Bars in regional New South Wales might still be hampered by capacity constraints due to COVID, but the team behind The Welder’s Dog still have much to be excited about. The weekend just gone saw them open their third venue, this time in Inverell.
The New England brewers and bar operators spent six months renovating the town's historic Oxford Hotel, originally constructed in 1886, which is now very much part of the modern era as it joins their craft beer focused bars in Tamworth and Armidale, which is also home to their brewery.
Josh McInerney, who looks after sales and experience for the team, expects it will be the most impressive Welder’s venue yet; local builder Brett Tomlinson has overseen the renovation after buying into the venue with The Welder’s Dog's founders, Dan Emery and Tom Croft.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous, it’s a beautiful building,” Josh says. “So it might be a shock when someone goes over from Armidale for a drink in there.”
It will also be the first Welder’s venue to have its own kitchen, although a pop-up is operating while that work is completed, and the plan to offer accommodation too makes the old Inverell pub something of a major expansion for the small bars in regional NSW.
What won’t feel like a shock for anyone walking in, however, are a selection of craft beer that wouldn't be out of place in a crafty capital city venue and the cosy spaces throughout. As Josh explains, the aim was to replicate the small bar feel of their first two places.
“We still want to keep our venues intimidate and homely, which is why there are three or four nooks in there," he says, "and a whole other side to the pub which will be dedicated to the kitchen and restaurant.”
In total, the Inverell bar will have 20 taps pouring 16 different beers, including those created by Welder’s head brewer Phil Stevens alongside a wide selection from independent brewing companies. With a pilot system on its way to their brewery in Armidale, Phil will soon have more flexibility when it comes to beers bearing The Welder's Dog logo too.
Though Inverell is called Sapphire City, that name refers to the deposits of gemstones rather than the number of people living there. Instead, the town's population of not much more than 10,000 means the latest Welder’s Dog is the team’s largest venue in the smallest of the three towns – Armidale sits at around 25,000 with more than 60,000 living in Tamworth. And, with craft beer being largely an unknown in the town, Josh says much of their initial focus will be on education, with a lot of beer – as well as whisky and wine – appreciation nights planned for the first few months.
Looking beyond their venues, Josh says there's a growing appetite for craft beer across the New England region, something he says has partially been driven by people relocating from the cities – a trend that’s only gained pace due to COVID. He believes the growing number of local drink makers – not just beer either – focused on creating high quality products is playing a role too.
“There are a lot of good producers, not just brewers but winemakers too," he says, "and that’s changing things.”
That's not to downplay the role of The Welder’s Dog team, whose first bar opened in 2014, followed three years later by their first beer, and their eagerness to encourage people to try new experiences.
“In Tamworth, we’re still going through that education process where we’re broadening people’s palates and moving them off classic beer styles,” Josh says.
“It’s one of those trust things – once they’ve come for a drink in our venue a few times and we give them a bit of advice, they have that faith in us.”
Little wonder they're leaders of the pack when it comes to beer bars in their part of the world.
You can find The Welder's Dog Inverell at 61 Otho Street, and in the free Crafty Pint app alongside hundreds of other good beer venues and breweries.