It’s a story that’s surely as old as the beer industry itself: a couple of mates start homebrewing, they get good at it and, at the behest of a few keen friends with complementary skills, decide to have a go at brewing commercially. That, in essence, is the Block ’n’ Tackle story. But, of course, that is hardly the full story.
Theirs begins in a couple of garages in Avoca Beach – one of the many waterside hamlets that make up the Central Coast region of New South Wales – where, for over a decade, Michael “Pep” Pepper and Al Jones had been immersing themselves in all grain home brewing, first alone, then together. Their setup was fairly ramshackle and quite typical of homebrewers’ DIY inventiveness; one of their particular quirks was the use of a block and tackle to lift full mash tuns into the air where gravity would ease transfers to the kettle.
Having conquered the Avoca Beach backyard barbecue beer scene, Pep and Al were encouraged in their endeavours, then eventually joined, by friends and fellow locals Brett Brown and Greg Tobin whose skills sat more towards the business and marketing side of the equation. In 2015, with the necessary pillars of partnership in place, the foursome set up the Avoca Beach Brewing Co. But to the public it would be known as Block ’n Tackle.
Still working day jobs, the group poured all its spare time and money into building the Block ’n Tackle brewery in a warehouse in nearby Kincumber. In essence it was the garage setup with more space to move but they soon added a larger (albeit only slightly larger) Braumeister system, some bigger fermenters and, the crowning glory, a bar from which to pour their wares. Yet it was not all straightforward as they began to reckon with some archaic legislation that imposed conditions such as early closing hours, no possibility of live entertainment and, most troublesome for a brewery bar, a serving limit of a single 150ml tasting glass of beer, per person, per day.
Yet, despite those impositions – ones apparently not faced by any other brewer in the state – the word still spread and people came to see what this place was all about. They had begun nailing down a core range of generally approachable beers that were steeped in the rich history of shipbuilding that once blossomed opposite the spot where the brewery now sits; Jon Piper was a founder of the local shipbuilding industry so he was honoured with an IPA; the Red Lizzie amber ale for the esteemed wife of one of the industry pioneers; Rock Lily pale ale for the last ship to sail from one of the major shipyards.
The strict limit on tasting glasses had the effect of pushing demand towards takeaway bottles and mini-kegs, Block ’n Tackle’s striking silver alternative to growlers. This proved just enough for the brewery to keep paying its way and consider how it might, one day, be able to grow. With support from a sizeable band of loyal customers who could see what Block ’n Tackle was trying to offer the local area, and having towed the legislative line for a year, they successfully petitioned the state government to relax some of the licensing restrictions.
The one taster per person per day rule was mercifully dropped so visitors can now enjoy a multiple beer tasting paddle, or even a full sized beer – albeit with an idiosyncratic condition whereby if you want something roughly equivalent to a pint you’ll receive it in five smaller tasting glasses. The hours were extended, meaning you can now sit and enjoy a beer as the sun comes down in the long evenings. Live entertainment was given the all clear, too, which breathed a creative energy into the otherwise industrial space. Block ’n Tackle has even been added to the area’s well worn tourist trail which brings plenty more people to their door.
The brewery now has eight beers on tap at any one time, with a core range of six supplemented by two regularly changing seasonals or limited releases. There is no full kitchen but they’ll happily prepare a mezze plate where one of the features is a cheese made from the brewery’s Sir Thomas Porter by their friends at the award winning Little Creek Cheese.
While the setup remains small and most of what they make is sold direct from the brewery, Block ’n Tackle has been gradually building ties with the local community. You can now find the beers at a handful of good Central Coast venues, they’re an ever-present fixture at local beer festivals, have collaborated with near neighbours Six String and even auctioned off their first anniversary beer – a whopping Russian Imperial Stout – for a local children’s charity.
The garage days may be officially gone but the brewery carries on with the same laid back, convivial vibe of the Avoca backyards, these days under the ownership of Paul Wakelin after he took over the business from Greg and Pep.
It may not have all been smooth sailing for the crew of Block ’n Tackle but, like the area’s shipbuilders of yesteryear, they seized an opportunity to construct something from nothing and have created something that Central Coast locals can be justifiably proud to call their own.