You might not easily find the New England region on a map. But trace your eyes along the New South Wales coast to the area near Coffs Harbour, then draw west a few hundred kilometres towards the interior, and there you’ll find a series of towns with names like, Uralla, Armidale, Guyra and Glen Innes. These are all part of New England, a rich agricultural region with no clearly defined boundaries and, for the past 100 years or so, no breweries.
Up until the 1900s there were breweries dotted around the area, in places like Grafton, Glen Innes and Inverell. Then, as happened across much of the country, a changing beer landscape and industry wide rationalisation caused these small producers to close down. But, as with so many parts of Australia, brewing is being brought back to the region and leading the charge in these parts is New England Brewing Co.
The idea behind a local brewery came to founder Ben Rylands while on a 2003 trip to Saxony in Germany, where the locals where big supporters of the "amazing" regionally focused Privatbrauerei Schwerter in Meissen. The question was whether a small regional brewery could be replicated in rural Australia. It took another ten years before the idea found a home in Uralla.
Choosing to open the brewery in a former wool store – fine wool being one of the backbones of the local economy – and putting a flying ram as its logo seems to serve as permanent reinforcement that New England Brewing Co is firmly part of its region.
His initial aim was to see New England become a genuine local brewery and gain local outlets before distributing further afield. And, after a first three years in which his team enlisted a growing list of local pubs, clubs, bars and bottleshops, the brewery was able to focus on distributing beyond its backyard.
The brewing equipment upon which the beers are brewed has been passed around a few times. Aside from some new tanks, the gear is basically the same as it was 30 years ago. One unique twist is the use of open top fermenters for all beer styles except lagers. This allows the team to nail Belgian beer styles in particular.
The man with the knowledge to make this unique 10 hectolitre brewery setup work is head brewer Reid Stratton, who joined the business in 2014, having previously worked at Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Michigan and at Grand Teton in Idaho.
The core range of beers they’ve used to thread themselves into the community come in the form of a Belgian golden ale, a pale ale and malty brown ale. Those are supplemented by a new release, be it a one-off or a seasonal, roughly every month.
New England Brewing Co. is also one of the relatively few Australian breweries to regularly produce cask conditioned real ale. While they sometimes shoot for straight styles in this form of production they’re certainly not afraid of throwing caution to the wind, having conditioned casks with the addition of anything from tea to orange peel, from chocolate to bacon.
Indeed, going the extra mile seems to be the norm at New England Brewing Co; not content with dry hopping the team built a Hop Cannon to inject hop aroma into the beers, while all kegs and bottles are given a secondary fermentation instead of being force carbonated.
The freshest beer you’ll get, of course, is directly from the brewery’s cellar door, which has the full core range and seasonals available on tap, plus bottled sales. A pizza kitchen was a new addition in2016, but aside from that you can tuck into a small selection of locally made cheese, smoked sausage and jerky. If you do plan on stopping in, the cellar door is open Thursday through Saturday, though if you happen to call in outside those hours and someone is about they’ll be happy to open up for a chat and send you out the door with a few takeaways. If you wanted to take a tour of the inner workings on the brewhouse, it’s best to send a message in advance to let them know you’re coming.
With around two thirds of what they brew now consumed within towns local to the brewery, New England Brewing Co’s quest to become a bastion for regional beer seems to be well on the right path.