"Take a hike" is a classic Aussie insult. But for Daniel Venema and Phil Sharp, two guys who love the great outdoors, it’s an invitation. Explore the world around you. Spend some time in nature. And, of course, enjoy a beer by Hiker Brewing Concern while you’re at it.
Hiker opened in February 2023, but as with any brewery, the story starts well before that. Dan and Phil met in 2019, when Phil jumpstarted the Royal Queensland Beer Awards (he was head of competitions with the RNA) and Daniel came in as an associate judge with a nudge from his brewing mentor Steve "Hendo" Henderson.
While they chatted a few times at the awards over the following years, Dan and Phil were little more than acquaintances when Hendo – ever the matchmaker – suggested they get together for a chat about their respective plans to start a new venture: Phil had been looking to open a bar, and Daniel had been looking to start a brewpub.
The two immediately found a simpatico.
“We were both on exactly the same page with everything straight up,” Daniel says. “We were both like: this might actually be a thing. In terms of business plan, wanting to stay small, focus on taproom retail and not get into distribution – we both had that idea separately. Neither of us wanted to focus on any particular styles, both wanted to explore everything.”
And while Daniel was originally going to run with the name Ornith Brewing (his gypsy brewing company), when Phil shared the name Hiker, Daniel was sold.
“There was synergy there with what I wanted in a brand in terms of nature and the outdoors and celebrating that.
Head into Hiker and you’ll find yourself in a massive shed with big open roller doors that let in heaps of natural light and airflow. It’s kitted out with plenty of elbow room for all, with space to create different zones. If you’re keen to play pool, there’s a space for you right near the bar, and the guys are putting in a large TV for those who want to hunker down in a corner and watch sport. If you want to keep the kids happy, there’s a little cubby house and a bunch of toys, giant Jenga and Connect 4, plus a ping pong table up the back.
And of course, if you want to do nothing but sit and drink your beer in full view of the brewhouse, you can do that from anywhere in the venue: the stainless is all spread out in a line along the wall, visible for everyone.
The Hiker core range is made up of the cheekily named Toohey Forest Lager (totally legit, since the brewery is right next to Toohey Forest), an Aussie pale ale called Bushwalker, and a delicious mid-strength Scottish ale called Wee Little! While this last one was originally supposed to be a one-off, it proved to be such a success that it’s earned a permanent spot on the roster.
“Every brewer who visited said they loved it, then it won a gold medal!” Daniel says. “People see it and say, ‘What’s that? I’m keen to try that?’, regardless of the fact that it’s mid-strength. Or they ask for a mid-strength, we give them two options [Wee Little! or a mid-strength lager], and they go, ‘Ooh, Scottish ale, interesting! I’ll go that.’”
The remaining taps change up on the regular to keep a spectrum of new flavours coming: there’s always a couple of IPAs (both hazy and non-hazy varieties), a sour or two, another kind of lager and usually something dark.
They also have rotating food trucks (Friday evenings, and all day Saturday and Sunday), live music, and all kinds of interesting entertainment: Hiker has had Irish dancers perform in the venue, are hosting a circus act as part of Brisbane’s Anywhere Festival, and I’ve even heard rumours of live wrestling coming to the brewery.
While Hiker’s cul de sac location isn’t as accessible as some breweries, it’s just up the street from Ballistic and in the same area as Helios and Slipstream, and has been drawn into the Beermuda that these other breweries created.
“Hopefully people are attracted to the area because of that… [we’re] part of that hub.”
In other words: it’s worth the hike. But before you make the trek, hear from Dan and Phil themselves in this instalment of Who Brews…?
Hiker Brewing Concern
Who are you?
Daniel: I studied civil engineering at uni but was just working an office job when I got really into homebrewing in around 2016. I then started studying a diploma in brewing with IBD at the start of 2018, and jumped straight into launching my own gypsy brewing company, called Ornith Brewing Co. I have since brewed at Catchment, Ballistic and Slipstream, before kicking off the plans for Hiker with Phil.
Phil: I was the Head of Competitions and Events at the Royal Queensland Show (Ekka) and introduced the Royal Queensland Beer Awards. COVID hit and I was put on JobKeeper and decided to do the Brewing Course at TAFE. Ended up being made redundant and got a job as a brewer at All Inn. Lasted there for around six months and then moved to Black Hops, as the roster was better to build a brewery on my days off!
Where do you brew?
Our brewpub is located on the south side of Brisbane, in the suburb of Salisbury.
Why do you brew?
