There are so many facets to the Stockade Brew Co story that it’s difficult to pick a place to start. So why not with their bar and barrel room in Marrickville? After all, it may well be the best part yet, the physical embodiment of everything the business has strived to become over the years.
This is a slick looking venue, as impressive for the indifferent beer drinker to walk into as it is for an enthusiast drawn in by the sight of hundreds of barrels filled with beer piled up in towers along the walls. That's more than enough to keep the small brewing kit busy but, in general, the place doesn’t bustle like your average brewery. That production space almost becomes a backdrop. It’s the other side, the bar, that provides real pull factor for the public.
It has a modern, industrial feel; an open space where black and grey steel shelves have wooden flourishes to complement a bar fronted with old oak staves. Having so much beer ageing within arms reach means you’re guaranteed to find something pouring exclusively on tap, while of course you’ll find the remainder of Stockade’s core catalogue and latest one off releases – or small batch variants thereof. For a brewery bar the place has something of a cocktail bar feel, so little surprise they’ve pushed the envelope through the concoction of beer-based cocktails; try a Galaxy & Tonic or Mosaic Sour for a different kind of hop hit.
Sitting in the Stockade Barrel Room, drinking one of those hoptails, surrounded by one of the biggest barrel ageing programs in the state, you do wonder how it all came to this. To better understand Stockade’s unique space in the Australian craft beer scene, you need to go back a few years.
Australian Independent Brewers was based in Smeaton Grange, around 60 kilometres southwest of Sydney, and was a large contract brewer before it fell into receivership and was eventually purchased in 2012 by the Szpitalak family. They renamed the business BrewPack and it has gone on to become one of the country’s busiest contract brewing facilities; dozens of small Aussie brewers now call on BrewPack to produce beer on their behalf, whether to supplement demand they’re unable to meet at their own breweries or, in other cases, acting as the primary producer for a brand. Whether you know it or not, BrewPack produces a considerable number of the craft beer brands you see regularly in bottleshops and bars across the country.
But rather than simply brew beer for others, the Szpitalaks – at least, three of the four brothers who are active in daily life at the brewery – decided to add another string to their bow by launching their own range of beers. This was originally done under the Macarthur Grange Brewery name which, although not pushed too widely, claimed some significant successes with its pale ale and IPA both picking up gold medals at the Sydney Royal Beer Show. But in the latter stages of 2015 the Macarthur range was quietly retired to make way for what has become Stockade Brew Co.
It’s a more adventurous brand than Macarthur in just about every way. Out went more traditional labels, replaced with striking works of graphic art. The core range of beers sticks with the tried and true formula used by many breweries – namely a lager, mid strength, pale ale and IPA, plus the more recent addition of an XPA – but the limited releases sent them hurtling into the heart of beer geek country and has won them attention in all quarters.
Their very first seasonal was a peach, salt and coriander infused gose and things have only escalated from there, from smoked jalapeño porter to juniper infused witbier to two year old whisky barrel aged imperial stout. Along the way they’ve carved out some impressive accolades, racking up medals at many of Australia’s major beer shows, winning the title of “World’s Best Imperial Stout” at the UK-based World Beer Awards in 2015 and taking out the coveted People’s Choice award at the 2017 GABS festival for The Mountie, their Maple Imperial Stout.
In 2018 both BrewPack and Stockade were shuffled under the umbrella of a new company, Tribe Breweries, which has been set up as part of an ambitious plan to develop a brewing and packaging facility in Goulburn to rival that of the largest independent breweries in the Southern Hemisphere. While that may well see the business branch out beyond beer, for the time being the Smeaton Grange brewery remains the main source of pack and keg products across the Stockade range.
And it's still a brewery where the beers benefit from things many small brewers would look upon with envy. Along with substantial capacity and a packaging line which was significantly upgraded after the Szpitalaks took over – including the addition of a monstrously large dry hopper to better meet the demands of modern tastes (read: more hops) – they also have the luxury of a dedicated lab tasked with constantly monitoring and testing the quality of the beer at each point in the brewing process. As calls for increased quality and consistency in craft beer become louder, Stockade is already well down the road.
Having a foot in several camps – the production capability of a large brewer, the ability to behave like a small brewer and working closely with a lot of other brewers and retailers – put Stockade in a unique position and gave it a sound platform to spread its name far and wide. And they certainly wasted no time doing that with an increasing amount of beer being exported to southeast Asia, often including collaborations with brewers and bars in those countries. With the Stockade Barrel Room having opened in 2018 it feels like all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.
After beginning brewing life as an entity that operated almost entirely behind the scenes, Stockade has undergone a total transformation, hurtling into the consciousness of drinkers and becoming one of the most multifaceted of the country’s new crop of brewers.
For details on individual Stockade beers see the Stockade Brew Co brewery page.