Alice Springs might be a small and isolated town, even by Australia’s exacting standards, but as the gateway to the Red Centre it’s always possessed a unique appeal capable of luring people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life to stop in while enjoying an outback pilgrimage.
With Uluru a few hours to the southwest and awe-inspiring national parks and adventure-filled 4WD tracks in pretty much every direction north, south, east and west, it’s never short of visitors. Even when COVID-19 stopped the flow of international tourists, locals evading lockdowns and chasing dreams helped fill the gap.
That said, unlike many of Australia’s iconic destinations, it was never going to appear on a beer tourist’s to do list – unless you were the sort of of beer tourist who measured success by the number of places in which you’d ripped through a carton of Great Northern or XXXX Gold. That all changed, however, with the arrival of Alice Springs Brewing Co in 2018.
Leading the charge was Kyle Pearson, who grew up in Victoria but moved to Alice around a decade-and-a-half earlier for reasons as typically colourful as many who choose life there. He’d been playing venues across the Mornington Peninsula with a covers band when his fellow band members announced they were heading to Europe to tour with a thrash metal band for six months; unsure what to do next, a mate in Alice suggested he joined him, assuring him life there was a nonstop party.
The six months stay became permanent – other than 18 months in Ballarat – with the years prior to launching the brewing company spent running venues and working for CUB. Given he’d been homebrewing since before he was legally allowed to drink, it meant he had plenty of skills to bring to the brewery, which was brought to life with the support of mates and family.
The decision to introduce local beer to his adopted hometown came with challenges few fledgling breweries need to consider: the desert town's water quality, which these days is made beer worthy with an impressive reverse osmosis setup; eye-watering shipping rates; and the Northern Territory’s rather unique liquor licensing requirements among them.
But, if you’ve met Kyle, you’ll be aware his generous and fun-loving personality comes with a healthy dose of determination and ambition. Sure, bringing a new beer experience to a place in which craft taps appear in just a tiny number of venues might not be easy, but he was going to make it happen.
At first, the brewery focused solely on draught beer created on a 500 litre Braumeister (since augmented by a separate 500 litre Braumeister kettle), the vast majority of which was sold alongside pizzas through the brewery venue in the Star of Alice function centre to the south of the city centre. Aided by the support of a handful of venues plus the holiday parks and other tourist accommodation within walking distance, Kyle and the team steadily built an audience, over time developing the Centralian Ale as an approachable, affordable means of enticing mainstream drinkers away from bigger brands.
When the nationwide shutdown and closed international borders of 2020’s global pandemic hit, it just proved another challenge to overcome. Initially, the brewery effectively became a takeaway pizza joint, but the dire situation – at one point, there was just $1,000 left in the kitty – prompted them to push into packaged beer, which allowed them to better show off the colourful branding designed by Jessie Jungalwalla of Craft Instinct, who Kyle knew from school.
The turbulent global situation brought benefits too. Having decided to employ a head brewer at the start of 2021 – not least as he’d taken over Monte’s Ale House as well as the function space adjacent to the brewery – Kyle landed Jum Ryan, an ex-Little Creatures brewer not long returned to Australia, whose dreams of starting a brewing company in Myanmar had been scuppered by that country’s military coup.
While some of the original recipes developed by Kyle and co-founder / original brewer Brian Young remain untouched, such as the chocolaty yet dry core range Stout, others received a Little finessing. At time of writing, the brewery had a core range of six, with the aforementioned Centralian Ale and Stout joined by Territory Mid (a collab with fellow NT breweries Beaver and Purple Mango, and the sort of 3.5 percent ABV lager that makes perfect sense in the Territory), the Galaxy-laden Specific Ale and a couple of other hoppy paler offerings, such as debut release Almost Summer.
While the beers don’t tend to nudge beyond 5 percent ABV – this is the desert, after all – you’ll always find limited releases pouring through the dozen taps (up from six when the venue first opened), which might feature a fruity IPA or a session strength sour. And, in a sign of changing tastes in Alice, the Centralian Ale isn’t likely to remain their biggest seller beyond 2021 as the more hop forward beers gain traction.
As for the space in which the beers (and a selection of wines, spirits and cocktails) are served, there’s picnic style tables and chairs out front, a mix of tall tables and stools, couches, and rows of long tables and benches inside leading to a foosball table and the brewery at the rear. You can also enjoy their beers at the Hideout restaurant next door, which is where you’ll find a tropical beer garden that hosts live music including, on occasion, head brewer Jum on acoustic guitar.
Since his arrival in early 2021, brewery output has increased significantly – the tricks and knowhow of someone with big brewery experience – yet not enough to satisfy demand. Hence the order for a 12 hectolitre brewhouse, bigger tanks, and a faster canning line.
Once in place, Kyle hopes to start sending beer into South Australia, making Alice Springs the first Territory brewery to distribute across state lines. At the same time, the Braumeisters will head north to Purple Mango Brewery & Café, located on the road from Darwin to Kakadu, to enable owners Adam and Kylie to expand their horizons too.
The NT: come for the fantastical landscapes and wondrous wildlife, refresh with a local beer.