“Made by 3 mates on the Gold Coast.”
This has been the slogan of Black Hops Brewery for some time, now. And it does capture the heart the story: how founders Eddie Oldfield, Michael McGovern and Dan Norris brought Black Hops into existence.
But when you look at Black Hops’ three breweries across the Gold Coast and Brisbane, the army of Black Hops employees, the slew of gold medals weighing on the company’s figurative neck, the ever-growing array of special releases, the fandom that sprawls across the country… you see that the story has kept moving forward since the trio’s early days.
There are plenty of crackin’ plot points that took place along the way.
The three guys launched their gypsy brewing project with Eggnog Stout, which is up there as one of the least likely beers a brewing company starts with, and is now now 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.
They brewed the official beer for the Australian launch of Call of Duty III; the brewery’s theme made it all come together perfectly.
They documented every step of their journey from idea to opening a brewery, and made it all easily accessible to their fans. This step-by-step information took the form of blog posts, a podcast, and eventually a book: Operation Brewery: The Least Covert Operation in History. As seemingly self indulgent as a book release sounds, Operation Brewery is anything but, with Dan’s extensive marketing background shining through in this no-bullshit account of turning a love of beer into a career. All of this documentation was a joint feat of authentic transparency and savvy marketing, and served both Black Hops and their brew-curious public very well.
In 2016, they opened their first brewery and taproom in Burleigh Heads, just two blocks back from the main beach. It began small, but didn’t stay that way as the demand for Black Hops beer increased: expansion upon expansion saw both the brewhouse and the taproom grow into the space it is today, full of murals and fridges and merch and a palpable pride that this is the original BH headquarters. It’s a welcome and unassuming environment, so pull a stool up to the bar and get tasting from the long line of taps.
That aforementioned growth is a voracious thing, and 2019 saw the opening of Black Hops II in Biggera Waters. This production brewery dwarfs the first brewery, and is the wellspring of most of the Black Hops beers sold around the country. And if you’re up the northern end of the Gold Coast, it’s another opportunity to drink an abundance of BH beer on tap in the slick taproom.
By the time we get to the backend of 2020, we see the opening of Black Hops Brisbane. While this is only a small space (as Black Hops purchased an existing brewpub, previously Semi Pro Brewing), it’s a foothold in the capital for Black Hops, and a welcome watering hole for Brisbane locals to get their lips around an array of fresh BH core, seasonal and small batch beers.
In 2021, Black Hops unveiled its barrel program – codename AWOL – which allows the brewers to tinker with more than a hundred wine, bourbon, whisky and gin barrels of various sizes to put out small batches of barrel-aged beauties. Some of the beers are funky and fruited, some are smooth and sexy, but all are tended carefully until they’re at their prime state. While the AWOL program started as an accident, it’s now driven by loving intent – and the resulting beers show this clearly.
Hopefully it’s clear that Black Hops’ story is long and winding, from their first beer to their position as a deeply entrenched powerhouse of the Queensland craft beer scene, as well as the departure of two of the founders: first Govs to become a consultant in 2022; later, Dan in 2023 as they brought in a CEO from outside the beer industry to guide them into the future. But while it’s a good yarn, you don’t need to know every detail in order to be drawn into BH’s orbit.
You can trace the BH story back to the beginning, or you can drop into the middle and enjoy their consistently excellent beers. But the one thing you shouldn’t do it underestimate Black Hops.