For many, the COVID-19 lockdowns led them down the path of discovering new hobbies: sourdough making, painting, maybe a moment’s knitting. For others, it was the time to commit to something you’d always promised you’d do, maybe learning Spanish or dusting off the Coopers kit from two Christmases ago and giving homebrewing another whirl.
For Tim and Cass Smith (pictured), owners of The Monkey Bar in Dubbo, their time in lockdown time was committed to the last of those; and, six months on from the nationwide shutdown, they launched their first beer last weekend.
“It was something that we always planned to do and it was sitting there in the background while we plugged away,” Tim says.
“We got shut down and all of a sudden we had three months at home just thinking about it. [With] our third birthday approaching, we thought there was no better time to do it.”
Their in-house brews sit under The Pilot Room banner, referring to the small room in the back of the bar where the couple brew, as well as the small batch size of around a hundred litres.
“We’ve put it where it would fit," Tim adds. "We’d love to have it on display but we just don’t have the footprint for it."
As part of the pre-launch planning, throughout 2018 Tim regularly commuted five hours to Sydney for TAFE NSW’s course in microbrewing in order to better hone the homebrewing skills developed over a decade.
He and Cass had regularly mentioned selling some of their own beer over their tap, so when the big day approached the most common response they received from regulars was a simple: “Finally!”
There are no plans to sell their beers – the first of which was an already consumed Raspberry Coconut Stout – outside their own four walls.
“We have no intent on distribution or packaging or anything like that; this is just a creative outlet for us at the bar,” Tim says.
Such a beer – a sweet, fruity, adjunct-laden stout – might not be the kind of beer you’d have expected to find pouring anywhere in Dubbo a few years ago, let alone selling out quickly. But Tim says local tastes have changed since they opened The Monkey Bar in 2017 – and have changed more than he and Cass anticipated.
Pointing to his tap list, he says in the early days they might feature multiple pale ales, lagers and maybe a sole IPA; today, you're as likely to find several sours and barrel-aged beers featured.
“[Locals'] palates have exponentially increased,” he says.
“It’s a completely different landscape what everyone is drinking now compared to when we first opened. People embrace it, people look for it and that message of independence is being heard more than anything else I think.”
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.