It has been said before that winemakers love beer more than wine, whether it be for reasons of speed of production, or simply for a change of pace. Two such winemakers, Sam Hambour and Duncan Gibson, established Hop Nation in 2015 and since those early days, it’s safe to say the pace has been quite frenetic.
The two young brewers were making wine in Central Otago in New Zealand when they both began dabbling in homebrewing, taking on local homebrewers in competitions and developing a healthy rivalry to see who would come out on top.
Eventually, Sam moved back to Australia and Dunc left his native New Zealand for a stint making wine around the world. But after returning to the Antipodes, Dunc sought out his mate who was making wine on the Mornington Peninsula and together, they hatched a plan to launch Hop Nation.
They landed in Melbourne in mid-2014 and, after a few months of planning, kicked off with The Fiend; an IPA that was a precursor to a hop-filled journey to come. More beers followed by the desire was always to get their hand on some stainless on their own, a dreamt that was realised late in 2015 when an old friend reached out to Dunc. That mate worked at Sawmill Brewery near Auckland who told the Hop Nation crew that they were selling their system and it could be theirs if they wanted it.
Sam and Dunc quickly secured a site in Footscray and, by the middle of 2016, the doors to their brewery opened. The Whitehall Street warehouse sits beside the Maribyrnong River and, as Footscray has grown and changed, Hop Nation have changed and grown with it.
Tucked away in an industrial estate, the brewery bar makes the absolute most out of what is a stunning warehouse. Originally built in the 1880s, their home was revamped in 2023; today, walking inside feels like stepping into a chapel.
And, in many ways, it is chapel: one which Hop Nation have dedicated to all things fermentation. Although much of their production takes place on the Mornington Peninsula these days, barrels line the wall here, while a still sits in the middle of the warehouse, put to use producing their gins and whiskies.
The open space features 18 taps and is designed to suit large groups catching up over a beer, while the neon-lit bar is an enticing spot for anyone looking to enjoy a solo hazy IPA. As part of the renovation, they built a kitchen that’s headed by chef Alex Addams Williams, the person behind Good Pizza. The pizzeria’s focus is on traditional long-ferment doughs where the ingredients are allowed to stray a long way from tradition; alongside thin-crust Neapolitan styles are deep dish pizzas born to soak up any beer-filled-afternoon.
Unsurprisingly given the brewery's name and their motto of “In Hops We Trust", hoppy beers have always held an important place for Hop Nation. Indeed, they were one of Australia’s first breweries to embrace the haze and they’ve always loved taking such beers in new directions and utilising modern techniques, new hop varieties and products.
But they also have a penchant for brewing lagers, with their Rattenhund pilsner a cult hit for the brewery. Wood, too, has long being a focus, whether it’s showcased through big dark beers or mixed-ferment sours. That love for beer’s wild side saw the brewery launch Blobfish Festival in 2019, while they also have their own range of ‘Ray Hard Seltzers, Dart Distilling, Site Wines and even beers built with broth just for doggos, Dog Nation.
Whether you’re enjoying one of those drinks at home, or inside the vibrant Footscray taproom, it makes for a lot to soak in. Fortunately, in Hop Nation, you can trust.