Botany is a strange place. Named for the much more famous bay just to the south, bordered by Sydney airport to the west and Port Botany to the southeast, it’s a chaotic amalgam of land use.
A ring of residential streets surrounds a hub of light industrial units with warehouses and heavy industry congregating around the edges. On the southern edge of the inner circle, flanked on both sides by joinery businesses and directly across Botany Road from residential housing, sits Beer Fontaine, quite remarkably the third fascinating brewery to call the area home.
There aren’t many origin stories in the beer industry that begin in the world of film lighting. Fortunately for Beer Fontaine, they aren’t particularly interested in doing what everyone else is doing anyway. And that’s just as fortunate for lovers of less-than-common beer styles too.
Designing and installing lighting systems for film and TV doesn’t appear to have a great deal in common with fermentation but Fontaine founder Marshall Harrington’s earlier life in food product development and a degree in chemistry has obviously put him in good stead.
“I’d actually been homebrewing for around five years before we started here,” he says. "I’d started making some really good beer and always saw myself as doing it professionally, but just couldn’t make the leap.”
In the end, it was less a leap than a push that saw him make the transition: with film productions shut down amid the drama of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, he finally had the impetus he’d been waiting for to become a professional brewer.
With a 250L brewing system in place as a sort of proof of concept, Beer Fontaine were quickly selling out of everything they brewed. After a brief foray into the world of contract brewing, they realised almost immediately that with the types of beer they wanted to brew and the amount of experimentation it was going to take to brew them, using someone else’s kit was an impossibility. So, an upgrade and expansion was required, and in 2021, with their own 10 hectolitre brewhouse installed, they really got to work.
For Marshall, carving out his own little slice of the Sydney beer market by mimicking the others was never an option. If they weren’t going to make beer that wasn’t already out there, what’s the point?
While living in Europe, he's always felt drawn to Belgian beer, and it was a trip to Bruges that would basically alter his entire trajectory in life.
Marshall recalls: “I was trying all these different Belgian beers I’d never even heard of before and they were all so alive and so bright. It completely inspired me. Belgian beer has such a vibrancy and playfulness that the other beer cultures in Europe don’t seem to have.”
Lagers aside, for whatever reason, European beer styles in general have proven to be a hard sell in Australia. Despite a few notable exceptions, not least like fellow Botany locals Slow Lane, brewers regularly releasing Belgian inspired beers are few and far between. Most brewers will claim they only brew beer they want to drink, but what does it mean if the beer you want to drink isn’t exactly popular?
You can approach that problem in a number of ways; in the case of Beer Fontaine, their ethos is that you always make sure you’ve got something for everyone and have an unwavering belief your beer is good enough to convert even the most sceptical drinker.
“My favourite thing in the world is when someone says to me they don’t like beer,” Marshall says, adding: “There’s such a tremendous range of different flavour profiles, and if you can just sit down in front of someone and give them something they’ve never had before, you’re going to find a winner.”
And given Beer Fontaine are never short when it comes to new and interesting beers to show off, they’re well placed to have something on hand that someone has never had before.
Chief among their offerings is the wonderful Sparkling Forest pétillant bier, which is inspired by the pét-nat winemaking technique and clean, effervescent Belgian ales. Among a swag of medals Beer Fontaine picked up at the 2022 AIBA awards, Sparkling Forest nabbed gold in the Belgian/French style ale category and serves as a perfect introduction to their oeuvre.
Among the other medal winners are a slew of barrel-aged sours and stouts that always make up a fair chunk of the Beer Fontaine bottled offerings. However, just because Marshall’s heart lies in Belgium, there’s no reason he wouldn’t be partial to an icy cold can of DDH IPA.
Thus, complementing the bottled offerings, Beer Fontaine regularly can various IPAs, pale ales, stouts and a Kolsch style draught. Sure, every now and then the aluminium range might feature some Belgian yeast, malt or candi sugar but, on the whole, the punters will be able to find far more familiar-sounding brews encased in aluminium.
The beers are freely available on their webstore and through local retailers, however the main goal has always been to open a tasting room at the Botany brewery. Unfortunately, in an all too familiar story, ongoing delays in regulatory approvals have seen any potential opening date continually pushed back. The team even brewed a Champagne IPA with Kiwi hops, Belgian malt and Duvel and Champagne yeasts to celebrate the moment that’s yet to arrive.
It took no time at all for Beer Fontaine to prove themselves excellent brewers of a range of potentially very tricky styles of beer and, as history has shown, they’re only going to get better at it. Their commitment to finding something for everyone has already won plenty of fans around Sydney and, open tasting room notwithstanding, they’re a very exciting addition to the Australian beer scene.