They told everyone they’d have a place like this one day. Not everyone believed them. After all, Ben Kooyman, Andy Stewart and Dan Hastings had been hawking Endeavour Beer, the brand they launched in 2010, for more than six years with few outward signs of their ongoing search for a place to put a brewery. They wanted the right site, in the right location and they were prepared to wait in order to find it.
They’d decided on this path even before they launched, figuring whatever money they could scrape together from friends and family to invest in a new business would be better spent building a brand than immediately building a brewery . So they’d turned to contract brewing, employing a production brewery to make and package their beer for them. Today, the lines with gypsy brewing increasingly blurred, it’s an accepted way to join the beer world but when Endeavour began “contract brewing” were dirty words, to be spoken in a hushed tone with a finger pressed to pursed lips. For their part, Endeavour didn't hide where their beer came from, though they did manage to raise a few eyebrows by calling themselves a “vintage beer company”.
It stemmed from the founders’ fondness for wine and wanting to build a beer business around one of wine’s most fundamental concepts. Their reasoning was that a beer, like a wine, is not simply about who makes it but the variances in the agricultural crops underpinning it, specifically barley and hops. Their interpretation of a “vintage beer” was therefore not necessarily wed to the year the beer was made, but the year in which the ingredients were harvested.
Following the logic, each beer – even if using the same recipe – would be slightly different year to year, due to differences in the ingredients based on the growing conditions. Some drinkers were confused, seeing the word “vintage” on the label and assuming these approachable pale and golden ales were meant for ageing. While Endeavour did, and continues to, flirt with that concept on a Reserve Amber range, most of the styles they were selling simply weren’t built for it. To better reflect their message, “Vintage” became “Harvest” on the labels.
The confluence of these factors – no brewery, an occasionally confusing marketing angle and approachable beer styles at a time when experimentation was catching fire – led some to lump Endeavour as "faux craft". They weren't bothered. They weren't pretending to be anything they weren’t, they were proud of their beers, people liked them, they sold well enough and they were picking up medals at respected beer competitions, – including two at the respected World Beer Cup. Still, there was no sign of that brewery, just that talk of “We’re still looking for the right spot”.
Then they found it.
It was in late 2016 that the doors to the Endeavour Tap Rooms opened, leading visitors into a quite beautiful little brewpub in the heart of The Rocks. In terms of where you would want a brewery to be – perhaps any business to be – it is an enviable location: a few steps from the front door and you're staring at the Opera House; a short stroll up the hill and you're on the Harbour Bridge; and you’re almost close enough to the Museum of Contemporary Art to tickle it with a paintbrush.
Despite being one of the dinkiest little breweries in the country – taller that it is wide and stacked within the nooks and crannies of a heritage building – you do wonder how on earth they got the equipment inside. In this space, with an ability to literally touch the tanks and the taps at the same time, brewer Scott O'Brien has the freedom to make small batches of whatever he wants.
There are eight taps in total, half pouring Endeavour's core range, the remainder Scott's creations, although he’s almost dealing with one less as the first IPA to ever have come from the Tap Rooms went down so well they’re loathe to let it run out (this was, incidentally, one of Endeavour’s initial two house-brewed beers to win competition medals, at the 2017 Craft Beer Awards).
If the immediate popularity of the IPA took them by surprise, they soon discovered the cause. Given its location, the Tap Rooms is a bona fide tourist magnet and it turned out it was travelling Americans, pouring off the cruise ships docked at the end of the street, who were keen to wrap their lips around some Aussie hops. They’re making sure to cater for all countries now, with styles as diverse as chocolate stout, India red ale, rauchbier and lighter wheat ales infused with native ingredients foraged from the nearby Botanical Gardens.
On the other side of the wall, you’ll find the pub. The old layout of the building means it’s made up of many small rooms, upstairs and down, which adds an automatic cosiness. Add some ornate decoration to give a touch of class and it’s a particularly pleasant pub in which to sit and enjoy a meal – perhaps little surprise given the whole venture is a partnership between Endeavour and the Applejack Hospitality group responsible for several other well regarded Sydney venues. The food errs towards a modern American style, with an emphasis on smoked meats from the smoker housed out back. In general it’s food that goes well with beer although there’s plenty else, from the pickled to the freshly picked, to keep you happy regardless of what’s in your glass.
In all the years that Endeavour’s founders talked about opening a brewery, they’d talked of a bigger dream too: having a beer estate in Tasmania where they could grow their own malt and hops and properly showcase vintage beer as they imagined it. If past form is any indicator that might take a while but, with the Tap Rooms now a focal point for beer in one of Sydney’s most iconic locations, they can dare to keep dreaming.