Sandwiched between the first and third floors of The Taphouse in Darlinghurst is another world. It’s wilder and more unconventional than those above and below. There are things here you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in this city. Strange things. Wonderful things. This is the home of Odd Culture.
They are one and the same, The Taphouse and Odd Culture, yet also apart. The separate bar-within-a-pub concept is something that’s become more familiar around Sydney, a necessary change in convention within the city’s fleet of expansive old boozers which can no longer coax the modern patron with a generic lager and a ten dollar schnitzel on a Wednesday night.
Most often these reconfigured spaces are an antithesis to the wider venue – different decor, different lighting and a wholly different vibe. Odd Culture plays to this image to a degree, but more than others it feels inherently integrated with its host and history. There is a more obviously symbiotic relationship.
The walls create the feel of some abandoned old municipal building in Eastern Europe where the paint has been scratched away to reveal a mottled pattern not unlike the walls of a cave. It’s dark, raw and grungy but in a strange way also quite natural. That may well have been the idea because a concern for natural processes is the distinguishing feature of this place.
When Odd Culture opened it did so with an unwritten statement of intent: in no other bar across Australia would you find a more comprehensive offering of beers produced with a subscription to the philosophies of wild fermentation, mixed culture and spontaneous fermentation. These are beers often characterised by sourness, acidity and occasionally unattractive aromas. These are beers less concerned with technical perfection than they are with being expressive and exciting to drink. They are the product of ancient and distinct methods of brewing which represent the closest things the beer industry has to magic.
The bottled selection numbers more than 100 different offerings, sourced from across the world. It is the pointiest end of the beer spectrum manifested in list form and brings blended and barrel aged beers into the picture. Beyond this, on the wall behind the bar is a grand mural of a field of wheat upon which sit twenty plain white tiles. On each is written the name of a beer being served on draught. The bottom row is what you will find pouring on every level in the pub and it’s a fine list – better than most – but that’s not why you’re here.
You’re here for the top row, the beers that pour here and only here. It is the row that reads: wild ale fermented with cherries; double barrel Brett Berliner weisse; rhubarb and strawberry barrel aged sour; salted white peach gose; Flanders red ale; two year unblended Oude Lambiek Foeder #84. If your point of view is that the halcyon days of pub patronage involve choosing one of seven brands of lager on offer, you’d best hold onto those memories because we’re in a very different time and place now.
Beer is not the only beverage experiencing a resurgent interest via the pursuance of somewhat pre-industrial methods of production. The natural wine movement is similarly strong and getting stronger. These are wines that are if not all organic, sustainable and made with minimal intervention then as close as possible to it. There is an intention for these wines to be unadulterated, a truer expression of the ingredients and the conditions in which the grapes are grown. While it’s true that most winemakers pursue that creed to a degree, the natural winemaker's approach seems a little more abstruse.
The end result is that Odd Culture is no place for liquid parochialism, of beer versus wine. Here beer and wine exist as part of a shared philosophy. They are fundamentally complementary, each adding a little extra understanding to the other. And if you have a desire for a greater understanding, you ought to meet the people who make it.
Downstairs at The Taphouse, once a month for as long as anyone cares to remember, they’ve hosted Ale Stars, a beer appreciation and education evening which draws in learned guests from all across the beer world; brewers and blenders, writers and reps. It’s now been absorbed into Odd Culture which lets them keep doing what they’ve always done while opening up another dimension, one that occasionally welcomes in wine and has more room to disentangle the mysterious happenings on the fringes of regular fermentation.
While there’s no desire for this place to be a restaurant they don’t fight the fact that people get hungry. So, the bar serves up a small menu designed for maximum compatibility (and occasionally contrast) with the almost impossibly broad range of flavours presented by the beverages – just choose your nibbles and create yourself a platter; cheeses in their various states of wash and maturity; slices of spiced and cured meats; tins of briny cephalopods. If that sounds a bit la-de-da, ask to have a few things grilled between a couple of slices of sourdough and have yourself a posh ham and cheese toasted sandwich. Washed down, of course, with some the most interesting beer you’ll find in Australia.
This place may be odd but you wouldn’t want it any other way.
Images by Jasper Avenue unless otherwise watermarked.