Over the last few years, plenty of attention has been paid to the incredible beer hub that has developed in Sydney’s Inner West. Marrickville feels like it’s bursting at the seams with brewers, with Batch, Wildflower, Grifter, Sauce and Stockade among those set to be joined by Philter next year. Cast your net a little wider and you'll find the likes of Willie the Boatman, who moved into a larger home earlier this year, Wayward, the Lion-owned Malt Shovel, and Staves in Glebe.
The area has its own beer advocacy body in the shape of the Inner West Brewery Association (IWBA), which launched in 2017, and there's even a shuttle bus service running between many of the breweries if you don't fancy joining the hordes embarking on a tour on foot.
But it wasn’t always that way. A few short years ago, other than Malt Shovel, the Inner West had no breweries to call its own. That all changed in 2012 when Young Henrys opened in Newtown, with locals quick to embrace the space and the brewery’s mantra of “Serve The People”.
Leading the charge for the brewery were Richard Adamson and Oscar McMahon. We chatted to Oscar about his move from rocker to brewer earlier in the year, but it was Rich who led his mate into the wider world of beer.
Back in 2005, Rich was part of the team that launched Barons, a contract operation at which he took up the mantle of head brewer after studying brewing in Ballarat. The original brewing company garnered attention and awards for its use of native Australian ingredients in beers such as the Black Wattle Ale. That business has since collapsed (although some Barons brands are still sold overseas), with Rich leaving in 2010 to plot a way back into the beer world, this time with a brewery of his own to play with.
When they met (stood either side of an Inner West bar, of course), Oscar and Rich bonded over a shared love of music; Rich played in bands in the 90s and Oscar was frontman in hard rock outfit Hell City Glamours. Soon the pair shared an affinity for good beer too and ran a monthly Beer Club that united people eager to learn more about the liquid in their glass. All the while, they were hatching plans for what would become Young Henrys.
Originally, they planned to open in Surry Hills but, after facing objections, ended up in Newtown, which Rich describes as the best thing that ever happened to them.
“The locals chased us out with pitchforks, because we were going to ruin Surry Hills with our craft beer and drunken people on the streets and all that sort of stuff,” he says.
Since opening the doors of their (now much expanded) Newtown home, Young Henrys have proven to be particularly adept at building a community and knowing how to speak directly to their fans. They’ve likely brewed more collaborations than anyone else in Australia and they've rarely been with other breweries. More often it’s with bars, bands, sports clubs, magazines, chefs and lifestyle brands – something that's helped the brewery connect with those around them.
“We really wanted to bring into our community the stuff that we were into and what inspired us – and hopefully that beer could help to inspire those people as well,” Rich says. “Whether that’s the music scene, art scene, visual artists or the great chefs that were around us.”
Beyond Young Henrys, Rich has played a significant part in the broader beer industry. He's played a leading role in the aforementioned Inner West Brewery Association, currently serves on the board of the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) and was a key instigator in the introduction of a Certificate III in brewing at Sydney's TAFE. The third year of that course is in its final stages, with more than 70 students passing through to date and Rich’s transition from brewer to teacher a role he clearly relishes.
As for the number of people whose beer journeys he's advanced by firing the revolution in the Inner West with Oscar, well, it's rather more than 70.
What's been your highlight of the past decade?
Highlights, we have had a few! Making a beer with the Foo Fighters, throwing our own music festival, meeting a lot of our heroes – musicians, chefs, and other brewers.
The biggest highlight, though, would be seeing the pubs of the Inner West of Sydney embrace indie beer. It was hard to get a good beer at the local, now you are spoiled for choice.
What's surprised you the most about the Aussie beer scene?
That no one has tapped us on the shoulder and told us that we need to go and get a real job (yet).
What are your thoughts on the health of the beer industry as we approach the end of a remarkable decade?
I feel we have moved from being the enfant terrible to the young adult. We have responsibilities, we are getting more professional, and people in authority listen to us sometimes, but we still make mistakes and missteps like driving without your P Plates attached or blowing it all on a big night out.
What's your number one goal for the coming decade?
Working with the IBA, I’m aiming to having brewing taught in TAFEs across the country backed with a traineeship scheme.
And, if you had one Christmas wish for beer in Australia, what would it be?
That the new temperance movements, that appear to have a disproportionate voice with government, collectively fall off the wagon and enjoy a beer with their turkey.
We're opening a door on Crafty's Advent Calendar every morning up until Christmas Day and you can find them all here.