When we took a tour of Australia for our Best New Beers Of 2019 features late last month there was a gap in our coverage: no rundown from the Northern Territory. But, while the rate of new releases from breweries there might not yet warrant such an article, there is a growing craft beer scene (as described by Darwin venue owner Mulga in our Advent Calendar series).
One Mile Brewing, Beaver Brewery and Alice Springs Brewing Co are all flying the flag for local beer in the NT and were recently joined by another after Purple Mango returned to brewing following a change in ownership.
Of the quartet, One Mile are the pioneers, launched by Stu Brown and Bardy Bayram in 2012. Stu says other breweries opening in the Territory – plus a change in what some beer drinkers are asking for in pubs – has led to venues starting to broaden what they’re offering on tap.
“In the last two years we’ve seen a big shift in what’s available and acceptance of different styles of beers and it’s great,” Stu says.
“There’s a couple of venues now putting sours on which even six months to a year ago would have been unheard of in Darwin.”
Stu says there’s still a limited number of venues keen to give local beer a chance, although he's aware that’s not a problem unique to his hometown.
“I think it’s probably the same as what you see in every state really,” he says. “It’s getting the venues to give you a chance and it’s changed – there are a lot more venues out there that will.
“But it would be good to see a lot more with local craft beer on tap, or even if it was independent interstate brewers; just to see more independent beer on tap would be great.”
With larger breweries now owning so many craft brands drinkers are being met with more diverse tap lists but, again, it's not something that makes life easy for small, local breweries.
“They’re amazing beers and it's nice to have that choice," Stu says, "but I think a lot of the public don’t realise they’re owned by multinationals.
“A lot of the publicans will say, 'Well, no, we actually have a craft selection now.'.”
Last year, One Mile become the first Northern Territory brewery to crack the GABS Hottest 100 with no less than four of their beers. This weekend the countdown returns and Stu says that, while they’re looking forward to the countdown party they’re hosting at their brewery, he isn’t sure their success will be repeated.
“We’re realistic,” he says. “I think last year was the first year a lot of our customers would have heard of GABS so I think a lot of them would have jumped on board. But I know they’ve had record entries this year and Beaver and Alice have put their hand up so the vote will get distributed more evenly, I’d say.
“But we’re hopeful and it’s all a bit of fun. We’re having the event here on Saturday so it would be good to just get some people in and enjoy what it’s all about, which is talking about beer.”
Before then, however, we invited Stu and Bardy, Chris Brown at Beaver, and Kyle Pearson at Alice Springs Brewing Co to reflect on the local scene both now and in the future.
The Territory Brewers
How's life at the brewery going?
Stu & Bardy: Hectic is one way to describe it, which is good! We have only just recently opened our outside seating area at the brewery, allowing customers to enjoy a day at the brewery in comfort. We have our own food truck permanently on site providing pizza and rotating specials and we're looking at bringing a few small batch releases out this year, and look forward to utilising the outside area for some functions.
Chris: We had a great year, better than we could have ever imagined. People have really got behind us and supported who we are and what we're doing. We were able to brew our usual beers but with our cellar door we were able to experiment a little and ended up putting out 22 different beers. We are looking to open our cellar door more regularly this year; last year it was every second Friday but we are looking at opening every Friday, especially through the dry season up here.
We have just done a collaboration brew with Alice Springs Brewing Co (pictured at top), which was fantastic for both our breweries. It was a Red IPA, called the TRIPA (Territory Red IPA). It worked really well and is something we will look to do again in the future.
Kyle: Alice Springs Brewing Co has had a great first year of trade. We made some beer, drank some beer, won some awards and kicked of a modelling career with features in national magazines. In all seriousness, though, it has been a mountain of work.
We had to grow quickly to meet demand and learned pretty quickly it’s hard to get a brewery off the ground and it’s even harder to manage expansion. We have built a strong local following and have also found our feet as a tourist destination. Our brewer Brian and I spent 2019 focusing on honing in our consistency of our core brews, which we are now pretty happy with the results.
Now that we have done this we will be looking to get back to some experimentation and crazy stuff in the brewery. We have plans to add more fermenting capacity to the brewery this year and also some pieces of kit to speed up our processes.
What are your thoughts on the NT beer scene as we enter the 2020s?
Stu & Bardy: It's promising. It still has a way to go but we are getting a lot of support, we are seeing more options in bottleshops and a strong homebrewing community. With Alice Springs and Beaver starting up as well I think the public are embracing the change.
Chris: NT beer scene is getting better as we go; we still have a massive struggle with tap contracts, but more and more craft beer is being drunk around town with people slowly trying new things.
We have a new brewery – well, an old brewery that has been reopened under new management – Purple Mango; it's about an hour out of Darwin but a great day trip for the family and great for Darwin to have another craft brewery up and running. The more local independent craft beer out in the public the better it is for all of us up here.
I think with people’s changing tastes, there is more flexibility in our brewing. We are able to try a few new beers and styles that aren't very regularly available up here and people are willing to give it a go, which is great.
Kyle: The NT beer scene is still young in my opinion, however it is moving ahead in leaps and bounds. It has taken us a long time to break into the market and hold taps, but we are finding more and more venues are now seeking us out.
A couple of partners in the brewery and myself made the decision to purchase Monte's Lounge in Alice Springs late last year. Our thinking is this will give us an outlet to showcase our beers in the centre of town, in one of the leading craft beer outlets in the NT. We also now have an outlet to bring in our favourite beers from all over the NT and Australia.
What would you most like to see in the local beer world?
Stu & Bardy: We would like to see more growth of independent beer and distribution into venues both in draught and package products, as well as the public continuing to enjoy the amazing beers on offer.
Chris: The thing I'd like to see most is an even playing field with tap contracts: pubs put on beer because of the quality of the product not what they are getting in return.
Kyle: Freeze excise. Now!