Craft beer can go hand in hand with ultramarathon running – and this writer now understands why.
After nine hours completing the 51.5 kilometres of trails up and down Mount Duval – getting lost for additional meterage due to my own fault – in the Duval Dambuster Ultra in Armidale (complete with 1,240m of climbing), the pain cave could only be softened with the help of a refreshing can of White Fish pilsner from local brewery Great Hops Brewing Co. This was obviously to assist with rapid rehydration after a gruelling test. Then another was required just to be safe. Swiftly followed by another.
Great Hops sit 980m above sea level on the edge of Armidale, in the New England region of New South Wales, in a huge dome shed. Inside you'll find a mix of retro memorabilia gathered by owner and head brewer Sam Martin: full-sized 80s gaming machines, American diner booths, outboard motors and dentist chairs that are a nod to his original career pathway in dentistry. It also has a chocolate wheel.
Most first-timers to the brewery spend their first five minutes staring in awe at the contents of the dome as if they were in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul before venturing to the bar.
“I love collecting shit," Sam says. "Dad is from Wisconsin; I love my family from there.
“I think hoarding stuff is in my DNA. Beer brings smiles as does my love of retro crap."
Born in Armidale, Sam attended the University of New England in 2000, residing at St Albert's College. He graduated with a science degree in biochemistry and microbiology before moving to Sydney to complete his dental degree. There, he met his wife, Kate, and, after settling in Bondi, he started homebrewing, stashing corny kegs wherever he could: cupboards; under the bed.
By the time he had three fridges caring for his brews, they decided it was time to relocate, so in 2011 back home to Armidale they went, purchasing the property at 33 Old Inverell Road.
While building the brewery, he refined a recipe for his popular Did Ja? Pale Ale, while battling -6C temperatures with no heating. From that moment on, the brewery began to fill with his retro collection, complete with a brewery-branded fire engine-cum-beer-truck you'll spot parked behind the bar.
Fridays and the weekend have now become a regular haunt for Armidale’s craft beer fans, while the brewery's name has started to spread throughout Australia courtesy of the passing travellers who stop in for a beer. So, we thought we'd help it spread a little further by inviting Sam to take part in our long-running Who Brews...? series.
Great Hops Brewing Co
Who are you?
Sam Martin. I got into brewing because the science of dentistry was changing so slowly and was really quite boring. I had a biochem/micro degree before dentistry.
Where do you brew?
In my big dome shed.
Why do you brew?
I find it relaxing and rewarding – we rebuilt our brewhouse from a dormant 1996 brewhouse stuck in Japan built in the USA.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Boiling water in our brewhouse was the most exciting moment for me. Months of putting it together – it was not a kit from China. Once the water was boiled, we realised great beer would come.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
I don’t look into it much – I think Dad said it once over a beer. We had some other names, but they were too hipster/trendy and we moved away from them.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
Hop forward beers are what we like, and a good old West Coast is my personal favourite. I’ll be happy when the market moves away from hazy beers to tell you the truth – not that I don’t consume ten or more a week.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
I'd love Ricky Gervais to stand there and just talk. He helped me become the atheist I am today, and I love listening to him.
Brew day is long – I’d hate to invite someone who turned out to be boring.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Anything from pre-1991? Music peaked then and went downhill fast.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Not much – we have a one, three and six-year-old. I usually drink at the pub or brewery but there are always XPAs and IPAs for guests coming around.
What would be your Desert Island beer of choice?
West Coast IPA.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
I really like King Tide at Coffs Harbour – Josh is very passionate and his West Coast IPA was great.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
Not really at this stage. I do like dark IPAs – harder to find and don’t sell well.
Where can people find your beers?
Mainly local. Saturated markets don’t encourage me to push it far into cities.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
Hopefully where it is. We don’t have plans for expansion or investors. Just playing with beer in our big dome shed.
You'll find Great Hops Brewing alongside hundreds of other breweries and good beer venues in the free Crafty Pint app, designed to help you find your nearest good beer wherever you are in Australia.