“When you haven’t sold a single beer yet it’s hard to work out where you want to be, but we have had the goal of making a brewpub from the very first meeting.”
That's what the crew at CoConspirators told me the first time we met and here we are three years later (almost to the day) sitting around a kitchen table as they show me plans for their Brunswick brewpub.
Around the table are Maggie and Deon Smit and Tim Martin and Jacqui Sacco, the two couples who met through the Merri Mashers homebrew club before deciding to conspire together to launch the brewing company.
A lot has changed in the last few years too. They did manage to sell their first beer and a steady stream of other releases followed. Clint Weaver and his design company Pocketbeagles brought their underworld-inspired characters to life and gave their beers an unmistakable look. Deon and Maggie welcomed their daughter Matilda into the world. I’ve enjoyed trying those beers too.
More recently, a lot of time has been spent visiting dusty warehouses and trying to turn that brewpub goal into a reality.
“Day one, when we had our first catch up around this table and where we talked about starting CoConspirators, we all said we wanted a brewpub,” Deon says. “That was the plan from day one and it’s taken three years to get here.”
The building itself isn’t entirely new to brewing either, with 377 Victoria Street, Brunswick, the former home of Himmel Brewing. Himmel occupied about a third of the space, CoConspirators have all of it and, with nearly 700 square metres of floor space and eight metre walls, they’ve got a lot of room to place with. Construction is set to start in March and the team hope to have it open to the public towards the middle of this year.
Maggie says they all fell for the building quickly, impressed with its old brickwork and steel beams and the way natural light spills into the expansive space.
“It’s just got so much character,” she says. “It still is an old building and has all the character that comes with that – and obviously all the building difficulties too – but money can’t buy that.”
Beyond that structure, they’ve got a blank canvas to work with. Plans include opening up some of the roof to create a beer garden inside, a stage for local musicians and comedians, tables for the 195 people to share, and a focus on making it a family friendly space. Taking prime position will be the 12 hectolitre brewhouse from American-based brewery manufacturer Alpha.
The CoConspirator's venue will be powered in part by solar energy while an aerobic digestion system is being installed to process brewery and food waste on site. After opening to the public a kitchen is also going in and the old office space upstairs will be transformed too, maybe into another beer garden or maybe a whisky bar.
The size plus its proximity to Sydney Road and public transport meant the warehouse ticked a lot of boxes for the owners but just as important was securing a long-term lease for the site. Brunswick, along with the neighbouring suburbs, has an industrial history that means there’s a lot of space for potential breweries, but the area’s high development rates mean few landlords are interested in signing long leases and potentially lose the opportunity to build apartments down the line.
Jacqui says part of what made the building the right fit for them, therefore, was the owner. Their landlord, who constructed the building and still goes to work every day next door, wanted to see the space used in a way that Brunswick locals could enjoy it.
“It’s a family-owned building and they’ve got an engineering firm next door,” she says. “That’s part of what’s so wonderful about the space: it’s in the family and they don’t want to knock it down and put 100 apartments there.”
The space might suit but Brunswick itself was always top of the list when they were looking for a home. Maggie and Deon live a few blocks away, Jacqui and Tim are nearby too and Brunswick’s pub and bars, along with its growing number of breweries – Inner North, Foreigner, Alchemy, Temple and Thunder Road are all locals – show drinkers in the area are keen to embrace local beer. As Tim puts it: “It’s a great community for independent beer.”
Now they have the stainless of their own, fans of CoConspirators beers will be able to try a lot more of them, though Deon says beer drinkers will likely have to make it through the doors to try the more limited releases.
“Our initial focus is all about making enough beer to sell across the bar, it’s not to go into pack,” he says. “We will sell some kegs elsewhere but it’s really about everything across the bar.”
It means the wholesale side of the CoConspirators story isn’t changing; Tim says they’ll keep brewing elsewhere to keep up with demand for their beers in bars and bottleshops.
“We’re not stopping any of that," he says. "We’d like to see it grow but our business will have two arms: wholesale and the venue.”
Finding a home has also enabled the two couples to slowly start the move into the business full-time. The night before we meet up, Tim became the brewery’s first fulltime employee, with others planning on following as the business develops.
As for what kind of beers you’ll find pouring when you walk in, expect new releases to flow, barrels to line walls and collaborations to feature heavily.
“It’s going to give us a lot more of an opportunity where we can really do those small project collabs with other people,” Maggie says.
“We’ll co-conspire with them, if you want to use our made-up world.”