The Grifter Brewing Company of today is immeasurably different to the one that Trent Evans, Matt King and Glenn Wignall launched in 2012. Back then they were simply three friends mixing up home brew recipes in the kitchen with little ambition to be brewers. But timing and circumstance saw them presented with a chance offer to make a commercial batch of their beer in the just-about-to-open Young Henrys brewery in Newtown. It was an opportunity that would ultimately alter the paths of their lives.
They fine-tuned a recipe for a pale ale and launched it with a friendly name, Edward. The first keg sold out in two hours. Six months later they had their own tank in the Young Henrys brewery. Within a year, their flagship ale made it into the top 100 of both critic and consumer-voted best Australian beer lists. Demand for the fledgling brewer outstripped supply and it became clear they would need their own brewery. But that would take time, and plenty of it, so the idea went into a gestational phase while they continued gypsy brewing, slowly growing both their range and reputation.
Early Grifter beers erred towards showcasing hops, from a pair of excellent American IPAs, Marnie’s Majority and Big Sur, to a New Zealand hopped pilsner, Tortoise & The Hop. What followed was a flexing of their brewing muscles as a gamut of styles came in a steady stream of one-off batches; scotch ale to stout, hopfenweizen to Berliner weisse. The pale ale remained their only permanent release.
The impetus for getting their own brewery came when the kit at Young Henrys, the one on which they’d brewed the first ever Grifter beer, came up for sale. They bought it but had nowhere to put it, so it sat in storage for more than a year.
During this time the craft beer world was blossoming around them and other new breweries were capturing attention. Yet the trio continued to keep their heads down and quietly went about their business. You never really saw Grifter at beer festivals. They rarely held events more ambitious than sponsoring the monthly pool competition at their local pub. If you knew the right bars you could get their beer, otherwise they weren’t to be seen.
But things were happening in the background. They had secured a site in a lint-covered warehouse of the former Fresh & Clean laundromat and the brewery equipment had been hauled out of storage. Their lovingly designed label artwork was becoming more refined and cohesive, then expanded to encompass the look of the brewery’s tasting bar. They took the leap away from the security of other employment to work on the brewery full time. It took two full years of planning and sacrifice, but the three former hobby brewers were well on their way to establishing a place with a central focus for the business, where people could be welcomed in to see for themselves what Grifter is all about.
At the very end of 2015, the Grifter Brewing Company finally opened a home of its own in Marrickville. And what a fine home it is.
The site is split roughly in two, with the brewery running the length of the site and acting as something of a moving backdrop. Here they’ve added a few larger tanks to the turnkey system they’d had in storage for so long, allowing them to expand their core range to four beers: pale ale, pilsner, IPA and oatmeal stout. Smaller tanks give flexibility to brew limited release beers and these revolve through the four remaining taps of the eight tap bar. As for the bar space, it’s slick enough to be a standalone parlour in Surry Hills, let alone one attached directly to a working brewery.
Beneath a neon sign the beer menu is presented in the timeless manner of an old movie theatre, its black letters subdued against a glowing orange background. What’s largely a minimalist and industrial grey and black interior is broken by flourishes of colour from bright tiles and coasters. The pool room, hidden around the corner from the bar, has the warmth of being in an old boozer – indeed, the carpet actually came from a local pub that had been stripped out. From comfortingly familiar artwork to branded packs of matches at the bar, the attention to detail across the space is impeccable.
It may have taken them a long time to reach this point, but travelling the longer, slower road has meant the Grifters have had time to develop their ideas and figure out who and what they are as a brewer. And it’s all been worth it as they’ve created something that will serve them for a long time to come.