Starting out as the brewery that gave the Pub With No Beer its beer, the Murray’s operation moved to Port Stephens once word of its high quality brews meant they could no longer be contained by a pub in regional New South Wales. Now sharing a site with Port Stephens winery a short drive up the coast from Newcastle, the ever-expanding brewery is housed in a former wine storage shed next to rows of vines just up the hill from a bar, restaurant and function room.
The original brew system is a wonderful copper clad piece of engineering, the likes of which would have filled Heath Robinson’s dreams. It had, however, become incapable of meeting demand alone so has been joined by a second system that allows brewers Shawn Sherlock and Ian Watson to double batch brew – something that’s essential given the number of short run specials they produce in addition to the year round Murray’s regulars.
With a fondness for pushing the bounds of brewing and mixing and matching styles – not to mention a love for the new wave of Kiwi hops – they’re known for producing full-flavoured beers, whether lower alcohol ones like their Punch & Judy or the big, bold Wild Thing and Spartacus.
The ongoing expansion of the brewhouse is in keeping with Murray’s aim of seeing good craft beer all along the East Coast; every nook and cranny of the shed is steadily being filled with beer and the gear with which to make it, including the wooden barrels used for their annual Anniversary Ale releases. These come in champagne bottles and have been known to feature – deliberately – brettanomyces, the wild yeast used to add farmhouse and souring characteristics to some Belgian styles. It’s a side of the Murray’s enterprise that is expected to grow; Shawn intends to build a dedicated barrel room, in much the same way as fellow brewing mad scientist Brendan Varis of Feral plans to on Australia’s other coast. As to whether Aussies are ready for such large amounts of sour beer, Shawn says: “Build it, brew it and they will come!”
Murray's (NSW) Beers
- Murray's Anniversary Ale 7
- Murray's Smashing Pumpkin Ale (2012)
- Murray's Big Wednesday IPA
- Murray's Libertine
- Murray's Anniversary Ale 6
- Murray's Smashing Pumpkin Ale (2011)
- Murray's The Natural
- Murray's Oak-Aged Heart of Darkness
- Murray's Vesuvius
- Murray's Shawn's Fault
- Murray's Spartacus (bottled)
- Murray's Heart of Darkness
- Murray's Easter Ale
- Murray's Retro Rocket
- Murray's Angry Man Brown Ale
- Murray's Imperious
- Murray's Punk Monk
- Murray's Anniversary Ale 5
Murray's Angry Man Pale Ale
Murray’s flagship beer, the Angry Man Pale Ale (formerly Nirvana Pale Ale) was tweaked at the end of 2010, firming up its bold hop character into something even punchier than before. A hybrid of an American Pale Ale combined with the classic English Pale Ale, the beer is a brilliant light-golden colour with a full-bodied finish and complex character. The beer’s fresh citrusy/spicy aroma and flavour is strongly influenced by generous use of New Zealand-grown hops balanced with biscuity/toffee flavours from selected caramalts. The brewers recommend pairing it with hot and spicy food such as Thai, Indian or Vietnamese dishes.
Style: Hybrid US / English Pale Ale
Murray's Rudeboy Pilsner
A crisp, refreshing take on the North German style of pilsner but given a New World twist thanks to the use of New Zealand’s motueka hop, a derivative of the European Saaz used in classic pilsners. It pours a pale straw colour with an almost meringue-like head. The citrus aroma is balanced by sweet biscuity malts, and finished with a refreshing bitterness. Made with classic German malts and using a traditional pilsner/lager process of cold fermentation and extended conditioning periods, Murray’s Rudeboy Pilsner is the only bottle-conditioned Pilsner brewed in Australia. Murray’s recommend pairing it with seafood, while it’s also used in their sausages served at the brewery.
Style: German Pilsner
Murray's Whale Ale
A wheat beer with a difference, Murray’s Whale Ale is created in the American Wheat style, making it a lighter, crisper alternative to hefeweizens and witbiers. Named in honour of the creatures that grace the shores of Port Stephens, this unfiltered wheat beer has low bitterness and is a very easy-drinking beer, making it the brewery’s most popular. They suggest pairing it with white meats and salads.
