When Captain James Cook waltzed into Botany Bay in 1770 he “found a very fine stream of fresh water” and most humbly named it after himself, conveniently ignoring the fact the river had been named Goolay’yari for tens of thousands of years beforehand.
Regardless, the colonists wasted no time in pumping it full of agricultural and industrial waste for the next two centuries. It wasn’t until 1976 the first steps were taken to ameliorate damage done to the Cooks River ecosystem.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Cooks River is on the up. On a weekend, the river is thronged on both sides by cyclists, runners, walkers, urban foragers, fishers and very likely, a couple of blokes tinkering away on a new homebrew recipe.
Nathan and Ben – like David from Nine Fingers before them – have enjoyed a somewhat unorthodox entry into the life of professional brewing. In 2019, they entered their homebrewed American brown ale into the Frenchies homebrewing competition and, again much like Nine Fingers, their spin on this darker, less popular style finished first among a cadre of hop driven pale ales.
Their prize was a batch of beer brewed under the guidance of Frenchies head brewer Vincent De Soyres and released in cans and kegs. Incredibly, their debut beer went on to join some extremely illustrious company in Peter Lalor’s Top 20 beers of 2019 in the Weekend Australian.
Just in time for summer, Nathan and Ben released an eminently refreshing pilsner and are busy juggling their newly found professional brewing careers with day jobs that actually pay the bills.
All of which seemed like good cause to get in touch with the duo for our Who Brews...? series.
Cooks River Brewing
Who are you?
Cooks River Brewing is a partnership between Nathan Eason and Ben Hamilton.
Nathan works in sales and Ben is a communications consultant. Both of us juggle our time between our “day jobs” and growing a fledgling brewing business.
Where do you brew?
Frenchies Bistro & Brewery in Rosebery for our commercial batches, and Nathan’s garage for our pilot batches.
Why do you brew?
We’d been homebrewing individually for a number of years until a group of local mates got together in 2018 and bought a 100 litre three-vessel kit. This stepped it up a notch and allowed us to further refine our approach.
After a while it was pretty clear there were a few of us that enjoyed the brewing process as much as the tasting process and Cooks River Brewing was born from there.
We entered the excellent Brewers Got Talent comp at Frenchies in 2019 to get some feedback on a beer – our American Brown Ale – that we’d been tinkering with for a while. We came away with first prize which allowed us to brew and release at commercial scale.
Our tip: keep an eye out for the Frenchies comp in 2020 – it’s an awesome opportunity to get some feedback from judges and the public, and for the winner to get beer onto shelves and into fridges.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Nathan: I grew up homebrewing with both my grandad and dad. Their beers were uninspiring to say the least and I thought that was what homebrew always had to taste like. It wasn’t until I moved to the UK – fortunately just down the road from the Young's brewery – that I learnt much more about what was possible. From there it was all about learning as much as I could and I always enjoy being able to create something new for my mates.
Ben: Stouts and dark beers. Chasing down those flavour combos is what got me interested.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
The Cooks River runs through the suburb where we both live. It’s a river that is undergoing a huge change as it’s rehabilitated and cleaned up after years of pollution. We want to help promote the river while paying respect to our local area.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
The American Brown Ale was our first commercial release. It’s a massively underrated style, and it surprises people who would never ordinarily go near a dark beer.
It’s also the same color as the Cooks River… and no we don’t brew with water from the river!
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
If we’re at Frenchies, it’ll be something from Vince’s playlist.
If we’re working out what to brew next or brewing a sample, it’s probably whatever Spotify serves up – usually something from the genre that Ben’s wife refers to as "angry man music".
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Nathan: Cooks River Pilsner and a few kegs of pilot batches we’ve been working on for release over the next few months. I’m slowly converting my VB drinking neighbours to craft beer – one beer at a time!
Ben: Cooks River Pilsner, Mornington IPA, Sydney Brewery Darlo Dark and some random but excellent cans from Danish brewery Dry & Bitter.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Nathan: BlackFont’s Triple Black IPA continuously blows my mind. Can’t get enough of it! Also a big fan of Nine Fingers Drop It Like It’s Hops XPA.
Ben: Some of the stuff that Batch are pumping out at Small Batch is off the charts, and Sauce’s Mosalaxy and Sabarillo IPAs are really interesting.
Where can people find your beers?
We are always expanding our distribution, but the focus until now has been on staying super local to both where we live and work. You can find our cans at Beer Cartel, Liquor Emporium and Ashfield Mall Cellars.
On tap you can generally find us at Harts Pub in the Rocks and Pazar in Canterbury. You can also join us in February at 12 Taps in Glebe or at Gasoline Pony in Marrickville.
If your local doesn’t stock us – get in touch and we’ll do our best to make something happen.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
Pumping out our take on classic styles in our own brewery and taproom somewhere close to the Cooks River. We’ll be surrounded by good people, making good beer and having a great time doing it.
You can find other entries in the Who Brews...? series here and hundreds of good beer spots across Australia by downloading the free Crafty Pint app.