Australia’s fondness for supporting the underdog is well known. Put your humble, hardworking person up against the might and power of the establishment and you know where the neutral’s heart is most likely to lie. That underlying attitude is one of the many reasons craft beer has found such a fast and firm footing across the country, with people everywhere being prepared to ditch what big corporations have been serving up for years in favour of whatever it is the little guy down the road is doing. And when it comes to little guys of the beer world, few are littler than Staves.
It was back in 2013 that Steve Drissell announced his intentions to turn a derelict site in a Glebe back street into a brewpub. He wasn’t to know it would take a further two and a half years before a single drop of beer would flow through the taps – and it certainly wouldn't be beer brewed on site.
Just getting the building to a stage where he could legally have people inside was almost a point by point battle with the Building Code of Australia; the main structure had to be ripped out and replaced; the staircase brought down and rebuilt; all the concrete broken up and re-poured; modern amenities installed. With the place having not had a fire certificate in over five years it was probably closer in classification to a death trap than it was a legitimate business. But Steve stepped up to the challenge and began very slowly chipping away, aided by a great deal of determination to retain total independence and resist all temptation to hasten the process by accepting outside investment.
Having worked tirelessly while holding down another full time job, by the end of 2015 he had satisfied the authorities and was given the all clear to operate Staves as a standalone bar, which it did for a year while serving up some of the best of the local craft beer world. But sat behind the bar and obvious for all to see were the requisite pieces to put together a brewery.
It was an odd-looking system, something with an almost homemade feel that Steve had purchased on eBay on a whim, with little more than the seller’s promise that it worked. And, almost remarkably, it did and Staves was on its way to becoming a bonafide brewpub. In September 2016, nearly three years after Steve had made his plan public, and a year after first opening the doors, Staves finally poured the first of its own beers.
At the beginning there was no real rhyme or reason behind the range, but that gradually formed into a core of five beers: a lager, pale ale, IPA, oatmeal stout and the Ardennes Table Beer. Those are supplemented by three taps pouring one-offs which could be anything from a kettle sour to a parti-gyle dark ale to a Weizenbock to a triple IPA. If you like what you’re trying (or perhaps even if you don’t) the feedback loop is a very short one – when drinking at the bar you're almost close enough to whisper your thoughts directly in the brewer's ear.
Over time, new beers have kept on coming – 8 percent ABV imperial sour, anyone? – while the core range has shifted and comedy and live music have pulled in crowds week in, week out. At the same time, as it's evolved organically, Steve's English roots have become more apparent, with an hour or two at the bar likely to conjure memories of pubs on the other side of the planet – not just due to the tall wooden handles on the bar or the tankards overhead, but the whole ambience.
Despite being hemmed in by the incessantly busy Parramatta Road and sat in the shadow of the Broadway Shopping Centre, Staves features a secret oasis from the chaos. In the centre of everything is a tranquil beer garden which, given its location, is a genuine hidden gem that you'd have no idea existed from the street. Ironically, the space only exists because the shed that was once there, and in which Steve had originally planned would house the brewery, was in such bad shape it had to be pulled down.
In a way, that’s almost representative of Staves as a whole. In the beginning there was a grand plan, but almost every part of it got shelved or shifted in some way. It was mainly through sheer bloody-mindedness that Steve was able to turn what was effectively a crumbling pile of ruins into something quite unique and wonderful. With the amount of effort it’s taken and the quality on offer, Staves is one little guy that’s well worth your support.