It’s been a very long time in the works, but Riverside Brewing has finally opened their mash tuns and their beer is hitting the market. When I last spoke to head brewer Dave Padden at the start of the year, he and co-founder Stephen Pan were reaching the closing stages of the DA approval process. Half a year later and their beers have only just started trickling out into pubs and restaurants.
So what went wrong?
Although they were all development-approved, and while the equipment was set up all ready to commence operations, the boys got on the wrong end of more council red tape. The problem was that their tin-shed establishment in North Parramatta required a second fire exit to be installed on the premises, something which, according to Padden, wouldn’t have been a legal requirement if the brewing shed were one metre smaller. The logistics of installing the exit proved difficult, with the shed abutting neighbouring properties on three sides, so eventually a fire-safety inspector allowed them to compromise with a set of smoke alarms.
The flow-on effect of the slow bureaucratic tide is felt strongly by this part-time business owned by two guys earning a living elsewhere in the nine-to-five way, and run purely for the love of beer. A three-month delay means they’re playing catch-up with the beer business side of things. Promises made months ago to supply to venues are only now starting to be fulfilled, and with the heightened sense of anticipation, those orders aren’t sticking around long before selling out.
In some ways the delay could be seen as a good thing, with merchants and consumers alike reaching for the new beers in a cathartic spendthrift frenzy. Padden says that, on first impressions, their biggest sellers are the lighter Summer ale, a pale wheat-based beer dry-hopped with Australian Galaxy hops, and the more hop-heavy American Amber ale, the latter of which is building hype among the Sydney beer twitterverse. (bitterverse to coin a phrase?? Ed.)
Aside from these two, Riverside offers four other core-range beers which are currently being brewed on a smaller scale, working up to their traditional Robust Porter. Padden says there is not a lot of time to do much more than to continue churning out batches of the core six and spread the word and the product around that way. At present, only Sydneysiders are lucky enough to have a taste, with the boys looking to consolidate their local market base before expanding interstate and beyond.
Padden mentions that he has spoken in the past to a couple of craft-beer venues in Melbourne, but given the delay from the fire safety issue he admits “they’ve probably forgotten about me.”
In addition to what Padden calls the “usual suspects”, Riverside is making significant inroads to businesses around their home base of Parramatta. The perennially popular Courtney’s Brasserie on Philip Street is installing Riverside Beer taps as part of their commitment to local produce, while beers have also been pouring for weeks now at the Baron Hotel in nearby Castle Hill.
“People are loving it,” says Padden. “They’re loving the fact that it’s a local beer. Not just a Sydney beer but properly local.”
The local element has always been an integral part of Riverside’s vision. In February this year Padden said to me: “About half the breweries in NSW are regional, they have a strong connection with their community. There’s a very big population in Parramatta that so far has gone largely untapped.”
Riverside’s dedication to the community has whispers of an expansion for a craft beer revolution that so far finds itself mostly centralised around the inner-city, with only a small handful of craft-beer outlets in the largely working-class sprawl of greater western Sydney. The ability to get Riverside’s big-flavoured, American-inspired range of beers out to a larger audience than the trendy inner-suburb crowd seems like a big step along the way to re-educating the whole city.
While the location is only set up for production at this stage, Padden already talks of plans to have on-site bottle sales and growler fills (once the outstanding demand has been met). When everything settles down and their finances seem promising, Padden hopes to open up a dedicated Riverside bar closer to the centre of Parramatta.
Until then, Padden has his sights set on spreading the word through a few well-chosen marketing opportunities. Aside from taking part in the Trainworks Winter Beer Festival on August 25th in Thirlmere, Padden also has big plans for Sydney Craft Beer Week in October.
“We’re taking part in Sydney Craft Beer Week pretty heavily,” he says, and adds, “It would be great to hold an event in a venue in Parramatta”.
Their plans currently involve a one-off beer brewed especially for the event and to tie-in with a Surry Hills-based beer degustation dinner. Padden speculates on the prospect of holding a second dedicated event in Parramatta, to spread the craft beer love out west. He is tight-lipped about all the details, though, so anticipation continues to flow through the Riverside start-up story.
Riverside Brewing’s inception has so far been a long and fairly arduous journey. But through the dedication and persistence of these two beer-lovers, the spoils are finally starting to appear. As the list of places to find their beers starts to grow, my advice will be to seek them out wherever you can and give them a try – not only because it’s always worth supporting small businesses doing it tough in the beer market – but simply because the beers are pretty bloody great.