The (Pint of) Origin Story


The beginnings were pretty inauspicious. Grumblings from some in the Sydney beer scene about Melbourne getting all the good stuff following the surprise success of the first Good Beer Week got me thinking. 

"How can we make it easy for brewers all over the country to get involved next time? Even those who never send their beers outside their own state – or their own venue? What if they only had to send a keg or two and didn't need any local contacts or have to put on their own event?"

The following May, during the second Good Beer Week in 2012, Pint of Origin made its debut. Five venues – we didn't have one for Victoria as it was the host state – welcomed brewers from across the country to showcase beers across their taps. 

Fast forward seven years and this coming Saturday, May 11, will see Pint of Origin (or #PoO as one of the most unfortunate / childishly hilarious beer hashtags proves to have surprising longevity) make its eighth appearance at what's now the Southern Hemisphere's biggest celebration of good beer. It will be taking over the taps at 17 venues showcasing 16 regions of the world (UK & Ireland is shared between sibling pubs) with beers and brewers flying in from all over the planet – and, for the first time, the Northern Territory.

In a way, like the festival itself, it provides something of an historical document of the local beer industry's evolution: in 2012, for example, the venues were the Great Northern (WA), the Baden Powell (Queensland), The Courthouse in North Melbourne (Tasmania), the Tramway in Fitzroy North (SA), and the OG venue – the only one to have been a PoO venue every year – the Rainbow Hotel (NSW).

Since then, the number of host venues has totalled more than 40, including a few regional showcases around Victoria, with some of them no longer operating: the likes of the Gertrude Hotel – Tasmanian brewers' home from home for a few years, the Brother Burger venues, the GB, Dejavu...

Who knows how many different beers have been showcased, how many tasting paddles poured, how many meet the brewers sessions enjoyed, how many friendships forged between host venues and visiting brewers, and between frequent PoO Crawlers too. 

Over the seven-plus years, I've led bus tours dressed as a ship's captain, bumped into groups wearing shirts made for the occasion, taken PoO to other cities with varying degrees of success, persuaded a Danish mate to dress up as if he was in ABBA and serenade people with his ukelele at Beermash while I bought them beers (because there were no visiting brewers from Scandinavia, of course), and this year we're hosting a first Pint of Origin Blind Tasting Championship.

There have been desperate pleas on social media from venues running out of beer and in need of more kegs and, during last year's, an equally desperate debutant PoO pub owner who, when asked how it was going, blurted out: "Never again! This is killing us!" (They're doing it again, naturally).

So, before we've forgotten even more of the eight years to date – and before the grumbles start from brewers who've lost taps at PoO venues for the duration of the festival – we thought we'd speak to some of those involved from the beginning as well as some newer arrivals about the story so far. It's one where we have to thank Jade Flavell at The Wheaty for the name too, giving us Pint of Origin in return for her using Good Beer Wheaty for her pub's annual mini-festival in Adelaide.


The OG #PoO Venue: The Rainbow

Brothers Adam and Jason King, owners of the Rainbow in Fitzroy.

 

There's a few things that are consistent in The Rainbow's participation in Pint of Origin. They always host a degustation dinner featuring eight brewers from New South Wales (or, more recently, Sydney after we split the city and state across two venues), they rip through dozens of different beers, co-owner Jason King ensures there's detailed and up-to-date beer menus on the bar even when the lineup changes mid-service, and once it's all over he always swears he's never going to do it again.

"I say to you every year, 'Never again.' But, if you give me a couple of months, I remember the good things."

Jason and brother Adam were approached by The Crafty Pint to help launch Pint of Origin in 2012, not long after they'd moved from the Lambs Go Bar a few blocks away and turned the backstreet Fitzroy boozer into a welcoming slice of British pub culture.

"I didn't even know Good Beer Week existed at that point," Jason says. "You gave me a call with this idea and said I could have my pick of the states – except WA as there was an existing relationship with the Great Northern. I'm originally from New South Wales and thought it would be the easiest logistics wise."

He took a road trip to visit breweries, picking up kegs from the Thirsty Crow in Wagga on the way to Sydney, and reaped the rewards.

"That first one was the biggest week we'd had," he says. "In those early years, our biggest weeks would be Good Beer Week then Christmas then Good Beer Week then Christmas."

