Sydney-based The Social Brewers is set to open this month to take beer to the suburbs.
Beau Curtis has launched the brewery in Peakhurst to cater to the local community, which has a notable lack of breweries compared to other areas of Sydney.
“I’ve wanted to do something on my own as in my own business for many years. I’ve always had that desire to do my own thing,” Curtis said.
“But I was happy in corporate life, and enjoyed brewing the odd beer on the side. I’ve come to it relatively late but I really enjoyed the process and creating stuff and for people to taste a beer that I’ve brewed.”
A move to Newtown initially meant Curtis watched first-hand the growth of breweries like Batch Brewing Co., but it wasn’t until a move to another suburb that he started to think his dream could become reality.
“We moved out to Peakhurst, about 20 mins out of the Sydney CBD and it’s a world away, we just didn’t get to visit breweries as often as I would have liked,” Curtis explained.
“I kept thinking, ‘why aren’t there more breweries in the suburbs?’”
“Sunday Road is down in Kirrawee, it opened a couple years ago and then One Drop and Slow Lane in Botany are closest after that.
“But there’s a massive gap between them, about 20 or 30km, and I started thinking, ‘why not’?”
While there are hospitality ventures around, they cater to a specific audience, Curtis explained.
“They did up the local pub and it had a great beer garden. I thought, ‘that’ll be fantastic’, but I went there and it was wall-to-wall Lion Nathan.
“There’s a demand in the area, I did my market research and worked out how much of that community I’d need through the doors to make it a viable entity
“There are about 75,000 potential beer drinkers in the local area, and they’re serviced by breweries a fair distance away, so it was an easy decision once I’d worked that out.
“My wife got sick of me hearing about it, she said if you’re serious about it, do it. That was all I needed, that green light. Then it was how much can I afford.”
The Social Brewers is a self-funded project, and Curtis started out with a budget of $250,000.
“Which doesn’t go as far as you want it to!”
The development process in a place like Peakhurst also has its difficulties, with a local council not necessarily well-versed in what a brewery is.
“We’re the first brewery in our local area. I said brewery and they thought ‘cross between a mega-production facility and a nightclub’. It’s taken a lot of conversation to first understand their concerns from a council point of view but also to educate them on the process and what we were trying to do.”
In the end though, it was a nine-month process to get the development approvals in place, which is relatively quick compared to the experiences of other brewers.
“Their primary issue was parking, they categorised our parking requirements at almost five times as much as a café needs, even more than a pub. It came down to one line in a submission by a traffic engineer.
“I was trying to get 50 people [capacity wise], but we could only rely on five on-street [parking spots] and the rest had to be off street.
“We either had to drop the patron limit and get it passed, or start leasing additional spots, which will put pressure on other businesses in the complex.
“So we dropped the patron limit. If we manage it well, take bookings with two hour sittings we could make it work and we can work towards [a higher capacity]. But first we get open, get operating and get some revenue in the door.”
Curtis will be head brewer, and while his background is in homebrewing, he is working to professionalise his brewing experience.
“I’ve worked with Hendo on the Rockstar Brewer programme, and through that connected with Joel at Willie the Boatman. He’s a local who grew up round the corner and I tap them to do some contract brewing for canning, as we don’t have the volume just yet to fork out for a canning machine.
“I’m outsourcing two SKUs for packaging, our Strata session ale and our lager style ale. We’re also doing an IPA which I’ve tapped already, and a Gose, which I love with that salty citrusy thing.”
Of course the challenge for homebrewers is adapting to the new environment of commercial brewing.
“Wort cooling is the biggest area of challenge,” Curtis explained.
“As a homebrewer with no commercial experience and a 30L kit in the backyard, you need a half hour to cool wort. It’s no biggie.
But I’m double batching into 400L fermenters so cooling wort quickly is really important to get second batch underway. That’s where I’m finding most of the challenge, nailing down the process on things I’ve done before [but in a commercial setting].”
Curtis is also enrolled in the NSW TAFE course for this year, and says his key focus will be on quality.
“I’m determined the beer will be the best quality it can be and I will keep working to make sure that is the case.
“If you can’t get that right we shouldnt be open at all. So I made a pale ale that I fermented and it went too hot and it tasted like crap and I dumped it. Having the dedication to getting good beer in the taps at all times, that’s what it takes and if you’re not prepared to do that you shouldn’t be in the game.
“That’s why I wanted to do packaged [at Willie the Boatman]. The systems and processes in terms of shelf life and stability at a larger scale brewer with better and more equipment, so it’s as good as poss when it reaches the customer is important
“It comes at the cost of a bit of margin, but it’s worth it.”
Curtis is brewing on a 270L Cheeky Peak nanobrewery, the same as the one the team at Yeppoon Brewing Co. brew on.
But as a local community brewery, it’s also important to make everyone feel welcome, said Curtis.
“I’ve been careful about selection, we have a cider on tap which is a cracking cider, and wines as well. I want everyone to enjoy themselves whether they are a beer drinker, mainstream, craft beer nut, I want to have something for everyone.
“In this area I’ve got a guttering factory and planning across the road, loads of people in the vicinity who won’t be smashing a robust porter, or an IPA. they will be maybe going for the sessionable end.
“And I’m a middle aged white guy for all intents and purposes, so I’m also really conscious that this isn’t just a dude fest and that people of all ilks can come here and enjoy the experience.”
That’s not to say that he won’t be experimenting with more creative styles.
“I’ve thought a lot about the beer, and the stuff Joel and the team are pushing out of their brewery. At Christmas I made a Belgian witbier, with coconut and cacao. It was really nice, but I didn’t expect it to be a massive seller.
“I’ll tweak those and make sure they are on the money ,stuff that’s not selling will drop, our IPA is a scorcher, it’s not super challenging so someone who isn’t an IPA drinker could pick it up, but if it doesn’t sell I’m not going to brew it, at the end of the day it’s a business.”
But the main focus in the next year will be to cement the brewery in its local community.
“The taproom is absolutely the focus, at the scale that I’m at I can’t afford to focus on wholesale. It’s a volume game and it’s about getting people into the brewery and experiencing the beer where it’s made. That said, I have a couple of local bottle shops stocking striders.
“People around here really want something to gravitate towards and hopefully that will be our brewery.”
The Social Brewers will be open this month at 10-12 Hearne Street, Mortdale, NSW 2223.
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.