You’d be hard-picked finding an operation in Australian craft beer as transparent as the birth and building of Black Hops Brewing, a DIY beast of consistent consumer interaction and easily accessible, step-by-step documentation. A gypsy project for the better part of two years with a long history of commercial brewing before that, Black Hops has finally found a home on the Gold Coast and you, yes YOU, can visit it.
Founders Eddie Oldfield, Michael McGovern and Dan Norris form the core of a simple narrative: three mates who love beer decide to build a brewery together. If it were possible to build on said narrative, which it is, it could also read along the lines of "three delightful blokes who love beer brew a commercial batch of specialty stout, launch and sell it out at a Brisbane bar in under two and a half hours and don’t stop after that until their dream of a brewery is achieved".
There are minor plot twists, sure, but in 2016, almost two years after their first commercial release, Black Hops Brewing was opened to the public. Nestled two blocks back from the main beach of Burleigh Heads and sporting a cellar door that initially erred on the smaller side of tiny but in 2017 expanded significantly, there's a near-guarantee that one of the founders will always be pouring your beers, with their dedication to maintaining a direct relationship with their consumers one of the driving forces behind their early success.
With Michael (Govs) at the helm of their 20 hectolitre system, their beers reflect his years of experience in commercial brewing. Sticklers for recipe refinement and repeat pilot batches, the eight tap cellar door showcases the comfortable ratio the guys have created between solid core range additions and experimental small batch trials. With a tap solely dedicated to single keg batches, there is no time for their 100 litre pilot system (which lives full time next to the main tanks) to gather any dust.
Despite the rotation of cracking small batch releases, the core range stands strong beside them. The biscuity, full-bodied 30 Cal California Lager provides the essential cellar door mid-strength and paves the way for the Beach House Saison and others such as Pink Mist, a lightly hopped Belgian saison fermented with fresh raspberries. From there you can level up to the seriously drinkable Bitter Fun pale or their acclaimed Eggnog Stout, the latter being the beer they launched with and such a reliable element of the Black Hops journey that it’s almost transcended fermentation and adopted a persona you can shoot the shit with.
Having embraced the slogan of "The Least Covert Operation In History" from Very Serious Beer Man Judd Owen of Brewed Crude & Bitter (and occasionally this parish too), the Black Hops team has solidified the quip by releasing a book to coincide with the opening of the brewery (not to mention brewing the official beer for the Australian launch of Call of Duty III). As seemingly self indulgent as a book release sounds, Operation Brewery is anything but. Dan’s extensive marketing background shines through in their no-bullshit account of turning a love of beer into a career. It is honest and insightful; a view mirrored in the openness of the brewery and their seemingly endless patience to not only throw ideas and questions to the public but receive them in return (they are clearly angels, this cannot be disputed).
Inside the cellar door, adjacent to a wall length mural and opposite the doorway, copies of the book sit in flush against the back bar alongside taps that pour directly from the cold room. It’s a naturally lit, open space that doesn’t attempt to separate you (aside from a small wooden gate to appease council requirements) from stacks of kegs, malt sacks, the three vessel brewhouse and five conical fermenters. It’s a welcome and unassuming environment, so pull a stool up to the bar and get tasting; they’re not open late and there’s plenty to try.