Following another year, he decided to return a bunch of empty kegs in person, dropping in to Young Henrys, Nomad, Modus Operandi and Thirsty Crow and enjoying their hospitality in return.

 

Some of the tasting notes prepared for Pint of Origin 2018 at the Rainbow.

 

These days, with the growth of the festival, Pint of Origin and the wider craft beer scene, they don't smash records during these days in May anymore but instead look forward – despite the trials and tribulations of putting it all together – to welcoming old friends and new customers through the pub. Well, that and a spot of keg Jenga with a double-stacked cellar.

"The biggest thing is managing it because you're trying to put on so many beers and want to make sure you have a broad range on," Jason says. 

Over the years, he's learned to go easy on the very high ABV beers as they can tie up taps and ensure there's extra kegs of more sessionable beers like pale ales amid the weird and wonderful. It's also the only time of year they're willing to accept groups on pub crawls, knowing they're such a key part of the week and that PoO Crawlers are a well-behaved bunch.

Call in this year and you can expect to find a selection drawn from more than 50 different beers, produced by a mix of brewers who've been pouring there since 2012 (when there was a far smaller pool to pick from) through to newer arrivals like Sauce and Wildflower. And, on Tuesday night, brewers will fill the pub for the eighth straight degustation dinner.

"It's a lot of work," Jason says of an evening on which they close the dining room and turn it into the plating up area. "After it's done, I can sit back, 'That's it. Cool.'."

Then back to the spreadsheets and keg Jenga.


The Newcomers: Miss Moses & The Territories

James Knox behind the bar at Miss Moses in Brunswick.

 

Good Beer Week 2019 won't be the first time the bar at 581 Sydney Road will be part of Pint of Origin. Under its short-lived previous guise as the BrewCult Bar it hosted Pint of No Origin (gypsy brewers) before James Knox and family turned it into Miss Moses, a bustling rock 'n blues-lovin' neighbourhood hangout. 

In its new form, it appears this year as one of a few first-timers alongside The Park (Queensland), whose owners have been PoO regulars at The Royston for years, The Catfish (New Zealand) and The Dan O'Connell (Regional NSW).

There's plenty new at Miss Moses too, with ACT favourites BentSpoke and Capital returning, joined by new arrivals StoneAge and Wild Polly plus a rare sortie south by Canberra stalwart Zierholz. And then there's a first appearance for the Northern Territory, where there's a small but growing brewing scene that will be represented by its two newest arrivals, Alice Springs Brewing Co and Darwin's Beaver Brewing.

“I think it’s one of the most exciting events every year – the chance to try beers in Melbourne that aren’t normally available," James says. “Obviously the Northern Territory doesn’t have any breweries at all with any sort of national distribution so being able to get involved with some of those breweries and launch Northern Territory breweries for the first time in Melbourne is something we find really exciting.

“Funnily enough, I’d say we have an abnormally large amount of regulars from the Territory, so all of them and all their mates are really excited for it.”

James has been involved with the festival since very first year, back when he was manager at the former Belgian Beer Café on St Kilda Road.

“It kind of reminds me of my reaction to some of the very first Pint of Origins," he says of the impending festivities. "Like Western Australia or Queensland before there weren't many – if any – breweries in those states that really had national distribution. You get really excited to hear about these kegs coming across for that one time that will be here for that week and then gone – it creates a lot of excitement.”

It hasn't been without its challenges. Between the venue, the participating brewers and the Crafty team, there's been a phenomenal number of hours poured into finding solutions to the challenges of getting beers from two of the country's most remote cities to a small Brunswick bar, with Kegstar coming on board to assist by donating free kegs to the NT brewers.

“Obviously getting beer from Darwin to Alice in the most cost-effective way that’s also good for the beer is a challenge in itself," James says. "These are breweries that rarely sell kegs outside their own venues, let alone sending them interstate.

“I hope some of the punters understand those challenges and that it helps to show how unique this event is and that this beer doesn’t just rock up on the doorstep.”


The Avid Crawler

Rosie Ensink outside The Dan, ahead of leading another PoO Crawl around Melbourne.

 

On the Monday morning of Good Beer Week 2019, Rosie Ensink will gather for breakfast with a group of fellow travellers at Magic Mountain ready to embark on another tour of Pint of Origin venues. They'll all be in matching t-shirts created for the day and come from across the country.

