There’s a quote attributed to Ben Franklin: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”. As it turns out, Ben Franklin never said that; the real quote was sort of about wine, but mostly about rain on vineyards.
However, many of us can agree with the cheeky sentiment behind the misquote. That’s certainly true of the team behind Sanctus Brewing Company - they see beer as a beverage with a transcendent quality, a gift from the gods, a holy drink that stands apart from all other drinks.
They also see the area they’re situated in as having a sense of the divine - hence their slogan, “Crafted in God’s Country” - and it’s hard to argue with that. Sanctus find themselves in the Clarence Valley, halfway between Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour. It’s a gorgeous region that stretches from the coast to the hills, with sprawling fields in between.
People really appreciate the outdoors in this part of the world - and why wouldn’t they? Endless rows of sugarcane shine green or gold in the sunshine, depending on the season; the silvery Clarence invites you to spend the day kayaking or fishing; and there’s always the option of escaping real life for a time and heading out to the deep blue.
The only thing that could make such an area better? Fresh, locally made beer. That’s where Sanctus Brewing comes in.
Owned by a couple who live and breathe the local area, with a brewer who also brings the skills of a winemaker to bear on his product, Sanctus make beers that make sense for the Clarence Valley. A rural area known for humid days and hard work means that a solid lager was always going to be key; the Pacific Coast Lager is described as “the beer you’d introduce to your Uncle Gazza”. In regards to accessibility, the Valley Pale Ale follows close on its tail.
The Big River XPA is packed full of hops that bring all the flavours of orchard fruits grown in the region, while the crowd-pleasing Blueberry Crush actually uses local fruit for a slightly sour and hugely sessionable drop. The biggest surprise is perhaps the imperial stout, a brave choice for a core range beer in a regional brewery. But, with the Big Prawn to the north and the Big Banana to the south, perhaps this big beer is exactly the kind of attraction to draw people from far and wide.
Sanctus didn’t waste any time becoming a sanctuary of hospitality. While the brewery is located in a former industrial bus shelter, it still manages to feel like a rural escape. Between the rustic timber barn doors, the green wall just inside the entrance, and a tree growing in the middle of the space, Sanctus succeeds in bringing the outdoors inside.
It doesn’t take long to see this is a venue that appeals to all kinds of people, too. The taphouse (when open) pulses with regulars who have lived in the area their whole life and travellers who took a short detour from the highway to enjoy the bounty of the region; it’s a place for farmers and tradies, families and foodies. Some look to the woodfired pizza oven, matching their Pacific Coast Lager with the likes of the house smoked brisket and pulled pork pizza, or letting the Big River cut through the mushroom and brie. Others sit outside on a picnic rug, eating locally sourced seafood washed down with Blueberry Crush or their pick of the wine list. And there’s always that one person keen for a more formidable feed - a rack of low and slow pork ribs with a side of imperial stout.
A single visit makes a lasting memory, but one can never be too certain - best to take a four-pack home to be sure. Those who do will get to enjoy the trippy label design of the Holy Grail that’s also a Rubin’s Vase - or in this case, Rubin’s beer goblet - with two faces looking on in reverent awe. And, on the back of the cans, a series of little icons that represent the Clarence Valley: rippling water and majestic mountains, a pair of thongs and a couple of surfboards, a compass and a crayfish, a pelican sitting on the water and a woman diving off a cliff.
Ever keen to bring people into the fold, Sanctus have taken extra measures to help people enjoy their beer, from offering a courtesy bus to bring people to the brewery, to starting their own beer club called Pathfinders, and sending a mobile bar in the form of a caravan around to festivals.
As beautiful as the Clarence Valley is, the good folk at Sanctus know it might not be easy for everyone to make it to this heavenly part of the world. So they’ve taken it upon themselves to bless anyone who drinks their beer - wherever they may be - with a little taste of God’s Country.