Style: American Wheat Beer
Murray's Punch & Judy
One of Crafty’s picks for beers that said something about the state of the craft beer market in 2010, the Punch & Judy shows just what can be done with a lower alcohol beer. Weighing in at less than 4%, it takes the classic English pub ales designed to be quaffed by the pint and throws a load of tropical NZ hops at them to create a really wonderful beer. Strong British malt flavours combine with the rich nutty caramel flavour of the dark crystal malt and are joined by the strong hop flavour and aroma of Riwaka and Motueka hops.
Style: English Ale
Murray's Icon 2IPA
We’ll never forget Crafty’s first encounter with the Icon. Encouraged by an enthusiastic beer lover to try it soon after arriving in Oz, it sparked a chain reaction in which Crafty became the one persuading others to give it a go. A big and bold marriage of powerful aromatic hops with a chewy malt backbone, all rounded off by a hefty and lasting bitterness, it’s rightly regarded as among the best Aussie craft beers and one plenty were delighted to see added to Murray’s permanent roster.
Style: American Double IPA
Murray's Anniversary Ale 7
Among Australia’s craft beer cognoscenti, Murray’s annual anniversary releases are one of the year’s most anticipated releases. The beers have generally followed a few common traits: big and barrel-aged for a start, with each vintage usually an evolution on the previous year. Last year’s was a 15 per cent Belgian style barleywine featuring a handful of different yeasts and made from a blend of French and American oak-aged versions. This one follows a similar line but with the addition of cherry wood smoked malt. Head Brewer Shawn Sherlock says: “Along with the use of Kiwi hops, we’ve made wood aging one of our signature styles – and Anniversary Ale is a key offering in this program. We don’t do ciders or sour beers, but a lot of time is now spent on developing a barrel aging program with plans for future releases of these beers.” As with previous year’s Anniversary Ales, this year’s beer has been treated to extensive oak barrel aging, and is packaged under cork in 750ml Champagne bottles. According to the brewery: “The blend of two different Belgian yeast strains makes for an incredibly complex ester profile. The high alcohol content makes its presence felt with warmth right across the palate, but even at this early stage of the beer’s life is not ‘hot’ or spirit like. The American oak barrels contribute further complex layers of flavour and aroma to the beer. Initially full and rich on the palate, Murray’s Anniversary Ale 7 finishes remarkably dry for a beer of this size.” Salivating much?
Style: Smoked, Barrel-Aged Belgian Barleywine
Murray's Smashing Pumpkin Ale (2012)
A collaboration between Murray’s brewery and kitchen this one. It starts with head chef Adam Ritchie and his kitchen team peeling and dry roasting 60 kilograms of pumpkin before selecting the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice that also goes into the beer. At that point brewers Shawn Sherlock and Ian Watson take over to create “pumpkin pie in a glass”. This is the third year that Murray’s has brewed its special spiced beer, which features British and German malts and cooked pumpkin in the mash. The latter, say Murray’s, “adds a subtle sweetness and pumpkin aroma and flavour that is enhanced by the addition of the spices.”
Annual Halloween release available on draught only
Style: Pumpkin Ale
Murray's Big Wednesday IPA
They love their Kiwi hops at Murray’s and they know how to use them to make some great hoppy beers, such as the Icon 2IPA, a beer that was the first Aussie beer to really knock The Crafty Pint’s socks off back in the day. They’re at play again here, in the brewery’s first IPA to appear in a bottle, which fills the gap between the Angry Man Pale Ale (formerly Nirvana) and said Icon. This time around, brewer Shawn Sherlock has done away with any bittering hops (in other words, those added to the kettle at the start of the boil for the purposes of making the beer bitter rather than adding any hop flavours or aromas) and instead put them in later on so that their flavour and aroma characters come through. The result is a pale ale that’s bigger in alcohol than their Angry Man and bigger still when it comes to the hops. They’ve balanced the aggressive hop flavour with a blend of British and German malts, while the nose is a “blend of citrus and spice – almost passionfruit character” with a “relatively dry” finish.
