In the space of just a few years, the Northern Beaches suburb of Brookvale has evolved from an industrial area known primarily for a footy stadium and shopping centre into what is arguably Australia’s fastest-growing beer suburb. At the time of writing, there are no less than six Brookvale breweries within a six minute walking radius of each other, the newest of which is Freshwater Brewing Co.
Named after the adjacent suburb – and, like the suburb, often referred to as Freshie – the brewery was founded by Jonny Bucknall, a British expat with previous working in beer for Lion and Modus, who enlisted his mate Brett Phillips, formerly of Wayward and Modus, to join him as brewer. Completing the picture is Tom Bruce, a bartender and beer salesman whose skill at engaging and upselling to any customers with a passing interest in craft beer they both admired. He swore he’d never own a brewery, yet set aside such vows and set sail with Freshwater as they launched their first beers in 2021.
They did so at first by contract brewing at a number of fellow Sydney breweries, including Rocks, Wayward and Hairyman, while looking for a suitable brewery and taproom site in their titular suburb. In the end, however, the ideal site manifested in the next one over, with Freshie moving into their Brookvale premises in 2022 ready to enjoy the benefits of being in a spot with a growing reputation for local beer.
“Brookvale is almost like a new alternative drinking precinct,” Jonny says. “If you’re planning your night out, it used to be only Manly, but now you can do Manly, or Freshie, or Brookvale.
“The vibe between brewers is great. All of us trade war stories and tips. It’s all just super friendly: you go get a coffee and there are eight different brewers grabbing a coffee.”
That said, he reckons it’s not just the proximity and welcoming nature of their fellow brewers that make Brookie such an exciting place to set up.
“You can get anything in Brookvale,” he says. “There’s hundreds and hundreds of businesses here, and it is (originally) organically without any help from the government driving it as a scene.
“Great coffee, three distilleries, bakeries, the guys we get our cold press juice from are around the corner. The berry man, where most breweries get all their fruit from in Brookvale – there’s a lot happening.
“It’s unique because, when you think about the beaches, people have this view of it being the insular peninsula but Brookvale is cool. You could transport it and put it in another city and it would feel the same.”
When they opened the doors of their taproom to thirsty crowds of locals in September 2022, many of their guests had the same question: “Why is it so white?” And it’s a fair question, as the gloriously open indoor space at Freshwater is not, as Jonny puts it, “your typical man cave brewery”.
Instead, you find a sleek, serene and pristine space that possesses the understated trappings of an Instagram-oriented shoebox café selling single origin filter coffees brewed with beans selected from the plantations by the baristas themselves. Subtle pastel tiles draw your focus to the grey stone bar where a minimalist letterboard menu informs what’s pouring on the 12 draught and two side pour taps, some of which are catered to by the sizable lagering tank sitting to the side of the bar.
The other focal point lies at the back of this stretch of immaculate taproom: the brewing gear itself. It makes perfect sense that the bar and brewing gear are Freshie’s main visual features too as the beer they create is really what makes them stand out from the crowd. In a world in which many brewers are pushing to create the juiciest, headiest, most opaque hazy hop infusions, Freshies have a simple response: lagers.
Yep, this is a lager-focused brewery keen on recreating old world styles and paying tribute to the crisp beers designed to refresh.
“For the Aussie craft beer scene, people grew up drinking lagers and they don’t consider different styles of lager,” Tom explains from the spot where you’ll usually find him: behind the bar. “Presenting [drinkers] with these different styles of lager is really interesting and gives us a lot of free rein.”
According to head brewer Brett, deep-diving into one area of beer’s vast spectrum is both a satisfying challenge and a welcome break.
“I was sick of brewing hazy doubles,” he says. “A lot of breweries do them well but I don’t think I want to drink a schooner of that.
“A new experimental beer doesn’t always have to be an IPA; we’re looking around for different ingredients in lagers. Using ingredients that aren’t as popular; Galaxy is in nearly every brewery, so we try and use a different hop, try to present a different flavour profile compared to every other brewery.”
As such, while they’re not exclusively lager brewers, among their core range you’ll find beers like Wedge Cerveza (a corn lager) and Freshie Pils sat alongside Freshie Hazy (formerly known as Secrets Pale). Inspired by, you’ve guessed it, Corona, Wedge is a citrusy palate cleanser brewed with Motueka hops and traditional Vienna malt that’s named after the Freshwater surf break. Freshie Pils is a more chronic hoppy affair featuring Hallertau Blanc and Mandarina Bavaria hops, while Secrets Freshie Hazy is “brewed for the beaches”: a hazy pale with a clean finish that encourages repeated sipping.
During my visit, other samples included the seasonal Pacific Pils made with all New Zealand hops, Curly Gold, a Vienna lager given four months lagering time, the crispy kolsch like Harbord Lager, the helles-inspired Foam Lager, and a Sparkling Ale that takes its inspiration not from European beers but from an Aussie craft classic.
If you’re not sure where to begin, getting chatting to Tom; although he “used to hate tasting paddles”, he now rather enjoys learning about people’s tastes and helping them create a paddle that’s just right for them.
“At some point, you have to say, ‘Fuck it, paddles are a good idea.’ I walk people through what I think they’re going to like and a few wildcards.”
It’s in keeping with the Freshie team’s eagerness to take crafty casuals, fanatics and the indifferents through their menu; they happily explained the different results that can be obtained from a side pour tap over a decadent and luxurious side-poured amber.
“Other taps are a light switch on or off, side pours are like a dimmer switch. You have a creation of foam at the bottom, you create this lovely juicy head, you get these aromas, this amazing kick of flavour with CO2 in there – there’s a mesh screen in the tap that invigorates it. It's the middle ground between cask and regular tap beer. You have it and go, ‘Why isn’t every beer poured on these?’”
The non-beer selection was selected to give choice to “drag-alongs” and features craft soft drinks, Hills Cider, cocktails and a broad range of natural wines curated to provide a casual point of difference from neighbouring breweries.
“They can get seltzers from 7th Day and espresso martinis from Buckettys,” Jonny says. “And they should – they’re great! But it’s not what we’re doing.”
Freshies also boasts an in-house kitchen with an emphasis on seafood, including a fish finger sandwich, prawn po boy and lobster rolls, which, to ensure freshness, are made on Sundays only. Pregame footy fans have also been known to fuel up on the sausage sandwich and burgers while there’s salads and cheese platters too.
The taproom is both dog- and family-friendly, a situation that, when paired with easy-drinking beers makes for a diverse crowd of regulars: 50ths, young families, 20 to 28-year-olds coming in because the brewery space has a bit of a vibe to it, dads on Friday afternoons, families on Sundays.
Locals can also look forward to comedy nights every six weeks, DJs and live music every weekend, and events celebrating all things lager. Visitors coming from south of the bridge will be rewarded with a surprisingly diverse range of beers for a brewery that focuses predominantly on one style.
What’s more, like many Beaches locals, the team has no grand southern ambitions, which means the taproom is the only place many Sydneysiders will easily be able to enjoy the fruits of their labours. Luckily, it’s the best place for it too.