What with his Belgian heritage, it was only a matter of time before Geoff Huens' taste buds told him that what was being served up as beer in Australia simply wasn't the real deal. Trips through the UK, US and Belgium in 2007 made sure of that. As for business partner Richard Kelsey, his experience of the craft beer revolution in his homeland of New Zealand meant he was never going to settle for the scarcity of good beer on offer in Sydney once he'd made the move across the Tasman. And thus Beer Cartel was born.
Initially an online beer club offering beers and beer-themed experiences, it was launched at the Bitter & Twisted Beer Festival in 2009. Soon afterwards, they realised a bottleshop was needed - not just for Beer Cartel but the people of Sydney too - so they took over an established store in Artarmon from Porter's Liquor and set about filling the shelves with quality beer sourced from all over the world. Within months, they had around 200 beers in stock and had installed one of New South Wales' first growler stations to pour fresh, local beer.
Since then, the number of beers in stock has risen to more than a thousand, arranged by country of origin and strongly represented by Australia, New Zealand, USA, Belgium, Germany, the UK and Scandinavia. Amongst them, beer lovers will find a focus on bolder styles such as sour beers, IPAs and Imperial Stouts and an ever-changing range of limited releases.
The draught beer offerings have also increased, with four taps pouring two sizes of takeaway beer - two litre growlers and one litre squealers - from both local and international breweries. And if you’re looking for something a bit classier to drink your beer from, more than 60 types of specialist beer glasses are available.
As part of the store’s evolution, in 2011 they transformed the upstairs area into a room where specialty tastings can be held for up to 24 people, usually with a brewer along to guide you. But it’s not just in-store where things have expanded. Beer Cartel’s online business has also gone from strength to strength with every beer available in store also now available online and ready to be delivered anywhere in the country.
If browsing a veritable world of beer seems a bit daunting, you can put your faith in the recommendations of the Beer Cartel team by joining the Beer Club, which gets you a mystery pack of beer delivered to your door each month. In 2014 they launched a world-first initiative called Sofa Sessions where they teamed up with a local brewery, sent packs of beer across the country, then beamed the brewer into your living room for a live online tasting session.
They've also added their popular advent calendars to their offering in recent years and, since 2016, have helped the industry gained an idea of how it's looking through their Australian Craft Beer Survey.
With staff experienced across the spectrum, from homebrewing to commercial brewing, Beer Cartel is run by a team who really know and love their beer. And that’s something which has been widely recognised in recent years: they've won a bunch of industry awards for their website, bottle shop, beer subscription service, and for their annual survey.
All in all, it's fair to say they've come a long way since two mates started hand-packing boxes in a shed together...