"We tend to go out east as a lot of us live in the north of the city," she says. "We do the Palace every year – it's one of our favourite stops – and will call into the Cherry Tree, Freddie Wimpoles, Windsor Alehouse [this year doing a non-PoO showcase), then dinner at The Park before kicking on from there along the 86 tram line."

Rosie is a nurse who moved back to Melbourne in 2005 and began her descent into craft beer at the Portland Hotel (now The Crafty Squire) with its on-site microbrewery. A familiar face around the city's craft beer and homebrew scenes (and a past Crafty Pint Beer Nut), she takes two weeks off every year around Good Beer Week – well, a little more than two weeks now she's a steward at the Australian International Beer Awards too – and explores Pint of Origin to its fullest.

She describes the appeal as: "The people. Just going and trying a lot of different stuff as venues usually try to do something different – making a real effort to showcase the breweries and getting brewers in – and there's usually places we wouldn't normally go to.

"There's also a balance between craft beer wankiness and everyday people coming in to try something new."

She's built relationships over the years of crawling too – not just with the growing band from across the country who will set out together on Monday, but with the owners of venues who might rarely see them outside Good Beer Week.

"It's great promotion for breweries too as they'll have hundreds of people talking about their beers," Rosie says. "[The people in] my group will travel to go to breweries so it can be a huge thing for them [to attract new visitors]."

As for how her merry band of PoO Crawlers came together, she says it stemmed from "seeing the same people in venues and starting to chat to them. We'd meet people from Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, WA."

She adds: "It's not a big session – it's a community thing where you're talking and chatting. It's about beer bringing people together."


Stepping Out: The Palace

Jess McGrath (right) behind the bar at The Palace Hotel in South Melbourne.

 

It wasn't until 2015 that Pint of Origin ventured south of the Yarra. With new owners at the previous South Australian venue looking to take their pub in a different direction, it seemed a neat fit: South Melbourne and South Australia.

Yet, while Jess McGrath, co-owner Mark Pratt and their team had made The Palace Hotel the sort of pub you'd want in any suburb, and with craft beer starting to make inroads south of the river, they still had doubts. Would anyone really venture outside Melbourne's craft beer heartlands of the inner north to their part of the world?

Before they opened their doors on the opening Saturday, there was a queue of people – none of whom they'd seen before – waiting outside to start their Pint of Origin adventures for the year.

"And those same people have been here on that same Saturday every year since," says Jess with a laugh.

Now firmly established as the SA brewing industry's base in Melbourne, this year The Palace will see more than 20 brewing companies represented across the taps, of which more are being installed temporarily. Like Jason at The Rainbow, she says preparation is key - "I take a lot of pride in getting the list right," she says – and the efforts have paid off throughout the year with SA brewers keen to host Victorian launches at The Palace and their reps knowing they'll find a friendly face for a beer and a chat at the end of a long day on the road.

Already, there's many a happy memory, from Prancing Pony's heartily-mustachioed German head brewer Frank Sansom trying to ride his unicycle through the bar, to Mick Cameron from Pirate Life ensuring everyone gets a pint of IIPA at the Wednesday night Meet The Brewers, to Al Turnbull from Lobethal Bierhaus reclaiming his empty kegs one at a time on the back of his grain shipments.

But, for Jess, one stands out more than any other: the road trip the owners took to visit the state's brewers before they made their debut.

"I still feel like driving to SA at the start was a massive thing," she says. "The start of a lifelong journey.

"I had the two kids in the car – Max wasn't even one, Charlie was two – and we had to stop I couldn't tell you how many times. But it felt like the right thing to do."

As they look forward to hosting a week featuring not just beer and brewers but live street art and a Mother's Day brew day led by Corinna Steeb from Prancing Pony in tribute to women's role in beer's long history, it looks like it's paying off too.


You can explore the full Pint of Origin lineup here or here and also check out the daily #PoO19 event listings in the Crafty Diary, which are being updated as and when we hear of more pop-up events and Meet the Brewer opportunities.

You can also grab a PoO Passport and map at each of the venues – buy a beer at six of them and you'll get a free pot at the last – and downloading the free Crafty Pint app will help you negotiate the week too.

 

Download a full size PDF of the 2019 map here.

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