Don't let the 'Wine' part of Sydney Wine Merchants cloud your judgement - this small store in Sydney's north is home to one of the more impressive concentrations of top end craft beer you're likely to find across the city.
The store itself is everything you might come to expect from a local and independent business: a place where the staff are passionate, knowledgeable, friendly and you can be quite comfortable lingering for a chat. And that's something well worth doing here because, while you'd no doubt leave happy having chosen from the shelves, there's another world waiting if you care to ask: 'But what have you got out the back?â?
It's not uncommon for Sydney Wine Merchants to have up to 40 different beers not even displayed - among them some of the best to be found on these shores. It's a treasure trove of a beer chiller, one which you can walk into and casually throw out lines like: 'Oh, mind that case of Moo Brew Barrel Aged Imperial Stout on the floor thereâ? or: 'If you just move that Bridge Road Aurora Borealis to the side a bit you should find the Epic Hop Zombie.â? It's a little slice of beer geek heaven where you're never entirely sure what gems you might uncover.
The reason for this semi-secret beer stash isn't a deliberate ploy to hide it from customers so they can keep it all for themselves, but simply that there isn't enough room to display it all. The store's reputation has been built up over many years as a wine specialist and the place is packed wall-to-wall, head-to-toe with some of the world's best - what owner Tony Snell doesn't know about wine probably isn't worth knowing.
While the beer focus may have been more recent, they've taken to it with the same zeal with which they pursue wine and in the process have formed a carefully curated selection focusing on quality over quantity. That means beer from the most local of local breweries - think the likes of Ekim and 4 Pines - to highly regarded international breweries and brewers; the likes of Brooklyn, Mikkeller, Epic, 8 Wired, Yeastie Boys, Tuatara, Hitachino, Sierra Nevada, Moylan's, Bear Republic.
Because of the way they select their beer, Sydney Wine Merchants isn't a store where you'll find every beer from every brewery. Instead, what you'll see is a focus on some of the best and most limited releases; they're careful hoarders of the latter and you'll often find a few cases of something special squirrelled away long after you've ceased to be able to find it anywhere else. And if they don't have it or you can't find it anywhere else, they'll do their best to track it down and deliver it to you, wherever you are across the land.
With locals increasingly coming to appreciate the virtues of craft beer, a growler system was installed midway through 2013 that delivers four taps of fresh beer - look out for exclusive brews done with local brewers.
Put all those things together and it's easy to see why Sydney Wine Merchants' reputation is growing as a beer destination. Not a bad achievement for a wine store. NO