Shannon Kearnes wants you to know that Newcastle is an interesting place. The business he founded last year, One For The Road, is a walking tour that aims to reveal some of the most historically interesting parts of the city via a route that takes in the best of Newcastle’s beer scene.
“My tours are a bit of a blend of brewery, bar and history of the city,” he says.
“We’re one of the oldest cities in the country and no one knows that. For example, near the Grain Store is one of the oldest sites of European settlement in Australia. While we wander around, I talk to people about what’s happening in the city, about local politics and basically take on that real walking tour guide experience. You’ll go from talking about hops to White Australia policy in the blink of an eye.
“But when we’re in the bars, it’s all about the beer.”
Beer is something Newcastle has long done well, with some of its venues and bottleshops counted among the best in the land. Shannon’s tours naturally cover some of that ground, although he’s also keen for guests to go beyond the city’s east end, which people naturally gravitate towards, and explore areas like Hamilton.
“Beaumont Street is something a lot of visitors miss,” he says. “It’s one of Newcastle’s eat streets but it’s a bit hard to get to if you don’t know where you’re going, meaning somewhere like The Blind Monk is a bit of a hidden gem.”
It’s all part of trying to offer a broad experience that caters for everyone, not just those already familiar with beer.
“I try to make it all inclusive”, says Shannon. “Newcastle is a tourist destination and we get a lot of people on weekends away, so domestic tourism is big.
“The tours focus a lot on local beer and food matching as it kind of helps people get over any hurdles. For example, a little spot we go to is called Chook and Broosky where they just do chicken and beer – the simplest concept. They’ve got four taps and stick with really local stuff like Grainfed, Murray’s and Six String so we can get a tasting paddle matched to the food. I’ll walk people through the four basic ingredients and give them a basic understanding about what’s going on in the glass.”
Part of that understanding is taking tourists to a brewery, something that’s only become possible since proud Novocastrian and highly regarded brewer Shawn Sherlock brought brewing back to the CBD in 2015 by opening the FogHorn Brewhouse. For the purposes of an urban beer tour, the brewpub has become one of the tour highlights, giving guests a glimpse into the beating heart of a small brewery and shining a light on elements of beer that are best demonstrated at the source.
Says Shannon: “We can cover things like the freshness of beer, from tank to tap, which is something Newcastle’s not had access to since the 1980s."
Aside from sharing an appreciation for local history and local production, one of the main aims of One For The Road is encouraging them to think more about what they’re drinking and to try something different. It’s about arming people with knowledge, explains Shannon, so they “can walk into a place like Hop Factory or Grain Store with confidence and say, ‘I really liked pale ale so I’ll give that a try’.
“It’s awesome when you know people have actively pursued recommendations from the tour, or you see customers out at the venues again, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, you’re back again so you weren’t just bullshitting when you said you enjoyed it!’”
A born and bred Novocastrian, Shannon’s path towards becoming a local beer guide is very much a winding one, taking in roles as diverse as office manager and competitive public speaker before moving on to lead night walks helping the city’s decision-makers come up with ideas to reactivate the night-time economy. The latter, combined with a growing love of beer, was the impetus to launch the One For The Road tours and that in turn has opened other doors, the biggest of which was saw him offered the chance to lead the return of Newcastle Craft Beer Week in 2016 after a near two year absence.
The city’s previous beer weeks were organised by a committee made up of several key figures in Newcastle’s craft beer scene who brought their respective and extensive industry knowledge and experience to the table. Despite an obvious enthusiasm for beer and the burgeoning walking tours which have him working with, and networking within, the local industry, Shannon is still a relative new kid on the block and has little experience in the way of large-scale event management.
So how did the opportunity to organise a flagship week arise and how has being removed from previous festivals aided his cause?
“I literally ran into one of the previous organisers in a hallway!” he says.
“I then went around speaking to everyone involved from previous years and it basically needed someone independent, so they’ve trusted me to do it.”
It’s a baptism by fire by any definition.
“It’s a back to basics approach,” says Shannon of his first stab at running a week that in the past has featured scores of events across the city.
“I spent a lot of time talking to everyone who had previously been involved in the week and a recurring theme was that in previous years we’d had too many events and attendance suffered as a result, to the point that some events were cancelled altogether. Newcastle Craft Beer Week 2016 has intentionally been kept small in order to ensure that the events we do have gain maximum attendance.
“Newcastle doesn’t have the population of Sydney and that’s a real challenge, but the city has such a cool beer scene so I think it deserves to have something. It’s a massive undertaking for me and in the first year there may well be hiccups, but the events will happen.”
They’ll happen imminently too as the festival kicks off its dozen events on March 6 in the city’s East End before closing out in Maitland a week later. The tight schedule is true to that original intention of having a back to basics approach, but Shannon is hoping the less is more strategy will prove popular and provide a good base to build from.
“I’m really happy with variety we have on offer for the week,” he says.
“The local beer community has been great and has really gotten behind the week, with plenty also offering advice and support along the way. The Newcastle beer scene has only gotten better since the last beer week.”
And with a local beer week now officially back on the calendar, it’s likely to get better still.
One For The Road operates Newcastle beer walking tours most weekends. Visit onefortheroadtours.com.au for bookings.
Newcastle Craft Beer Week 2016 runs from March 6–12. See newcastlecraftbeerweek.com.au for events and tickets.