When Kabir "Leo" Arora got into craft beer and homebrewing, he grew his café Sketch into an oasis of independent beer in Manly – partly because he saw the market for it, and partly as a way to feed his own habit of trying new beers all the time.
As his customer base grew, Leo saw 2020 as the year he'd brew a beer just for his own venue. But, when COVID hit tourism in Manly hard, he saw an opportunity to make beer not just for Sketch, but as a selling point for other businesses in the area too.
Manly Hops has the aim of being more than a contract brewing project. Leo’s efforts – including getting in touch with his local MP and getting Manly’s Chamber of Commerce on board – are geared towards giving Manly’s economy a little boost and encouraging beer lovers to visit the Northern Beaches more often. He’s keeping his beers exclusive to the local area, only allocating stock to bars, restaurants and bottleshops in the Northern Beaches.
The plan is to brew a new limited release every three months, beginning with a DDH hazy XPA, to keep locals interested and act as a drawcard for visitors.
“It takes about two months for an outsider to come visit Manly again, because they think it's a bit of a trek,” says Leo. “Also, three months is a decent turnaround in which you could get a regular drinker to splurge and try a new beer.”
He wants Manly Hops releases to sit in that sweet spot where they’re interesting to beer nerds, but still accessible to people after a four-pack to enjoy in the sunshine without thinking about it.
“DDH hazy is on trend, but XPA is something that Balter has made massive. I don't want to over-explain it to a normal beer drinker.
“I want to be experimental, but also build a reputation that it's for everyone who lives around the beaches. I'm not trying to say, ‘You should know the hops.’ It’s a bullshit-free beer. Just drink the beer.”
Like all entrepreneurs, Leo has an eye toward expansion. But, as the Manly Hops brand is all about being ultra local and exclusive to the Northern Beaches, his business model doesn’t include widening his reach in Sydney and Australia. Rather, Leo’s keen to see his beers contract brewed in India (where he’s from) and Poland (where his partner is from) – a limited release every three months, just like in Manly.
“I love when I get Revision beers in my bar. I love when I get Alefarm. So it's an exciting thing for a lot of venues and craft beer drinkers when they can get their hands on something international.
“They would be quite inclined to try something that has Australia attached to it. In India, gone are the days when people believe that Foster's is an Australian beer! If they can get a piece of something limited, they love it.
"Give India Manly Hops, and give Poland a bit of Manly Hops. Given it's a beautiful beach town in Australia… they could buy into it.”
With his first beer Hazy By The Beach released this week (including a launch party by the beach, of course), we asked Leo some more about Manly Hops for our Who Brews…? series.
Who are you?
Kabir Arora, AKA Leo, with nearly ten years' experience in hospo – restaurants, bars and burger joints – and the man behind successful hole-in-the-wall licensed Café-Bar Sketch Manly – nearly four years in running. And now the man behind this beer project/initiative as well.
Where do you brew?
Presently we’re gypsy-contract brewing. Vince at Frenchies Brewery in Rosebery has helped greatly in making this vision come alive.
Why do you brew?
Manly needs a beer. Beer that is in this bubble, the bubble that Manlysiders live in and are proud of. A bubble that often intrigues non-Manly people. Beer to bring all our outside Manly mates to Manly. And something which is as dynamic as the population here – staying true to Manly but still evolving!
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
There were moments and there were beers.
Jedi Juice and Biggie Juice. Two beers that made me a beer fanatic. Given hazies back in 2018 were rare and limited only, I began to homebrew to be able to brew me a hazy whenever I wanted. Beer making became an on and off hobby.
Then it was last year in Japan at Mikkeller Tokyo where me and my partner Ivy (now a big beer snob!) had Revision’s DISCO NINJA that hit us like no other. An idea to give Manly a beer popped up!
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Inspiration behind this project was to give Manly (Northern Beaches) an exclusive brewery – beers which will only be able in the Northern Beaches at select venues and independent bottleshops to help promote foot traffic here in the beaches, which also will help positively in building back economy. As, due to COVID, we have no tourism!
And also we're looking at doing small limited edition batch brews only to keep things fresh and exciting – plus, due to COVID, beers are one of our ways to adventure!
It was to our shock that we realised no one brewery in the beaches were called Manly? It is a brand in itself, hence Manly Hops!
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
Hazy by the Beach, our DDH Hazy XPA. It’s going to be fun if you know Manly and Manlysiders ;)
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Fan of RnB. You’d hear Dr Dre, Biggie, or for tunes fresh Khalid and Jungle.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Revision Quarantine Dreams. Hawkers Wake N Cake. Hop Nation Seven Clouds. Batch Juicy Boys v2.0
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Feral Imperial Biggie. Batch Brewing Juicy Boys. Hop Nation Melbourne Fog. Little Bang Brewing Face Inverter. Garage Project Turbo Fuzz.
Where can people find your beers?
Northern Beaches. Independent bottleshops and select venues. See here.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
We plan to set up ourselves here in Northern Beaches in the next few years, then to set up contract brewing in India and Poland. So our mates and ex-Manlysiders in those countries can enjoy a piece of Manly.