg & Brew