John Macarthur achieved quite a lot in his life.
Born in England, he arrived in Australia in 1790 with the Second Fleet as lieutenant of the New South Wales Corps. Once in the new colony, his influence quickly grew. Largely, that was due to his pivotal role in the trade of booze and food for the organisation, which soon became known as the Rum Corps due to its monopoly over the spirit that operated as something of a default currency in the colony.
Eventually, the Rum Corps would manage to overthrow Governor William Bligh (you could feel sorry for Bligh but bear in mind it was the second time he'd been overthrown) with Macarthur's leading role in those events seeing him exiled back to England.
Yet none of that stopped him from working on what was his most lasting legacy: the establishment of the Australian wool industry. In 1797, he secured the first Merino sheep – prized for their fine and soft wool – for the colony, after a handful of sheep made the journey from present-day South Africa.
As such, to this day, the Macarthur region on Sydney's outskirts still bears his name, while the team at Merino Brewery, which opened in Narellan in February this year, hope the area might one day become as well known for beer as sheep’s wool.
Behind the brewery are Lee Evans and Mark Palmer. Like MacArthur, the pair have backgrounds in the military. Lee, who hails from Britain, previously served in the Royal Navy before migrating to Australia close to two decades ago, while Mark’s background is in the Australian Army.
“We live in the same town just down the road from where the brewery is,” Lee says. “And we’ve known each other for a few years by just both going to the same pub and being ex-servicemen. And we’ve just ended up building a brewery.”
The beers are produced on a thousand litre system tasked with filling multiple larger fermenters, but Lee and Mark also designed the space to be a welcoming venue for locals and anyone who finds themselves in the neighbourhood. Since opening, they've regularly hosted food trucks and live music, while Merino further taps into the region's history courtesy of the pieces of corrugated tin forming the bar.
“It’s been really well received,” Lee says. “We’ve tried to ensure it has a really great atmosphere that works with the area’s history with Merino sheep.”
A couple of months on from their opening, we asked them to join us as part of our long-running Who Brews…? series.
Who are you?
Mark and I are both ex-military and the owners of Merino Brewery. Our head brewer is Tim Howard, who worked previously with Tribe Breweries.
Where do you brew?
At our home at 2 Forge Place, Narellan, which is part of NSW's Macarthur region.
Why do you brew?
We want to make great beer, with a local and regional focus, allowing us to encourage people to come and try it.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
It was a desire to make something that people would enjoy whilst chatting with mates. To provide a space locally, so that people could come and try craft beers and enjoy the love of beer that we have.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
The Merino sheep is symbolic with the region and represents quality, innovation and tradition. Merino Brewery was chosen to reflect the heritage of the area and create a sense of local ownership. After all, we are two guys, both ex-military, passionate about beer and an iconic sheep – what could go wrong?
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
Our ESB – “Extra Special Bitter” – English in its origins.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Anything from the 80s to now as long as it makes you tap your foot and singalong.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
The latest beers from Craft Beer Coopery.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Wet Hop IPA from Seeker Brewing.
Where can people find your beers?
Currently only in our Taproom at the brewery. We offer growler fills and are moving into cans as a takeaway option in the next few months.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
To grow into a community hub and get our beers into more local outlets.
You can pop into Merino Brewery at 2 Forge Place, Narellan. And you'll find it alongside hundreds of other breweries and good beer retailers in the free Crafty Pint app.
All past Who Brews...? features are available here.