One of the unexpectedly wonderful aspects that has come with launching The Crafty Pint around the time that the Australian craft beer industry was going into overdrive has been the opportunity to watch breweries and businesses grow from their very earliest days to established members of today's vibrant scene.
Whether it was pulling out a business card out that had been handed over by a bottleshop owner and making a call to Josh Uljans from a yet-to-open brewery called Moon Dog while catching a bus to attend Ale Stars at The Local Taphouse, inadvertently bumping into a merry Modus Operandi team in a Sydney bar just hours after they'd swept the board at the first ever Craft Beer Awards, or meeting Matt Houghton when Boatrocker had only the contract brewed Alpha Queen to its name, those earliest memories add not just context but resonance each time those businesses step up a level or experience success.
The Grifter Brewing Co is another one whose adventures in beer we've been following since the earliest days. They practically fell (or skated) into the world of commercial brewing when invited in to brew a batch of beer at Young Henrys on the back of a tasty homebrewed beer that the owners of the then fledgling Newtown brewery had stumbled upon.
Following the release of their first pale ale, then named Edward, they began making a name locally, delivering growlers of their beer to bars on their home turf, ultimately managing a spell of contract brewing as demand for both their beers and Young Henrys' outstripped capacity at their host's home. All the while they were on the hunt for their own home, which is now found in a former laundromat and houses both brewery and bar.
Most recently, they've been putting a growing number of their beers into psychedelically liveried cans and are celebrating five years since putting down the first brew, continuing a steady evolution from gypsies to established brewery – all while bringing some small humans into the world too. The date for the birthday bash is yet to be locked in, but we figured we'd use the occasion to invite them to look back – and forward.
When you rocked up to Young Henrys for the first brew, did you have any idea where this might lead?
Matt King: We had absolutely no idea. I still remember a phone conversation with Glenn making sure he knew Richard at Young Henrys knew we were going to brand it ourselves. Even though we didn’t know what we were going to call it…
That all happened very fast from memory too. I didn’t really know that contract brewing existed. Me, Glenn and Trent just put in some money to brew 1200L of beer. We were very, very starry eyed. I guess you could say the rest is history...
Glenn Wignall: Yeah, didn’t have any idea the journey would last this long. It’s been pretty eye opening in a lot of ways.
How have you managed the transition from brewery guests via contracting to brewery (and venue) owners?
GW: I’d say it definitely wasn’t all smooth sailing and I wouldn’t say being a contract brewer means you truly know what it’s like to work in a brewery. There’s so many things to juggle besides your latest wacky beer for GABS and there’s obviously a lot more on the line for us personally so it becomes a little more stressful at times.
But, at the end of the day, I think we’re enjoying the freedom and the challenges that come along with that. There’s still nothing I enjoy more than wrapping up a brew on a Friday, taking a ten metre stroll over to the bar and sitting amongst the locals with a cold one.
MK: Yeah, I mean we went from only ever being able to brew with one tank at a time to then running a production brewery with five tanks [they started with three 2400L and two 1200L tanks at their Enmore Road brewery]. That has since doubled.
It definitely took a little while and I guess we’re still learning how to keep up with the demand and the day to day operation of a production brewery.
What's it like being part of the incredible hub that is Sydney's inner west?
MK: It’s such a good vibe around here. I think we can all feel that we are a part of something quite unique. This whole area is a real destination on the weekends for people to either walk, ride or drive with Dave's Brewery Tours and check out the great breweries and good pubs. Not to mention how handy it is when we run our of cleaning chemicals or ingredients; Batch and Young Henrys have saved us many a times.
The pubs and bars are really great too. The Vic, who are literally right next door, are big supporters of the breweries in the area and, of course, the Henson down the road has an awesome selection. Lazybones and Gasoline Pony and Midnight Special are long time supporters and such good bars.
Overall, we couldn’t be more stoked where we have ended up.
GW: As most Sydneysiders would know, there’s a lot of like-minded people who live and frequent this part of town and we feel very much at home here.
What are your standout moment(s) from the past five years?
MK: In no particular order...
- I still remember the first keg that went on tap in Sydney. The manager at the Old Fitz agreed to buy two kegs on a whim, without the owner knowing, I think? We found out on Friday it was going on tap so we went down with 30-odd friends and drained it quickly (but responsibly).
Funnily enough, however, the first venue to ever get Grifter was a bar in Brisbane. Our mate was driving up to the Sunshine Coast so we put a keg of it in the boot of his Holden Astra. My parents were first to try the beer off tap, even before I did. The bar was called Cartel. On Caxton Street.
- Making a beer with Noma was a pretty big deal I guess.
- The opening of our tasting bar was a special night. The three of us had worked incredibly hard over the previous four years to that point. We didn’t think it would be possible, so that was a night I’ll remember forever.
- The night we got the keys to what was then a big, open, dirty warehouse. The previous tenants left some shitty smoko table there so we ate kebabs with our wives / girlfriends / kids.
GW: For me, probably seeing our assistant brewer Adam put out his first original beer. It’s a black lager called Banshee and it turned out really well. He’s worked really hard to get where he’s at and seeing his enthusiasm reminded me of ourselves when we first started. It was a good feeling for us to be able to give someone else that opportunity.
Both Grifter and the local beer industry has enjoyed a remarkable five years; where do you predict you – and craft beer in Australia generally – will be when you turn ten?
MK: Such a scary thought thinking that we could be around for ten years! The five has gone by pretty damn quickly. We’re a part of a really unique destination, so I think that’s kinda going to explode over the next few years. The Inner West should be recognised nationwide pretty soon.
I guess I just really love what I do; I’m really lucky that I get to make beer with my two best mates so hopefully I’m still doing that.
GW: I’ll probably be standing in the brewhouse (hopefully not looking at Instagram by then), Matt will be sitting at the bar on his laptop with a coffee and Trent will be sending us pictures of “kitschy” shit from antique shops.
As for craft beer generally, there still won’t be enough hops for everyone but we’ll make do and feel lucky we get to be in such an awesome industry.