Beer DeLuxe has come a long way from its roots in Melbourne, both literally and figuratively. The flagship Fed Square venue has long been a beacon for beer lovers, having achieved everything from being awarded Australia's Best Beer List to becoming Good Beer Week's Festival Hub.
When new owners took over in 2012, there were a few gasps within the industry as the staunch craft beer policy was loosened to allow some more mainstream offerings. But the reason for doing so was to broaden the venue’s appeal beyond dedicated beer lovers and bring the Beer DeLuxe experience to more people in more places. In the years since, this concept has been increasingly fulfilled with the opening of Beer DeLuxe in Hawthorn, Albury, Wagga Wagga and, at the end of 2015, in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.
If you walk into the Darling Harbour venue having been to one of the other BDL venues, it’s a bit like coming home. You’ll see a familiar design and decor, the double-decker tap fonts, beer-inspired quotes on the wall and the ever-present red star. A cynic might accuse it of being a cut and paste job but, for all the familiarity, Beer DeLuxe is no franchise. It’s more of a winning formula where the fundamental part of the equation is beer.
At Beer DeLuxe Darling Harbour, the tap list swings in favour of local brewers, which is to say those from New South Wales. You’ll always see a couple of taps dedicated to crowd-pleasing favourites from the likes of 4 Pines or Stone & Wood, but you’ll find plenty more dedicated to bolder beers from brewers such as Akasha, Wayward and Modus Operandi. That same balance applies to imports, where a classic German weissbier from Weihenstephaner might sit alongside a New World interpretation from New Zealand’s Panhead.
Then there’s the bottled list. Running to around 150 different choices, it’s as lengthy as any beer list in the city, all carefully compiled into a weighty tome called, quite naturally, the Beer Bible. It begins with a short history of beer and the brewing process before delving into the menu proper where you’ll find a comprehensive range from home and abroad, all broken down page by page, style by style. It concludes with a handy glossary that will fill you up with all the beer jargon you need to know to carry a conversation with any beer lover you meet at the bar.
When lingering for a few brews here you should eat too. Not just because it’s the responsible thing to do, but because the food is well worth eating. As with the beer, produce is sourced as locally as possible and it helps form a fresh and colourful menu that’s less traditional pub fare and more modern restaurant. Sure, you can still get a pizza or burger, but that IPA goes just as well with a fresh fish dish laced with wasabi mayo.
The beer and food would be enough to convince you to check out the Sydney incarnation of Beer DeLuxe wherever they opted to put it. That it happens to be located right on the Darling Harbour waterfront is merely the icing on the cake. It’s the kind of splendid spot that, when sat on the balcony on a sun-drenched evening, drinking good beer and watching the boats go by, will invariably cause you to have one of those contemplative "How good is this?" moments.
What has been tested and refined over the years at other Beer DeLuxe venues across the country has been perfected and dropped fully formed in Sydney. It manages to be the kind of place a beer lover would happily choose to go while also being an equally inviting space for someone that’s never touched a beer. It’s a tough ask for a venue to be everything to everyone, but Beer DeLuxe Darling Harbour goes pretty close.