Hop on the Hunter’s ale tasting trail
And be prepared for a variety of brews that will tantalise your tastebuds. Across the Hunter Valley, Newcastle and the Central Coast: there is something on offer for everyone.
When you live on the doorstep of one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the country, you’d expect to be spoilt for choice with a selection of full-bodied reds and crisp, clear whites. But for those who prefer malt and hops over the fruits of the vine, Newcastle, the Hunter and the Central Coast are becoming destinations of choice for craft beer connoisseurs. Hunter and Coastal Lifestyle Magazine hops on the region’s ale tasting trail this month to explore some of the best spots to enjoy a craft brew … or two.
The Hunter’s original craft beer brewery was set up by the Colismo family in the grounds of Potters Hotel at Nulkaba in 2003, and 16 years later Hunter Beer Co is still going strong. Originally contracted to brew St Arnou beers for a Sydney-based craft beer company, it didn’t take long before the Hunter microbrewery branched out to release its own flagship beer, the Hunter Kolsch, quickly followed by a European style Lager and a dark Bock beer.
While heading eight minutes north-west to Hope Estate may take you onto the well-worn wine tasting trail, there’s still plenty on offer amongst the vines for beer-lovers. Since early 2015 Hope Brewhouse has been crafting its own range of award-winning beers and ciders on site and in 2016 it was named the Champion Small Brewery by the Craft Beer Industry Association. Hope Estate has 12 beer and cider taps to select from at the Brewhouse Café and while the current offering is constantly changing, their website showcases what else they have brewed up over the years, including the heavy hitting FA-18% Rhino IPA, named for the F/A-18 jets that dominate the Hunter skyline.
Another Hunter winemaker who’s added craft beer to their portfolio is Peter Drayton Wines. While Peter is a fifth generation descendant of the famed Drayton wine family, he’s always had an interest in good beer, and so in 2016 he decided to build a brewery alongside the vines on his 40 hectare IronBark Hill vineyard property at Pokolbin. IronBark Hill Brewhouse opened to the public in April 2017 as another family-run enterprise, with his son Andrew taking on the role of Head Brewer, his son-in-law Jeremy working in both the brewery and the winery and his daughter Natalie managing the bar. Now brewing 100,000 litres of beer and cider per year, the brewhouse offers 12 varieties on tap, including pale ales, an IPA, pilsner, stout, brown ale and the cheekily named Brexit English Bitter.
The Hunter Valley isn’t the only place on the craft connoisseurs’ radar, with the wider Maitland region home to a number of microbreweries. River Port Brewing Company Pty Ltd – otherwise known as Morpeth Brewery & Beer Co – served its first beer over the bar of the Commercial Hotel, Morpeth on April 25, 2012 and have brewed one batch of this special ale every year since to commemorate Anzac Day and celebrate their anniversary.
The ultimate small brewery experience can be found in Aberglasslyn, where passionate craft brewer Stuart Duff set up Dusty Miner Brewery in his backyard. After concocting his own home brews for more than 20 years, Stuart decided to share his creations with the rest of the beer drinking world, establishing a nano brewery in 2015 where he could brew, ferment and bottle his line of ales. His beers – including the three-time silver medal winning Black Bones Dark Ale – are now available on tap, in a range of local bottle shops and online, as well as at his Aberglasslyn brewery.
One of the Hunter’s newest brewers can be found in another somewhat unusual location, amongst the hustle and bustle of the Freeway Business Park at Beresfield. While an industrial estate doesn’t seem the most likely stop on a craft beer tasting trail, one sip of the beers on tap at Maltnhops Brewhaus will have you coming back for more.
Jump on the New England Highway when you leave Maltnhops and head to where the city meets the coastline for the next stop on your craft brewery crusade. Newcastle is home to a multitude of bars and pubs that pay homage to craft beer brews, including the city’s original craft beer café, The Grain Store. Owned and operated by Kristy and Corey Crooks, the café/restaurant was set up in a beautifully restored warehouse in the historic East End, which was built in 1885 by J.T. Toohey (Tooheys Brewery) as a grain and keg storage facility.
If you’re looking to get closer to the brewing action, head along to the newly rebranded FogHorn Brewery, which has operated out of a restored warehouse on King Street since 2014 with an 1800 litre brewery and four 1800-litre-serving tanks.
If you’re looking to extend your tasting trail with a day trip south, you’ll find a number of craft breweries scattered along the Central Coast. The region’s first home grown craft brewery, Six String Brewing Co was launched in late 2012 by a couple of former school mates, one of whom was an avid home brewer and is located in Erina, with a brewery and on-site tasting room. They produce an award-winning range of preservative free, unpasteurised and unfiltered beers, with a core offering of four flavours including the locally-influenced Coastie, an easy going, laidback Aussie lager, as well as limited edition seasonal options and small batch brews. Weekly brewery tours and a monthly “brewday” designed to share the craft of brewing with participants, add to the offering.
Read more about the best local craft beers in the Spring issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine. Available in news agencies or subscribe here and never miss an issue.
Story Michelle Meehan, photography courtesy of breweries.