Daniel: I fell in love with beer and brewing because I found it amazing that so many different flavours could be created from the same four ingredients. I’ve always been into chemistry and science more generally, so that side of brewing is really enjoyable for me as well.
Phil: I love the ability to take raw ingredients and turn them into something that puts smiles on peoples faces.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Daniel: One of the biggest ones for me was having a Holgate ESB off the hand pump at the Woodend pub with my dad, back in the late 2000s. It made me realise how much more amazing beer was out there. I wouldn’t start homebrewing for another seven or eight years, but really everything started snowballing from that moment.
Phil: COVID-19… Jokes!
After running the Royal Queensland Beer Awards, I realised it was an industry I needed to be involved in.
What's the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Phil loves hiking. He was trying to come up with something short and snappy and it came to him on a hike one day. Daniel loves nature as well, so there was some synergy there when we first got together for a chat. As a bonus, we ended up opening right next door to Toohey Forest, which is full of hiking trails!
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
We love all beers, but we are both particularly big fans of some of the more traditional European styles. One of our passion projects is Wanderlust, our German pilsner. It’s not core range, but we plan to brew it annually, and to get it as close to perfection as we can. The holy grail for most brewers is to take out the lager trophy at a beer competition!
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
It really depends whether Phil is onsite or not. If not, Daniel will almost certainly be playing some variety of metal. If Phil is around, it could be anything else other than metal, really. Just not metal. Phil doesn’t like metal.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
Daniel: Sir David Attenborough. Or maybe Maynard James Keenan. Can I have both? That could be a fun dynamic…
Phil: Jason Luke, our plumber. Top bloke, loves a beer, and can talk. He is a trail runner, and loves our beers… A LOT! [I feel like this is a very achievable bucket list item, Phil! – Mick]
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Daniel: Mostly under-filled cans from work… but there are a few breweries whose beers I just can’t resist buying when I see them: Wildflower, Working Title, White Bay, Fox Friday.
Phil: Black Hops Hornet. One of my favourites – loved brewing it and love drinking it. Mountain Culture, as we did a beer swap to get to know each other more.
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
Daniel: Pilsner Urquell.
Phil: SP Lager – Love it after hiking the Kokoda Track…
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Daniel: The Place Beyond The Pines, by Working Title. The vision and execution of that beer blew my mind, and the story of how it was created is super cool. I think I ended up drinking like 20 cans of it. I’m a bit of a WT fanboy to be honest, the guys just nail it every time and they’re legends to boot.
Phil: To be honest, with the build and running of the brewery, haven’t had too much local beer. But we do have a dedicated tap at the brewery for Froth Rookies (the TAFE course brewery). Really enjoying their IPA at the moment, and having a glass of it when the students come in for knock-off beers [as the] brew lab is only about five mins away from Hiker…
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
Daniel: I reckon there’s more we could do with lactose. A CO2 extract maybe? Or could we pelletise it?
It’s nothing too crazy but I’m really excited for my first foray into barrel-ageing – I haven’t done any of that before. Also, and it’s definitely still a ways off, but I can’t wait to start mucking around with wild yeasts and bugs one day. The world of fermentation is so vast and fascinating.
Phil: Really want to explore more around Belgian styles. Had the Westmalle Trappist Tripel recently and really loved it, and want to explore these styles more.
What beers have you released to date?
- Wee Little! – Scottish Light Ale
- Toohey Forest – Lager
- Bushwalker – Pale Ale
- Wanderlust – German Pilsner
- Hitchhiker – West Coast IPA
- Cloudscapes – Hazy IPA [at time of writing, this is one of the highest-rated beers on Untappd - Mick]
- Reel – Irish Red Ale
- Wanderer – Midstrength Lager
- Escape – Pina Colada Sour
- Ornith – Imperial Red IPA
- Horizon – Hazy Pale Ale
Where can people find your beers?
At our brewpub, on our website, and at a small rotation of local Brisbane bars.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
Our vision for Hiker is to become known around the country for our amazing beers, without having to enter the large-scale wholesale and distribution market. We want to stay relatively small in that sense, and focus on making our brewpub a top-tier destination for our community. Hopefully in ten years’ time we will have replicated that a couple more times with some satellite taprooms.
Keen to #takeahike? Hiker Brewing Concern is at 81 Pentex Street, Salisbury. You can check out Tipsy History circus at Hiker on May 18 and 19, jump aboard the free Beermuda tour bus on Saturday May 20, and for those in Melbourne between May 12 and 21, Near & Far bar in Fitzroy will be pouring Hiker beers for Pint of Origin.