A café in Naremburn doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to go looking for good beer, but this is no ordinary café. 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 look around.
As for the beers produced here, the only real mainstays are a pale ale and two traditional cask ales served on hand pump – one a traditional British version, the other with American hops, both a rarity in Sydney. Alongside these are limited releases that change on a whim; New England iPA to honey porter, double IPA to chilli stout, Belgian dubbel to hibiscus pale ale. The house beers make any trip here 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 whiskey and wine barrels and embarked on a slow growing barrel ageing program that delivers some gems. Whatever taps aren't taken by their own beers generally pour beers the staff personally want to drink, whether that be a top drop from a local brewery like Modus Operandi or something special from Rodenbach.
Then there’s the bottled list which is about 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 newer wave of innovative international brewers like 8 Wired, Wild Beer and Sydney's own Wildflower, whose founder began a brewing career here – one of a handful to have honed their own craft here before going on to start other beer businesses around Sydney.
In keeping with the Riseboroughs’ idea of creating a venue that encourages discovery, the food menu is designed to complement the beer. Sharing is certainly encouraged to maximise the mixing and matching of flavours (start with a Brewer's Platter and go from there). Much of the rest of the menu is filled with pub classics – think burgers, pasta, salads and sides. Also look out for Curry Night which is local legend, the menu boldly claiming it’s “the best curry you have ever tasted” – 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 brewery tap takeovers, beer and cheese and/or whiskey matching nights, vertical tastings, beer dinners, launches, 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. Indeed, spending an evening here leaves you with the feeling that if every community had a Flat Rock the world would be a far better place.