They say Australia is a land of opportunity. The story of Nomad Brewing is bold proof. Theirs is a tale of a rising industry, native ingredients, globetrotting brewers, superstar collaborations, salty beer, lots of Italians – and one giant grappa barrel.
It began in earnest in 2013 with Kerrie and Johnny Latta, Sydneysiders living in Italy who had started a business, Experienceit, distributing Italian wine to Australia. They’re not the first couple to go to Italy for one reason only to discover a new love, but discover it they did amongst the country’s flourishing micro brewing industry.
Soon after, their wine shipments began to bulk out with the inclusion of Italian beer while their travels took them to the door of Leonardo di Vicenzo, founder of one of the country’s fastest rising breweries, Birra del Borgo. He signed on and the Lattas enticed him to accompany the beers Down Under to get a better feel for this faraway market. He liked what he saw and, with each successive trip, new ideas began to form.
Experienceit had always wanted to be involved in the beer community in a greater capacity than just as an importer. One evening, over dinner and and a throwaway comment, they settled on a plan: partnering with Leo to open a brewery. They found an empty warehouse in an old carpet factory in Brookvale and installed a gleaming new brewery – Italian made, of course. Nomad Brewing was born.
The choice of brewery name had much to do with the itinerant man brought in to be its head brewer: Brooks Caretta. His rise through the ranks is quite the tale in itself; three months after turning up to del Borgo for an apprenticeship he was shoulder tapped to take the reins at the soon-to-open Birreria microbrewery within New York’s Eataly – a project launched by Leo and the founders of respected breweries Baladin and Dogfish Head. Taken under their wings and undergoing the kind of fast-tracked education any young brewer would dream of, Brooks moved swiftly from home brewer to head brewer in New York, then on to Rome when Eataly expanded there. So when the Australian adventure became a reality, there was only one man for the job.
The original Nomad beers shared much of the same ethos Leo had pursued at Birra del Borgo: elegant and refined, almost always featuring some unique local ingredient. Perhaps the clearest illustration of this was their very first beer, the Nomad Saison; tweaking a traditional style with unusual native ingredients of wattle seed, Tasmanian pepper and locally ground coffee, it won the trophy for the country’s best French/Belgian style beer at the 2016 Craft Beer Awards.
They had more familiar beers like pales ales and IPAs – albeit laced with things like native finger limes – but they found more mass appeal through an appropriately unlikely source: Freshie. This is Nomad’s homage to the salty Gose style from Germany and their version began with Brooks wading into the sea at the nearby Freshwater Beach to collect buckets of salt water. Back at the brewery, this was mixed with coriander and their favoured Tasmanian pepper to produce a satisfying, strange and quite uniquely Australian beer. Freshie has gone on to become Nomad’s flagship and is now exported all around the world.
Back on the import front, as Nomad itself grew Experienceit had broadened its boundaries beyond Italian beer and was bringing in beer direct from the some of the world’s most respected and fast rising craft brewers; Stone, Jester King, Victory, The Bruery, Sixpoint, Beavertown, To Øl, De Ranke, Pasteur Street and plenty more. And as these brewers follow their beer Down Under to meet the locals, they inevitably take a detour via Brookvale, meaning the Nomad team has amassed perhaps the most impressive list of collaborators of any other local brewery. When you add to this regular contract brewers like Yeastie Boys and Doctor's Orders who make their beer here, it means the selection in the takeaway fridges of their tasting room – the Transit Lounge – surely ranks amongst the best of any brewery you’ll walk into in Australia.
Having started life as a production-only facility, over the years the brewery has morphed into a place where locals increasingly come to linger, with the Transit Lounge now opening out to a converted car park furnished with loungers, sun umbrellas and a pétanque court. And if the perpetually blue skies of the Northern Beaches should ever be interrupted by rain, you can pop indoors and watch the brewers at work, park up at the bar or bash away at the pinball machine.
As this gradual change has taken place thee’s a sense the wider Nomad brand itself has moved on too. The serious, European style labelling and bottles have been phased out in favour of vibrant and colourful cans that better suit the preferences and practicalities of a laid back beach life. They still knock out a wide array of interesting beers with the same ethos (case in point is the photogenic giant grappa barrel occasionally used for ageing), but the place feels more fun and playful than in the past. Perhaps that’s just the way the industry is moving. Or perhaps this group of nomads has simply found the place they’re happy to call home.