Murray’s brewers Shawn Sherlock and Ian Watson unveiled a range of rather extraordinary Belgian styles at a dinner this month. Of these, only the Libertine is on wider release, found on draught at Manly and good beer venues. Given the brewery has its residence at a place called Bob’s Farm, perhaps it’s fitting that they should release a farmhouse style ale. At a relatively light 5 per cent, this isn’t a heavy-hitter in the mould of so many modern farmhouse ales. It was brewed to be fairly light, crisp, dry and sessionable, aimed more towards what was commonly consumed by Belgian workers in times gone by. According to Shawn: “It’s a very dry beer which helps with drinkability but it has some really interesting, funky farmhouse ale yeast character.”
Style: Belgian farmhouse ale
Murray's Anniversary Ale 6
Is there anything the brewers at Murray’s won’t give a Belgian twist? Is there a level of alcohol content that will ever prove a step too far for them? Who knows, but it’s generally plenty of fun finding out. It’s the time of year when the NSW brewery brings out its Anniversary Ale, which in the past has tended to be a barleywine of one sort or another, occasionally with a touch of funk added. This time, they’ve given it the aforementioned Belgian twist, creating a 15% beast of a beer of which less than 1,000 750ml bottles have been produced. It contains a whopping five different yeasts and has spent time on two different types of oak, so should have enough complexity to keep even the fussiest of drinkers sniffing and sipping into the new year. You can watch head brewer Shawn Sherlock cracking a bottle in the brewery here too.
Or via online order from the brewery
Style: Belgian Barleywine
Murray's Smashing Pumpkin Ale (2011)
A beer we first tasted at the brewery this time last year is a spice-laden Halloween special designed by the Murray’s brewers to be as close to pumpkin pie in a glass as possible. To a mix of British and German Malts are added more than 50kg of dry roasted pumpkin to the mash, adding “a subtle sweetness and pumpkin aroma and flavour that is enhanced by the spice additions”. Those spices are cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, all added late in the boil to blend with the malts. Launched for Halloween at the brewery but appearing elsewhere too.
Annual Halloween release available on draught only
Style: Spiced Pumpkin Ale
Murray's The Natural
A beer conceived in honour of Cadel Evans' Tour de France triumph, The Natural is a tribute to French country ales, those that are typically yeast driven session strength beers with heaps of character. Using a unique and distinctive French Ale yeast, it boasts “strong earthy, country aromas” according to Murray’s with a “light acidity on the palate followed by the driest of cracking dry finishes”. Featuring a high malted and unmalted wheat content and pouring a hazy, pale straw colour, it has also been brewed for charity with all proceeds going to the Amy Gillett Foundation, which aims to reduce the incidence of injury and death casued by the interaction of cyclists and motorists. It’s only available at the Port Stephens brewery for now – or by ordering some via the post.
Style: French Farmhouse Ale
Murray's Oak-Aged Heart of Darkness
To mark the brewery’s 500th brew, Murray’s decided to put a twist on one of their most twisted beers, the big, dark, clash of styles Belgian Imperial Stout. It has spent time in American oak barrels previously used for Shiraz. According to the brewery, it’s added a “beautifully integrated oak character. The beer features classic light tannins and vanillin oak character, which accentuate the strong chocolate notes of Heart of Darkness.” It’s only available in very limited numbers from Murray’s Brewery – in person, online, or by calling (02) 4982 6411). Alternatively, you can sample it at the new Murray’s At Manly. EDIT: Now available more widely in limited numbers. We sampled it side by side with the straight HoD and it doesn’t just add the characters mentioned above, but smoothes out the original, making for a softer, warmer experience (and we don’t mean alcohol warmth). Imagine enjoying a glass of top notch Port and a Havana cigar in the comfort of an all-enveloping old leather armchair by a roaring fire – but in beer form.
