Nestled in the heart of the Hunter Valley, New South Wales’ iconic wine country, is the last place you might expect to find 2016’s Champion Small Brewery. Yet, the sprawling venue that is Hope Estate is home to just such an operation.
The 420-hectare location is also home to a winery, restaurant and, most magnificently, at the base of the rolling green hills the homestead looks out upon, one of the largest outdoor stages in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s hosted the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac, attracting concertgoers from far and wide. And, as they’ve watched the legends before them, soaking up the evening sun, they’ve needed something to drink.
Wine, of course, was well catered for. Owner Michael Hope has been making it in the Hunter Valley since 1994. What he needed was a brewery and, more importantly, a brewer. The first he purchased from Murray’s, taking the 12 hectolitre system that had served them so well off their hands. And the second he found a few hundred kilometres away in a man who had also started out in wine before moving to beer.
Matt Hogan, a former winemaker for De Bortoli near Griffith in the Riverina region, had become head brewer at William Bull, De Bortoli’s brewing arm, by the time he made the move to the Hunter in late 2013 to help set up and run the newly installed brewery. In the years since, it’s undergone multiple expansions, evolving from concert caterer pumping out mid-strength to nationally distributed, award-winning brewery, with the aforementioned title at the Craft Beer Awards shining a spotlight on Hope Estate and helping them gain easier access onto venues and bottleshops.
As demand grew, so too did the strain on the brewery’s packaging facilities. So, in early 2017, they installed a canning line to keep up. The bold black and silver cans that roll off it contain both the core range – ales in the former colour and lagers in the latter – and a growing list of limited run beers, ranging from highly hopped numbers to barrel aged beers and fruity sours, released about once a month.
Although the choice to can was based on delivering a fresh product to the consumer, it almost goes without saying that the best place to try the beers at their freshest is at the Estate itself. Inside, 12 taps pour a range of brews, from crisp pilsners to US style IPAs and barrel aged stouts.
You'll also find huge tables and benches that create a German beer hall vibe, while outside, especially on a sunny day, the patio serves up stunning views of green hills, towering gum trees and plump vineyards, making it one of New South Wales’ – if not Australia’s - most picturesque breweries at which to enjoy a beer.
And, if you're in the Port Stephens region of New South Wales, you'll find a rotating selection of Matt and co's beers pouring at the Nelson Bay Brewhouse too.
Marie Claire Jarratt