A cafe in Naremburn doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to go looking for good beer, but this is no ordinary cafe. Here, instead of the smell of coffee, you’re greeted with the smell of boiling wort. Instead of single origin beans they serve single hop IPAs. Instead of pounding a tamper, the staff are pulling on handpumps. This is the Flat Rock Brew Cafe.
Opened at the end of 2012, Flat Rock is the baby of Karl and Jenny Riseborough, longtime residents of the North Sydney area in which the Brew Cafe resides. Based largely on Karl’s decade-long love of home brewing, their aim was to create a community-oriented venue where people could come and have their eyes opened to the world of beer. The best way to do that, they figured, was to follow a brewpub model and they’ve created a brewpub like few others.
With a wood-clad interior that feels more like a home than a brewery, Flat Rock welcomes you warmly then begins to reveal its surprises. The most significant of those is the brewery itself - a 200 litre Braumeister system (effectively a home brew system on steroids) - which is hidden away in the bowels of the building. You could happily while away hours in the cafe and never know there’s beer literally bubbling away beneath your feet. But if you’re interested, the staff are more than happy to guide you downstairs for a quick tour.
As for the beers produced here, there are generally three core brews on tap - the Henry Lawson Pale Ale, Fatty Dawson IPA and a traditional English Bitter served on handpump - alongside frequently changing limited release beers. Those alone make any trip to Flat Rock worthwhile, but your visit can quickly escalate into a serious beer adventure. In 2014 they cleared some space in the cellar, rolled in some Lark Distillery barrels and embarked on a barrel-aging program. Whatever taps remain are dedicated to other small Aussie brewers like Riverside Brewing, Feral, Red Hill and Doctor’s Orders. Flat Rock also happens to be one of the very few purveyors of genuine real ale in Sydney and you’ll find these famously British-style beers getting pulled through the venue’s two handpumps.
Then there’s the bottled list which is as comprehensive as any other on-premise venue in the city, filled with standard-bearers such as Brasserie Du Pont, Chimay and Sierra Nevada through to the new wave of innovative international brewers like Garage Project, BrewDog and Birra Del Borgo. One of the best ways to explore these is to ask about a customised beer tasting where the knowledgeable staff will create an occasion suited to your tastes.
In keeping with the Riseboroughs’ idea of creating a venue that encourages beer discovery, the food menu is designed to complement the brews and many dishes have beer as an ingredient. Sharing is encouraged to maximise the mixing and matching of flavours. This could include anything from cromesquis and lamb navarin, cured meats and cheeses through to pig trotters and the ever popular mussels in beer sauce. Thursdays at Flat Rock have become legendary as Curry Night, a weekly opportunity for the guest chef, Singh, to pull one of his Northern Indian specialties from the Tandoor oven. The menu boldly claims it’s “the best curry you have ever tasted” and, considering it’s a full house every week with bookings almost essential, they’ve probably got a case.
The cafe also runs regular special events, including beer and cheese and/or whiskey matching nights, beer dinners hosted by the chef and brewer and meetings for the local homebrew club - proof, as if any more was needed, that this is a community-minded venue doing good things to promote good beer. As a consequence they’ve built a very loyal local following, though it’s only a matter of time until the rest of Sydney catches on. And you can’t blame them, because a place this good deserves to be shared. Nick O