Of all the cities outside Australia's capitals, Newcastle has for some time fared pretty well when it comes to craft beer. In Warners at the Bay, it has one of the best bottleshops in the country, the Foghorn Brewhouse brought brewing back to the CBD while a short drive into the Hunter Valley take you to the Hunter Beer Co and 40 minutes in the opposite direction towards Port Stephens brings you to Murray's Brewing's home base.
Yet nobody would deny that the arrival on the scene of Corey Crooks has taken things to another level. He started by taking over one pub and gradually turning it into a craft beer Mecca then was pivotal in the creation of Newcastle Craft Beer Week, which kicked off in November 2011, sold out pretty much every event from the off and brought the fledgling beer scene there to the notice of more brewers and distributors. The flow on effects have seen more venues turn over their taps and shelf space to craft, further boosting the city's beer fortunes.
The third chapter in Corey's adventures in beer is the Grain Store. He took control of a 19th century grain store (built by JT Toohey) a short stroll from the city centre and only a couple of blocks from the waterfront and set about turning it into Newcastle's first venue built as a dedicated craft venue from the off. What's more, he decided to make the focus almost always all Aussie across all its 20-plus taps.
The choice to go all Australian was as much in recognition of the ever-improving quality of homegrown beer as it was a means of standing out from other beer bars. And it's a policy that only ever changes for special occasions, such as the Superbowl when a few US beers sneak onto the taps. With so much on tap, the bottle list is relatively short. And, with so much to show off, show it off they do. The taps are backlit against a gleaming facade; next to them a rescued railway platform board shows off the beers currently on tap. Above it all sits an impressive range of spirits which, like the beer selection, supports the growing number of high quality, small batch Aussie distillers.
As for the design, when you've been granted such a grand old building to start with, there's little need to do too much. So, other than getting rid of some of the 200 layers of old paint covering much of it, fixing what needed fixing and installing the impressive new bar, it was a case of decorating it in keeping with the industrial past. Tables, benches and fittings reflect just that, with the shaft that once moved the grain in and out of the store an eye-catching centrepiece. That said, since then they haven't been able to resist building upon it, adding ornate mirrors on the walls to all manner of beer memorabilia and colourful additions to walls, ceiling, stage etc.
There's a stage for live music and a kitchen offering quality pub fare too, while the venue hosts regular beer events, from launches and meet the brewers to multi-course degustations that tend to sell out early. But really it's all about the beer. And if there's one thing Corey and his wife Kristy have shown time and again, they know beer.