The Hunter Valley today boasts quite the collection of diverse microbreweries. But, for many years before the likes of Lovedale Brewery and Hope Brewhouse opened, there was just one: the Hunter Beer Co, based at Potters Hotel in Nulkaba.
Launched by the family that has since gone on to open the Australian Brewery in Rouse Hill, it has since changed ownership but continues to operate predominantly as a brewpub operation, selling almost all beer on site, while expanding and evolving over time. Call in anytime and you'll find a dozen or so different beers pouring, from the multiple award-winning Bock and a Kolsch another local brewer refers to as "his meditation" to bold seasonals and much more besides.
For the past decade, the man responsible for brewing them – with his team of assistants – has been Keith Grice. He joined ten years ago as assistant to Luke Scott, who soon afterwards took up the reins at Prickly Moses (look out for another Brew & A focusing on his decade in the Otways in the coming weeks). Or, as Keith puts it: "I started scrubbing floors and pouring beers for customers ten years ago. Still scrubbing floors and pouring beers ten years down the track."
Here, he looks back on his career in beer and what drives him to keep brewing and training up others (when not scrubbing floors).
Why are you a brewer?
I brewed a home brew and was hooked; an interest turned into a hobby which became a passion and then an obsession.
What would you be if you weren’t a brewer?
An English language teacher in China.
What was your epiphany beer?
I’ve had a few epiphanies while drinking beer. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout was my first epiphany beer – the layers of chocolately goodness blew me away.
How did you first get involved in the beer world?
Persistently knocked on doors till I got a part time gig scrubbing the floor and hand-bottling beers.
What's the best beer you’ve ever brewed?
The next one. That next beer I brew is always going to be the best I’ve ever made.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
Are there any beers you’ve brewed that might have been better left on the drawing board?
No drawing board, this one was unintentional: an APA with peated distilling malt as the base malt. It had a sweet and sour lemon thing happening and made me think someone had extinguished their camp fire in my glass.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery in the world, which would it be and why?
Cantillon Brewery or Brauerei Spezial (in Bamberg); both have centuries of tradition producing incredible beers.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
Brewers who inspire me are Luke Scott, Richard Watkins (BentSpoke), Shawn Sherlock (FogHorn) and Jess Wolfgang (Keith's former assistant now running Rhyme & Reason in Wanaka – look out for a future Aussie Exports article).
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
If it’s one beer I’ll choose Budvar, but I’d rather have a mixed case of Cantillon and Spezial.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Pink Floyd – The Wall.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
Single cask whiskey. At cask strength if you please.
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
People complain, a lot, if beer is under-carbonated.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Be the person who works harder than everyone else.
You can visit Keith and the team at Potters by heading to Wine Country Dr, Nulkaba.
This is the first in an upcoming series of articles on Hunter, Newcastle and the Central Coast that will include Crafty Crawls, brewery listings, interviews and more.