From the outside, Platinum Liquor doesn’t look like much. Both of its outlets – in Bellevue Hill and North Strathfield – sit nestled in amongst a group of suburban shops and bear the legends Tooheys New and Heineken, with precious few signs to the treasure trove of craft beer beyond.
For nearly seven years, Platinum has operated a hidden oasis of craft beer, with a wide range of European imports and selections from Australia’s finest microbreweries. The man driving the beer push in these neighbourhood bottlos is Adam Bellamy, a fourth-generation independent liquor merchant who runs the two outlets with his brother Toni. Adam explains that, while Toni and most of his family are typical Italian wine-lovers, at a young age he decided to rebel and went the beer route instead.
“It probably started with the Czech beer Kozel and the Polish beer Zywiec, we just used to get them in for people to drink,” Adam says.
“I still remember the first beer we got in that my father and my brother told me wasn’t going to sell was La Chouffe, which at the time was $14 a bottle. From there on, I’ve proved them wrong every time.”
For Adam it was a combination of natural rebelliousness and a love of beer labels, which he says are far more interesting than wine labels. While he might feel a bit of a black sheep sometimes, he finds pride in the fact that his Italian homeland is developing an ever-expanding brewing tradition.
“I like that Italy’s basically becoming the #1 country for craft brewing in Europe, in terms of making cool stuff. It’s really cool for me to think that, so I don’t feel like I’m going against the family grain.”
It’s not just in his family, though, that Adam cuts against the grain. He has developed a large notoriety amongst the Sydney beer scene for his outspoken and opinionated nature, often using his blog as an outlet for railing against the system. Of particular note is his weary disdain for IPAs, which he is insistent is blown out of proportion by his readers and customers.
“I actually really do like IPAs,” he asserts.
“But the thing I’ve always loved about beer is that it’s so different. You could have so many different things, and sometimes I feel like that gets lost a bit. People come in and buy four or five of the same product, and after two or three nights, surely there’s a different style of beer you’d like to have.”
While IPAs top the list, other things that seem to set Adam off include snarky beer critics and hipster culture. A lot of it boils down to him taking exception to people liking beer for the wrong reasons.
“I have people come in who say ‘I’m just totally into indie beer right now,’ stroking their beard, ‘what’s really cool?’,” Adam says.
“I think,’Do you like it because you want to like it, or do you like it because it makes you look interesting?’ That’s a big thing with me.”
One thing Adam does respect is brewers who are, as he puts it, ‘complete’. He numbers Ben Kraus from Bridge Road in Victoria and Brendan Varis from Feral in WA among his favourites, while beyond our borders he has a singular respect for Sam Callagione, founder and brewer of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in the US.
“I’m a sucker for a story, and that’s why I love Sam Callagione so much.” Adam says, then continues facetiously: “I mean, I would almost have sex with Sam Callagione, because he suckers me into believing. He’s my man”
Adam’s love of US beers, though, has recently led him down a path that some of his most revered brewers might not respect – self-importing handfuls of rare US microbrews, from breweries including Russian River and Great Divide. The new arrivals are trumpeted on Adam’s Platinum Liquor blog with a certain amount of ceremony. When I ask Adam about the process he goes through to import the beers, he becomes slightly cagey, but he stresses it’s a rare occurrence and not one that he is likely – or even able – to make regularly.
“It’s an extenuating circumstance when I do it,” he says.
“Even the next one, I don’t know if I’m going to do it or not, it’s just whether it can all fall into place for it all to happen again.”
He explains that he started self-importing when he was looking for something to keep customers excited.
“A lot of the hardcore dudes are always ‘I want something new,’ never ‘Oh, I really like that, I want it again.’”
Undeniably, when he announces his latest arrivals from the States, the beer geeks flock into the store in droves, telling him he should do more self-importing. However, whether the brewers who actually make the beer are even aware of this brief flash of excitement among Australian beer lovers is a different question altogether.
For me, while the excitement of seeing highly sought-after and revered bottles sitting on the shelves in any store is enough to make me salivate, it remains true that the quality of the beer inside can’t be guaranteed – at least not to the exacting standards imposed by their makers. Moreover, Adam stocks a generous quantity of fine quality beer from our own shores that can’t be discounted.
What makes Platinum a place worth visiting is not so much a sequence of sporadic one-off import batches, but the regular reliable stocks of quality beer, and the impassioned conversation with the guy who supplies them.