It's become increasingly rare to find a brewery anywhere in Australia without a venue of some form. Indeed, as we'll be covering in a forthcoming feature, if anything the trend is towards brewing companies opening multiple outlets, whether that's a series of brewpubs or joint venture bars.
One operation to have resisted temptation to date, however, is Hawkers. The Reservoir brewer will be marking a half decade of brewing later this month and the team there has filled those five years with a vast array of beers in a wide range of styles, been through a full rebrand and even hosted a circus in the brewery. Yet, while they welcome a steady stream of people making purchases at the cellar door, the focus has remained almost solely on production. At least until now.
"We've been a production brewery for a long time and not had a spiritual homeland where people can come and interact," says co-founder and CEO Mazen Hajjar. "We already have a lot of traffic to the cellar door and are constantly being asked, 'When are you going to open a bar? When are you going to open a bar? When are you going to open a bar?'."
Now they plan to open one within the next eight months. The intention is to extend the mezzanine within the main brewery warehouse to create a bar where visitors will be able to drink beers at eye level with the brewhouse deck. And, while Mazen won't be drawn into an exact figure, he says there will be "a lot of taps".
"Our next phase is to do a lot more experimental stuff," he says. "We've been very constrained for the first five years with the number of beers we put out and we don't get to interact with customers on a day-to-day basis – we're creating this product we're very passionate about but there's still this disconnect [so] this was the next step as a logical progression."
Once open, the proposed 170 capacity bar should prove a boon for local beer lovers too. While craftier beer options have been spreading steadily outwards across Melbourne for a number of years now, the immediate area around Hawkers remains something of a dry zone for those seeking good beer. The nearest venue with a top notch offering is Audacious Monk Cellars a couple of kilometres away, while you have to travel more than five kilometres to Reservoir's other brewery, Future Mountain.
"That's partially what we're aiming for," Mazen says, "to service the local community. We moved in here when Reservoir wasn't cool and now it's getting cooler and cooler. But our reach extends beyond that because people drive in from all over the place whenever we release something special."
The bar build is part of Hawkers' first venture into crowdfunding. In partnership with Birchal they hope to raise up to $1.1m to be spent on the venue and more 40 hectolitre tanks, which would open up the possibility of more small batch experiments. The decision to go down this route is, says Mazen, about giving their supporters the chance to take some ownership of the brand.
"Beer is a social lubricator," he adds. "It's about the experience and sharing it with someone. We haven't been able to do that outside of our events around the country."
Before the year is out, they now hope they will.