Connecting with your community by selling beer through your own taps had long been considered a recipe for success in the beer industry. Then along came the pandemic with its extended lockdowns... Suddenly, having a welcoming brewpub or taproom no longer gave you a means to get your beer into drinkers' hands, or to bring people together.
Conversely, however, for many in the parts of Australia worst hit by COVID, being forced to spend extended periods within a few kilometres of their home brought a renewed connection to their neighbourhood. And in the case of Beau Curtis, Sydney's lockdown merely acted to steel his resolve to bring a local brewery to the part of the city's south he calls home.
“People have been forced to really reconnect with their local community and area,” Beau says. “Which has just reinvigorated local shopping strips and encouraged people to look around their local suburbs.”
The name is a bit of a giveaway so no prizes for guessing that when The Social Brewers opens in the next month, the intention is to put community at the heart of everything it does.
After living in Newtown and spending a great deal of time in neighbouring Marrickville as craft beer was starting to explode into life there, Beau had hoped to to see the green shoots of a local beer scene appear in Mortdale. A few years later, he was still waiting for those shoots to appear; when one of the area's main pubs was redeveloped only to retain a beer list barely any different to what had been in place before the renovation, it proved to be a turning point.
“I stood there and said to my wife, ‘If I don’t do this now then someone else will.’ And she just looked at me and said, ‘Well, can you stop talking about it and do it?'.”
While the likes of Shark Island, Sunday Road and Hairyman are pouring beers further south, and One Drop and Slow Lane are creating distinct offerings around the corner from each other in Botany to the north, Beau says nobody was making similar moves in between.
“The area I’m in has been screaming for something like this,” he says.
With Mortdale and the surrounding areas proving popular with young families like his who have moved from the inner city to the suburbs, he feels confident that – just as he did a decade ago – those who've followed a similar path would still be interested in visiting breweries.
“There’s a lot of people who want to be close-ish to the city but have space with their family,” he says.
“With that, there’s that internal conflict of still wanting to do the cool stuff they did in Newtown but having a family and not able to write off their entire day getting into the inner city.”
Initially, he toyed with the idea of a bottleshop and bar, but on a trip to the NSW’s South Coast he got chatting to the team at Jervis Bay Brewing and the plan changed.
“I was on holiday down there and, of course, like all good beer nerds I made sure I went to the local brewery. I spoke to the guys down there and they just kind of went, ‘Don’t you think your area needs a brewery?’.”
Launching a brewing company may well be in his blood too: brother Wade – who, like Beau, works in marketing – founded 4 Hearts Brewing in Ipswich and later joined the team at Ballistic. What's more, as a homebrewer Beau says he was more interested in the process of making beer than selling somebody else's.
“It was also about creating the product," he says. "That’s what I was really excited about.”
The new brewery is set to be one of Sydney’s smallest: initially beers will be produces on a 200-litre “homebrew kit on steroids”, with double brew days required to fill the 400-litre fermenters. At time of writing, there's a few final steps to be taken before the brewery fires up and opens its doors to locals, but those in Sydney’s south may have already spotted the first Social Brewers beer.
Strider’s Session Ale – brewed and canned at Willie the Boatman – is named after a local walking group that’s been in operation for around 30 years. The intention is to give the rest of the range names locals are likely to recognise. Beau also hopes to provide a permanent tap for the area's passionate homebrewing community.
“They’re the kinds of little things that make local areas awesome, and that’s what I really want to connect with,” he says.
Once open, council restrictions mean they'll only be able to serve 20 people at a time, yet Beau believes the small capacity feels right, allowing him to act as owner, head brewer and bar manager at once, thus making the experience of visiting the brewery more social.
“It gives me the opportunity to be the one greeting everyone and I can get really solid individual feedback from everyone coming into the taproom,” he says.
“It’s a hyperlocal brewery that people can feel like they’re a part of.”
The Social Brewers is located at 10-12 Hearne Street, Mortdale. You can find it and hundreds of other good beer venues across Australia in the free Crafty Pint app.