Before Sydney's Inner West beer boom began, The Hive Bar was a tiny space in Erskineville championing local produce. From when it opened in 2009, Hive's staff did what they could to keep the beers, wines and spirits they stocked as close to home as they could. Likewise, the bar's food menu was also built upon a desire to source ingredients from as many local suppliers as was possible.
A few years into Hive's life, Adam Parker took up a job there and, when Hive's original owners moved to the nation's capital to take over the Old Canberra Inn, they left Adam to his own devices. When those owners felt they couldn't look after two places in two different cities at the same time, they decided to sell their former haunt and focus on running one of Canberra's oldest pubs.
But, in the hope Hive could retain its focus on being a real local, rather than put it on the market they went straight to the staff and offered them the chance to buy it. Together, Adam and three of Hive's other employees banded together and bought the place they'd grown attached to over the years.
"One of the other owners had actually been drinking here the night it originally opened in 2009, so he knows the place very well," Adam says.
Since taking over, Adam and the other owners have witnessed the rapid rise of the craft beer scene in Erskineville's neighbouring suburbs. With that in mind, we decided to invite Adam to to chat about the growth of local breweries – and what that rise means for local bars – as part of our Behind Bars series.
What’s proving popular with punters?
The initial cold snap of winter saw our Hills Cider Mulled Scrumpy take off in a big way for the first month but it looks like that fad has already died off a little with stouts, porters and red wine being big movers through July.
We only have four taps here at the moment, with three of them constantly rotating on a keg by keg basis and Shenanigans Pale Ale as our house pour.
What about staff, what are they drinking at the end of their shifts?
Whatever is on tap. With only four taps, we still manage to rotate through the beers with at least one change every two or three days, which keeps the taps exciting for punters and staff alike. We're also big fans of whiskey with a beer at the end of a long night and, in winter, I must admit I am quite partial to a red wine or three.
Are you witnessing a change in tastes? What’s winning over the newcomers?
With the small independent brewery revolution that is Sydney's Inner West, punters are spoilt for choice around these parts but that has also seen a more informed, enthusiastic beer drinker. I'm finally getting punters in asking about the sours or NEIPAs we have available, which is great.
We still get the occasional punter asking for "light on flavour, easy drinking lagers" and who seem to think that all craft beer is going to be a hop bomb. But, once we get a conversation going and introduce them to a locally brewed pilsner or German style lager, they come around.
What are some general bar trends? What are people asking for?
We're still big on cocktails here and that's a forever changing landscape; last year, we were belting out espresso martinis and margaritas but this year it's negronis, sours and spritzers. Our winter cocktail list usually includes a beer influenced cocktail and this year it's two, including an espresso and spiced rum cocktail using a syrup reduction we've made using Hargreaves Hill Stout.
The vegan movement is strong in this part of the world too, which has seen the rise of sour cocktails using beer instead of egg white for texture. We usually go with our house favourite Shenanigans Pale Ale but have used hefeweizen and Berliner weisse in the past for this too.
How about changes in the inner west? What are the big changes in beer since you took over The Hive Bar?
It's been a few years now but the change to the beer scene has been immense. When I started, we had no rotating taps and a handful of craft bottles in the fridge. St Peter's Brewery was the only established inner west brewery with Young Henrys just starting out. We'd get punters walking in asking what have we got on tap that tastes like Tooheys New, to which I was proud to reply: "Nothing." But I haven't had that question in well over a year now.
We love to keep it local, especially with beer, and we've been flooded with new breweries in the local area, which has been great because it educates punters but is now forcing bars like us to change things up just to keep a point of difference.
With about a dozen inner west breweries now hosting their own tasting rooms, some with fully licenced bars and kitchens, there's the easy option to just go from brewery to brewery for a day out and taste the beers on site, rather than hitting up one bar and tasting a variety that way. It sort of sucks having supported these little breweries sometimes from invoice #1 just to see their fans leave us to drink at the "tasting room" months or years later. But we're still good mates with our local breweries, do the occasional collaboration and still grab a limited release keg or two from them when the timing is right.
In reality, we'd rather look at it as an opportunity for us to showcase beers from further afield, which are all still Australian, independent and super tasty but not necessarily from three blocks down the road all the time. That way those that choose the brewery tour option can always start or end the journey with us and a few beers they haven't tried that day already.
What are some standout beers you’ve tried this year?
Loved the Beerfarm Shirazzaweiss, Capital Brewing Stout and Akasha's Wooden Leg Triple IPA. Back in March, we collaborated with Marty from St Peter's Brewery to come up with a special Irish Whisky Stout for St Patrick's day, which sold out in a matter of hours. Yes, that was partly due to my enjoyment of it.
What do you think will be the next big thing in craft beer?
I'd like to see more English style bitters around but I really hope this summer will see Aussie beer drinkers realise that dark beer isn't just a cold weather beverage: summer stouts is what I'm looking for!
I have a feeling Berliner weisse and gose will be an easy sell come summer too.
Finally, any comments on where you think beer is headed?
I'm seeing a lot of avid homebrewers entering the market on a small scale, which is something we'll continue to embrace here at The Hive Bar as long as the beer's good and they're licensed. Some of the best beers I've tasted have been very small batch stuff like this.
Overall, I think the growth in the independent brewery market has been incredible and I'm really excited about what it holds. Personally, I'd like to see more public education on where the beer comes from and who is really making it so that the consumer can make a more informed choice. With the macro breweries doing everything in their power to hijack the small brewery market, I think we bartenders especially need to educate people that, actually, that fancy looking "craft" beer you're holding was made on the same automated line as Carlton Draught and it's as Australian as Stella Artois with no profit dollars landing on Australian shores.
You'll find The Hive Bar at 93 Erskineville Road, Erskineville.