Behind Bars: Nick Pogonoski

October 26, 2016, by Kerry McBride
Behind Bars: Nick Pogonoski

Beer lovers in Newcastle have been enjoying something of a renaissance in recent years. Venues like The Blind Monk and FogHorn Brewhouse are following in the footsteps of trailblazers like the Grain Store and opening the doors for beer exploration like never before, aided and abetted by quality bottleshops such as Warners at the Bay and the Prince of Wales. 

Cast the net a little wider and you find a growing number of local brewers, from the long-established, like Murray's and Hunter Beer Co, to younger operations like Six String and Hope Brewhouse and gypsy operations that call the city home, such as Grainfed.

At the Grain Store, the focus is very much on independent Australian produced craft beer, with the 20-plus taps rarely pouring anything from overseas. As part of our Behind Bars series, which flits around the country finding out what's happening in the beer scene in different aeras, manager Nick Pogonoski lets us in on what the staff are drinking, a growing love for nitro, and the importance of keeping things independent.

What are the bar staff drinking after their shifts?

Everything that’s on tap! We’re pretty fortunate here at the Grain Store to have 21 taps that constantly rotate through a massive variety of Australian independent beers and ciders, so we’re always seeing new things hit our taps daily. 

With this in mind, we always encourage the staff to expand their palates and try whatever has recently hit the taps. Sometimes a 9 percent ABV Imperial Stout or 8.5 percent IIPA isn’t feasible as a knockoff brew, but we’re endeavouring to change the general public culture of brand loyalty and the "blinkers on" mentality of: “I only drink lager X, Y or Z” to “What’s the latest beer on tap?"

So our staff are pretty open minded to trying all different styles and breweries and giving everything a go. And we need to have an honest answer to the question: “What’s that beer like?”

What's the uptake with the staff favourite among general customers?

A large percentage of our customers here rely heavily on our suggestions and guidance. So as our staff’s overall knowledge and palates mature with every new beer they try, so does the general public's.

The Grain Store – in a former brewery grain store – has led the way for Newcastle's beer lovers in recent years.

What are some general bar trends? What are people asking for?

The love for big, hoppy beers hasn’t died and will always continue to trend upwards, but more and more people are starting to appreciate the malt driven side of the spectrum. With us always having an amber/red ale tap, brown/porter tap and a stout tap (sometimes two or three), it assists the consumers who willing to step away from the lager, summer ale, pale ale area to start to enjoy some of the darker things in life!

Are more people starting to drink craft where they didn't before? What's winning over the newcomers?

Yeah, definitely. Not only are more people drinking independently owned brews but they’re also stepping into bigger and bolder territory with what their palates can handle. There’s nothing cooler than seeing a full venue here on a Saturday night of 200-plus people having a good time and having shouts of IIPAs or imperial stouts like it’s the most normal thing ever. We’re pretty proud that we’re a part of slowly pulling back the curtain for the general public to show them what beer really is and what flavour is actually all about.

As for the newcomers, we have our lighter style beers that help transition people and start them on their journey. In recent times, with the resurgence of the appreciation of well made lager, we have dedicated one of our 21 taps to good, independent Aussie lager.

What do you think is the next big thing to take off?

Sours of all varieties are becoming more and more popular, and something that our customers are becoming more aware and appreciative of. 

Relative specifically to this venue, we’ve recently had two nitro taps installed so our customers are getting more exposure to the creamy goodness that nitro brews of all varieties can offer!

Finally, you're at the front of the bar, you see the trends, you see the people; any general comments about where beer is heading?

We envisage that, as the general consumer’s palates continue to mature and develop, the pale ale will slowly transition into the background and IPAs will become the standard “go to” brew.

As for an overall trend, something that is integral to the way we operate day to day here at the Grain Store and is deeply embedded in our overall culture, is the ongoing support of all things independent. We firmly believe that our passion and beliefs are starting to have a positive flow-on effect on the greater community who are more conscious of how they are looking to spend their hard earned money. 

And the more people that we can spread the independent love to, through the simple act of serving them a beer, the better.

You can read our other Behind Bars features here.

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