His name’s on the brewery, his face is on the cans, and he was involved in the founding of the business. But Hawke’s Brewing isn’t about Bob Hawke. Well, not really. It’s about what Bob Hawke represents: integrity, generosity, and the fun-loving Aussie spirit.
It began in 2015, when Nathan Lennon and David Gibson were living overseas and stuck in the rat race. They’d moved to New York to follow their dreams in the advertising industry, but they were working like dogs and they were homesick.
“We were missing the fundamental simple pleasures that Australia can give us – sitting down by the beach, or surrounded by nature, having a beer with friends in the sun.”
On a bitterly cold winter’s day, Nathan asked David: “If you could have a beer with anybody back home in Australia right now, who would it be?”
David’s answer was a strange one. He didn’t mention an old friend, a family member, or a sporting legend, but an 80-year-old politician: former prime minister Bob Hawke. And perhaps even stranger? Nathan was thinking the same thing.
“When we started to unpack Bob Hawke and what we remember of him when we were children growing up in Australia in the 1980s, it brought back nostalgia, safety, comfort, admiration for what he’d achieved as a leader… A likability that wasn’t forced and felt very Australian.
"Bob reminds us of a simpler time.”
As they chatted about the values they respected in Bob Hawke – generosity, authenticity, inclusivity – they found themselves asking: “What would a beer company that had Bob Hawke at the helm look like?”
And from there, the idea of Hawke’s Brewing came to life. A brewery that brings people together over good values, good causes, and good beer. A brewery that builds on Bob’s legacy of not only appreciating this country, but giving something back to protect Australia’s natural beauty.
The pair quit their jobs, flew back to Australia, and managed to arrange a meeting with the former prime minister himself. Dressed for the most important meeting of their lives, Nathan and David presented their rehearsed business proposal. Sitting at his kitchen table and dressed in his pyjamas, Bob listened to half of the proposal then cut them off. He agreed to be involved on the condition that his share be donated to Landcare Australia, the charity he championed to fund environmental restoration.
In time, Nathan and David brought award-winning brewer Justin Fox, these days head of sales for industry supplier Bintani, into the fold, who applied his experience and skill to recipe development. Since they were entering the market without their own premises, they decided to keep things simple and start with a single beer: a craft lager made with all Australian ingredients. And when they had the beer just right, they put it in front of Bob… and he loved it.
A lot’s happened since then.
Bob poured the first Hawke’s lager at The Clock Hotel in Sydney when the brand launched in 2017.
Hawke’s Brewing have since added a few more beers to the lineup, giving more options to punters who want to raise a glass while raising funds for the environment.
Sadly, Bob passed away in 2019. But his legacy lives on, with the Hawke’s Brewing team continuing to donate Bob’s share to Landcare Australia; after the first four years, the amount given to fund conservation projects had reached a quarter of a million dollars, with no sign of slowing down.
They started brewing on their Marrickville brewery in late 2021 before opening a taproom to the public in autumn 2022. That said, calling it a mere taproom does the place a disservice as The Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre is rather more: a 300-capacity time capsule not just of another era but another mindset too.
Sure, there's beer aplenty – including venue-only One Hit Wonders – but there's much more besides: a vast collection of memorabilia; a classic pool room; an honours board listing famous Aussies with whom the team would like to share a beer; The Lucky Prawn kitchen serving nostalgic Australian-Chinese classics like prawn toast alongside quirkier dishes like deep-fried Viennetta...
It sees Hawke’s join a vibrant local community of breweries and beer lovers, even as the team seeks to reach drinkers across the country. Because this independent brewery’s goal is to make beer that appeals to as many Aussies as possible.
After all, Hawke’s Brewing was always meant to capture something of the Australian spirit. It’s not about politics, or even about one particular politician. It’s about holding onto something we can all aspire to: having a courageous spirit, having integrity, and having a beer with your mates. It just so happens that can all be symbolised by a fun-loving larrikin and a warm-hearted leader.
So, while Hawke’s Brewing isn’t about Bob, he’s certainly made his mark. And for a couple of blokes who love beer and want to build on the legacy of one of their heroes, it always comes back to the question:
What would Bob do?