Style: Belgio Imperial Stout
When word first came through that Murray’s was producing a “premium lager”, shock spread through Crafty Towers. Surely just because they’ve opened a new venue in Sydney doesn’t mean they have to knock out a 5% Eurolager to appease the masses! Isn’t that everything that the brewery rails against? We needn’t have worried… “It’s a piss take on the concept of a premium lager,” says brewer Shawn Sherlock. “It was a standing joke that we’d never brew one and obviously we never have.” Instead Vesuvius is a 7.1% pilsner, which Shawn won’t describe as Imperial (has to be over 10% for that apparently), but is still big. It’s made with all German malt and a slightly different blend of his beloved Kiwi hops “to keep the aroma interesting”. It feels and tastes like a normal pilsner, he says “but with a more aggressive bitterness”. That said, he says it’s elegant for a beer of its size and is one of two being launched at the two Murray’s venues for the long weekend.
Murray's Shawn's Fault
It seems that Black IPAs or India Black Ales or CDAs or Those Black Ones That Taste Dead Hoppy are ten a penny these days. But when this beer first appeared last year, it was a rarity – if not a first for a commercial Aussie beer. So called because when brewer Shawn Sherlock first announced to Murray what he wanted to do with the beer, he admitted not everyone would like it “but those who do will love it”. “If nobody likes it, it’s Shawn’s fault,” came the reply. Given it’s back for a second appearance – this time bottled not kegged – it seems he got away with it. The beer shares some qualities with the brewery’s Wild Thing and Heart of Darkness in that there’s loads of hops (as high a level as the Icon 2IPA) and some roasty character in there too, although with the latter held in check far more than the other two beers. The result is “big hop flavour and aroma” with “strong dark chocolate, almost coffee-like flavours”.
Style: India Black Ale
Murray's Spartacus (bottled)
On the day they open their new venture in Manly, Murray’s is also unleashing two of its biggest releases from 2010 in bottled form. One is Spartacus, their 100 IBU Imperial IPA that registers a whopping 10%; as the label says “It kicks arse”. Although inspired by the American beers of this style, it maintains the Murray’s tradition of favouring Kiwi hops and their tropical fruit character. If memory serves Crafty right, those aromas are a little subdued in the bottle compared to the draught release, with some sweet caramel notes and a little alcohol coming through on the nose too. For a beer with such huge levels of hopping, it’s remarkable how balanced it is, with the British and German malts ensuring the bitterness is there but not overpowering in a full-flavoured addition to the Murray’s big beer range.
Style: Imperial IPA
Bitterness: 100 IBU
Murray's Heart of Darkness
There have been plenty of intriguing beers out of the Murray’s stable in recent times, but perhaps none as wacky as this. The beer inspired by Joseph Conrad’s novel about the darkness of the human condition combines a Belgian yeast with heaps of chocolate malt and dark sugar in a beastly Imperial Stout. It’s an intriguing affair, one in which two vastly different and powerful elements somehow come together without one overpowering the other. Both on the nose and in the mouth the fruity esters and spicy notes of the yeast are very much present, yet so are the ballsy malt flavours. It’s a thick, syrupy affair that pours as near to black as makes no difference with a deep tan head, blood red hints and all manner of dark fruits, molasses, high percentage couverture and some roasty flavours in the mix, creating a beer as twisted as Conrad’s book.
Style: Belgian Imperial Stout
Murray's Easter Ale
Never ones to hold back when there’s an excuse to try out something new in their tanks, Murray’s have brought out an Easter Ale in time for the holidays. A spiced ale, making it something of a distant cousin of the Pumpkin Ale released by the brewery for Halloween, it’s a seriously limited released. Described by Murray’s as “an Easter spiced beer to celebrate the season” it boasts “strong cinnamon and nutmeg spice aromas blended with bready British malts”. Sound familiar? Well, it takes inspiration from hot cross buns and is topped off with a late addition of raisins to enhance the sweet and savoury feel – and allow them to use the terrible pun “Raisin' the bar” on the label! In short, brewer Shawn says: “It’s a bit of fun and smells like a hot cross bun.”
