For an established and successful brewery, opening a second venue is hardly a surprising course of action. In the past few years, there have been plenty of new openings, typically justified by a desire to drastically increase production capacity: Cheeky Monkey opened theirs in Margaret River this autumn; Stone & Wood have two production facilities plus a brewpub on the way; Black Hops recently fired up BHII; Newstead and Green Beacon both operate twin sites in Brisbane; Moon Dog have a third facility coming online later in the year, for example.
Last December, in an article marking Batch Brewing Company’s fifth birthday, we hinted that they too were looking to open a second brewery in addition to their Marrickville home. And now that time has finally come – but the reasoning behind it is quite a bit different from most.
Founders Chris Sidwa and Andrew Fineran initially envisioned their brewery as a place of continual experimentation and creativity. For most of their existence, that’s been the case too: the team have been able to produce a new beer on average every two weeks. But, with increasing popularity – as with their Inner West brewery peers – they’ve found balancing the original ethos with the demands of a production brewery that now produces five core beers to be a growing challenge.
“Our production brewery is a complicated place to run,” Chris says.
“For starters, we have a lot of raw ingredient input from various suppliers – we use more base malts than anyone else I know of. We have two packaging formats, which take up a large footprint, and we’re literally butting up against the ceiling in terms of what we can produce in that space.
“We realised if we want to produce all the beer that is demanded of us, we can’t continue to operate the way that we are without sacrificing the creative side of our business, and that’s something nobody wanted to do.”
To give themselves a space for creativity, they decided to go the other way from most: rather than sourcing a larger new venue and installing a bigger brewing system, they’ve put in a smaller one – 350 litres, to be precise, which equates to around six or seven kegs per brew.
Small Batch, which officially opens on August 3, is housed in a small warehouse behind the Public House Petersham, a venue owned by hospitality group Solotel. The proximity of the two venues means that Small Batch will benefit from Public House Petersham, and vice versa. Customers will be able bring beers from the brewery to the venue’s beer garden, and drinks from the venue, including wine and soft drink, can be brought in to the brewery.
Small Batch will also leverage permanent access to the kitchen, with a custom, snack-style menu designed to eat with beer, as well as the Public House’s regular offerings.
For Chris, it was a natural fit.
“In our search for real estate, we came across Public House Petersham who were looking for somebody to occupy this space that they had," he says.
“As we continued that conversation, it made more sense to work with them. We started talking to our equipment manufacturer, determined what size stuff they had, and were able to figure out that we could have a really strong creative program in the amount of space that Petersham allowed us to have, and still have enough space for people to come and experience it.”
Indeed, the new venue will strongly focus on the experience of the customer.
“From a venue point of view, we can’t make this [Marrickville] space any bigger than it is. On Saturdays, we have a line out the door to get in,” says venue manager Liam Pereira.
“We’re trying to make the tasting room a better experience for the customers, by being able to spend more time with them, talk through more things, and get them to try more beers. That’s a challenge when there are 70 people in the building and another 50 waiting to get in. What we really want to do is to be educational.”
To say Liam is passionate about beer education is somewhat of an understatement. He’s a Certified Cicerone and has previously taught with the Institute of Beer, as well as holding various other positions in the Sydney beer scene and most recently signing on as chief judge for beer in the Drink Easy awards. He's previously worked in Batch's tasting room too and part of what attracted him back is the potential for education – not just for customers, but for the brewers themselves.
“We’re aiming for community engagement through not just what we’re giving, but what we’re getting back as well,” he says.
That’s a belief also echoed by Chris.
“Having a tasting room – that customer interaction and that immediate customer feedback – is really essential for these very creative beers that we hope to do.”
For Chris and Andrew, the decision to open Small Batch can be broken down into three main streams. The first concerns the creativity aspect and returning to the original ethos.
“That could be any new ideas, or any oldies that we just can’t do in Marrickville anymore,” Andrew says. “[Petersham] will live and breathe what we set out to do. Part of that will involve maturing the Marrickville brand.
“At the moment, everyone’s spending time stamping tags and handwriting labels. It’s nice and we’re glad we did it, but we need to evolve that brand a bit and move to printed labels.
"At Petersham, we’ll keep the handwritten labels alive. Everything will be in cans, we’ll fill it off the taps, seam it on demand, and then we’ll sell that.”
The second stream is for refinement: testing different techniques, recipe changes, or conditioning processes.
“What drove the brewers crazy was that the first time we made a beer – although we were confident we could make a tasty, sellable beer – we didn’t get to do it enough times to refine it and make it better,” Chris says.
“By the time the customer feedback came through that they really enjoyed it and that reached the production team, we couldn’t immediately fit a rebrew in to the calendar and it was six to ten weeks before the customers would taste it again. It wasn’t enough continuity, particularly for the brewers to really understand how any change impacted the flavour, because it was such a long gap between tastings.”
For head brewer Andrew Meli, his excitement primarily lies here too.
“I really want to be able to really develop every single recipe fully, almost redevelop them all,” he says.
“At the moment, we’re brewing based on legacy, how the recipe has always been. We don’t have a pilot system here at all. When it comes down to trying a new process or recipe, we fall back on the formulas we know; we have a few ways we approach beers and we always play it a little safe.
“We’ll use the same approach we use for other similar beers, maybe tweaking it in some ways, but without being too risky. Whereas it’s that little risk area where you might discover something gold. If we’re only brewing 350 litre, we can approach it completely differently.”
The third and final stream follows on from this refinement, and is for "pipeline beers".
“We’re going to try to look six or twelve months out and say, 'At this time of year, we want to have this particular beer out in the market',” Chris says.
“So, six months before, we’ll start testing it to make sure we get a few down, so when we’re ready to scale it up it’s good to go and it’s got a bit of a following and a jumpstart on the marketing side. There’s a story and an evolution and then when it does finally launch, it’s got a bit of runway already."
According to Liam, the difference in beers on offer from each of the two breweries will be obvious.
“There definitely will be a big distinction between what’s on tap here on Marrickville and what’s on tap in Petersham. We really want to make them two separate venues doing two different things. The beers coming out will come out with different names, so you know where they come from.
“We wanted to make sure that when you got a Batch beer you know where it came from. We’re very open about where we source our ingredients from and we didn’t want any confusion as to where the beer came from.”
With the official launch set for early August, the entire team at Batch is eager to finally reap the rewards of their hard work. None more so than Chris, who has watched the last few weeks of progress from the United States, where he has returned to live with his family.
“The team have all risen to the challenge, stepped up, and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” he says.