The Central West NSW city of Dubbo, around five hours drive inland from Sydney, is much like many other regional centres. The soil is red, the people are warm and welcoming and, up until 2017, craft beer was scarce – at least until husband and wife team Tim and Cass Smith opened The Monkey Bar, a venue boasting more than a hundred different craft beers in keg, bottle and can, the likes of which rivals even the best pubs in the state's capital.
Originally from Dubbo, Tim and Cass’ love for craft beer began in Newcastle, where the pair had moved to complete university degrees. It was love at first sip for Tim upon trying his first craft beer at The Grain Store and his passion only grew from there.
First, he moved in to the world of beer blogging, trying a new beer every day as part of The Year in Beer. Always intending to move back to their hometown, the pair found the impetus when they won a successful bid on longstanding commercial property. That very same day, they both quit their jobs and, shortly after, renovations on their bar began.
Despite neither of them ever having poured a beer before, let alone run a bar, their lack of hospitality experience never proved to be troublesome. Rather, Tim’s former role as a civil engineer gave him excellent planning skills for the logistics of transporting kegs, while Cass’ psychology experience helped bring a unique and well thought out perspective to customer satisfaction. Most importantly, they wanted to provide an exciting array for more experienced craft beer drinkers, without creating too much in the way of intimidation for newcomers.
The former they’ve achieved with an impressive tap and bottle list that features mostly independent Australian beers, showcasing local producers such Pioneer, Badlands and Small Acres Cyder from Orange and Two Heads from Bathurst, as well as brewers from interstate. Then there’s the international selection, featuring familiar names from Europe, the UK and the United States. Better yet, every beer on tap can be canned for takeaway thanks to a little, hardworking seamer at the end of the bar. On top of that, every Tuesday when the lines get cleaned, each line yields two cans, which then get sold for a few dollars apiece.
As for newcomers to craft beer, they’re able to try tasters any of the dozen beers on offer until they find something they like. That’s aided by the presence of a line of clear glass jars along the bar, containing samples of the beer on draught, placed next to their respective decals. That’s so the punter knows exactly what’s about to come out of the tap, rather than being caught by surprise when the beer pours darker than they might have expected.
The only exception to the plethora of craft beer is a lonely tap of Great Northern, which is kept on for a small number of patrons. That number has been decreasing ever since Tim and Cass hosted the inaugural Beers to the Bush festival, which saw 17 craft brewers, along with food trucks and live music descend on Dubbo in March 2018. Being able to meet the brewer was a new experience for many residents of the city and the response to the event was so popular that the once-regular keg of Carlton Dry became extinct, with Great Northern likely to follow. Understandably, Beers to the Bush is now an annual event.
In a way, organising such an event is also a thanks to the community that has embraced them so readily. There’s evidence of this in the venue, too, purposefully designed to be family-friendly, featuring board games for the kids and a pool table and jukebox for added entertainment. What’s more, funds raised from an annual karma keg, as well as Tim and Cass’ own tips, also go toward the Pink Angels, a not-for-profit organisation that assists breast cancer patients living in the region.
As for the non-beer side of things, The Monkey Bar’s two chefs offer a range of delectable pub food staples: burgers, nachos and hot wings. Those looking for spirits are faced with an impressive cocktail list, featuring a range of Australian distillers, with gin the special focus. Indeed, once a month is gin night, where DIY G&Ts can be made using a range of garnishes and Canberra-based Strangelove tonics.
But, above all, the passion for craft beer remains the true driving force. A reminder of what started it all, Tim’s year of beer, is displayed proudly on the wall in the form of empty bottles and cans from around the world. And, if any doubt still lingers, one need only cast their eyes over the taps to find a beer belonging to Batch Brewing Company. It might seem fairly standard for a craft beer venue, but spare a though for how that keg got there.
It was Tim himself, who drove to the brewery in Sydney and picked it up before returning to the bar in Dubbo. Nothing gives testament to the dedication of a venue owner to beer and his patrons better than an 800km round trip to pick up a single keg.
Marie Claire Jarratt