Annual Easter release, available in draught only
Style: Spiced Ale
Murray's Retro Rocket
Now here’s a beer that’s got Crafty intrigued. Billed as Australia’s smallest IPA, it’s a 2.8% beer that somehow packs in a lot of flavour – including pretty fierce bitterness, according to brewer Shawn Sherlock when we caught up with him last month for an interview we’ll be running on the site soon. According to Murray’s, it’s brewed with British malts, “carries a big, almost over the top hop flavour and aroma” and is coppery red in colour. Perfect with tandoori chicken or a tikka masala or rogan josh curry too, apparently. Given the success of last year’s Punch & Judy, which crammed plenty of malt flavours and hop aromas into a sub-4% beer, hopes were high for the Rocket and, having tasted it, we can say it justifies the hype. Quite how Shawn Sherlock achieved so much body, colour and hop character into a beer of this size is something of a marvel.
Style: Light IPA(!)
Murray's Angry Man Brown Ale
Given his regular musings online, one wonders if this is a beer based on Murray himself. Either way, when we tasted last year’s batch, it found favour with Crafty. Big Brown Ales are a treat if done well (think Baird’s from Japan) with everything – hops and malt characters – cranked right up for a palate-coating beer journey in every mouthful. We’re yet to taste this year’s version, which is the first time the Angry Man has ever been bottled as well as kegged, but are told it’s “bitter up front and smooth at the finish” with a “strong hop flavour and aroma and a little bit chocolatey.” It pours a “beautiful dark ruby red when held up to the light, but solid dark brown in the shade” too, apparently. The brewers recommend quaffing one alongside a steak.
Newcastle: BYO on Beaumont (Hamilton), Bottle O Lambton, Bottle O Wickham, Cellarbrations Adamstown, Delany Hotel, Warners At The Bay
Sydney: Coogee Cafe After Dark, Yulli’s, Shady Pines, Pumphouse Hotel, Cornerhouse Bar, Sutherland Fine Wines, Platinum Liqur- Bellevue Hill/ Nth Strathfield, Cammeray Cellars
Blackhearts & Sparrows
Style: American Brown Ale
A massive beer to launch a massive new range from Murray’s, the Imperious is to Belgian beers what the Wild Thing is to stouts. This experimental Imperial Belgian Blond is the highest ABV beer Murray’s has brewed to date. It contains a blend of British and German malts, fresh New Zealand-grown hops, and a classic Belgian yeast strain. This gives it a classic Belgian yeast profile – strong esters and light phenolics – along with a tropical hop character (sweet mouthfilling apricot/stonefruit-like flavours at the front of the palate). And basically lots of both, colliding with full force all over your palate. Try it with a caramelised stonefruit dessert.
Style: Imperial Belgian Blond
Murray's Punk Monk
Punk by name, yet refined by nature, this seasonal from Murray’s might sport a ravishing pink label but inside it’s all rather elegant. For those who’ve gorged on some of the brewery’s big, bold expressions of intent in recent months, it’s a chance to give your palate a different sort of work out, one in which it is caressed by what brewer Shawn Sherlock claims is a hybrid of a few Belgian styles, influenced by Saisons and Belgian Blond Ales with a nod to Belgian Trippels. The classic estery and lightly spiced Belgian yeast character is there, but with a lighter, drier finish than one would expect of such a high ABV beer, complimented by a hint of spice from hops.
Style: Belgian hybrid
Murray's Anniversary Ale 5
Usual practice at Crafty Manor when it comes to the Anniversary Ales from Murray’s is to buy a couple and hold onto them for a later date to allow them to age, only to get scared of ever opening them as once they’re gone, they’re gone. Thankfully, a special occasion recently saw bottles of 3, 4 and 5 opened one after the other. Crafty felt the love particularly for 3, general consensus elsewhere favoured 4, while 5 – with the addition of darker chocolate malts and roasted barley to the old recipe – was noticeably sharper up front, but soon settled into a familiarly warm, rich and soothing multi-layered experience. “Of what sort?” we hear you cry. Well, the Anniversary Ales are oak-aged wheat and barleywines, with this one also boasting a bigger hop profile – a new blend of Green Bullet, Pacifica, Motueka and NZ Cascade – that comes through on the nose and in the bitterness. It’s designed to stick around for up to ten years, so quite why Crafty’s cracked one already……
Style: Wheat and Barleywine