It's getting ever easier to find a decent beer selection wherever you find yourself in Australia these days. Sure, there remain black spots for the discerning drinker, but they're getting steadily squeezed.
The Central Coast is a region where, at time of writing, you can enjoy the beers and hospitality of a trio of local brewers at source. It's also where, for half a decade now, those keen to get their hands on the latest and greatest beers from here and overseas knew they'd best head to Oldfield Cellars in Gosford.
As with many quality bottleshops, they initially set out to focus on fine wine. Owner Garth Oldfield soon realised there was nowhere locally providing much in the way of a craft beer selection and decided to fill the gap. He got things rolling with a bit of research and good guesswork before realising it was time to bring in someone with greater beer knowledge. Enter Brendan Murray.
Since he joined, they've grown from around a hundred craft beer options to a rotating lineup of more than 300 at any given time. Pre- (and presumably post-) COVID they also ran popular tastings, bottle shares and other events in store, elevating their offering beyond mere shop and forging personal relationships with their customers.
Add in collaborations with local brewery Block 'n Tackle on three beers – and plans for more in 2021 – and we figured Oldfield Cellars was as good a place as any to head for the return of our Behind Bars series. So, over to you, Brendan...
How would you describe the beer scene on the Central Coast?
The Central Coast has an interesting beer scene. We have three local independent breweries in the form of Six String, Block ‘n Tackle and Bay Rd Brewing. However, despite this, there is very little in the form of dedicated craft venues or even venues that have more than maybe a token craft beer tap or two.
Where the beer scene seems to thrive on the coast is at home, with people tending to pick up some cans or bottles from a bottleshop such as ours or direct from a brewery and enjoying them at home.
How has it changed over the past few years?
There has definitely been an overall appreciation of all things craft and a growth of taste.
But they've also changed in that more people are moving here, and coming from Sydney. They’re looking for things that they’ve become accustomed to finding, and we find them seeking that out up here. This has created a bigger demand for more exciting beers.
There is a more of an interest towards Australian beers, which is reflective of the increase of quality in local breweries and an increased awareness of the importance of freshness in certain types of beers.
What about Oldfield Cellars staff – what do you reach for at knock-off or a special occasion?
I guess for me, personally, for knock-off a good, dry West Coast IPA, or some kind of saison like Saison Dupont. For special occasions, typically some sort of aged wild ale, or a bottle of lambic for myself.
Other staff are interested in kettle sours through to big imperial stouts – always keen to try the latest releases that come into the shop.
Garth isn't a beer drinker – he leaves that to the other staff. He's in charge of our extensive wine collection and known to enjoy a quality dry white.
If you had three beers to convert a drinker to craft beer, what would they be? (and why)
This is a knotty one. I am not convinced that “introductory beers” are the way to go with people getting into craft beer, especially for those that describe themselves as non-beer drinkers. It is hard to convince someone new to better beer that a Kolsch, with a flavour profile relatively similar to the beers they are used to, is worth the extra investment for something similar-ish to what they already drink. My idea is to go for something radically different from what they are expecting and show them beer is a very broad category.
So, for the three beers to convert a newcomer I would start with one of my all time favourite beers: Saison DuPont. It is an absolute classic. Eminently quaffable, infinitely complex, dry, funky and just delicious. If it was unavailable, and lately supply has been intermittent, I would substitute something like Bridge Road Chevalier Saison, La Sirène Saison or Forest for the Trees Saison.
Why saison? Because I honestly think that saison fits the Australian climate so well, is infinitely drinkable, while rewarding further exploration.
The second beer would be something sour; it would be tempting to say something wild and funky like a Belgian gueuze or something from Two Metre Tall or Wildflower. This is, however, my bias and something fruited and kettle soured would be ideal, such as Wayward's Raspberry Berliner Weisse: fruit forward, bright pink and nice and tart. Failing this, Batch’s Pash the Magic Dragon or Mountain Culture’s Daily Dose could easily substitute.
The last would be something a little silly and a bit obnoxious. Big Shed’s Golden Stout Time is an ideal candidate for this final choice. Sweet, nostalgic and playful. A sure bet for anyone with a bit of a sweet tooth but any good sweet stout would be good for this.
Where do you think the beer scene is heading, both locally to you and in Australia generally?
More generally, I think the image of craft beer will continue to move away from its image of inner-city hipster drink and become another option for people who are looking for something fun to drink. In regards to trends, however, I think that the dominance of hop driven beers is here to stay for sometime, especially in the form of more fruit forward, lower bitterness styles.
What one thing would you like to see most in the beer world?
Less lactose and make beer clear again. That is all.
And, if any beer lovers are visiting your region, other than Oldfield Cellars, where should they head to find good beer?
It would be a good idea to check out one of the three local breweries to see what's on tap.
Thanks, Brendan. Always good to hear from a fellow saison fan!