It's become a trope of the past couple of years that whenever we share the story of people opening breweries, bars, or launching other beer businesses during bushfires / pandemic / floods, we must mention the tremendous fortitude these determined beer lovers have needed in an era when crossing your fingers and hoping for the best seems about the only sane strategy.
Yet the team behind Grassy Knoll Brewing might just be taking such mad determination to sensational new heights as they prepare to launch a brewery with a new face in the suburbs of Wollongong.
In what's been described as “the brainchild of a few too many beers over Christmas”, Grassy Knoll brewer Jeff Argent – who we first wrote about in 2019 – was given the opportunity to buy the space once occupied by Bulli Brewing. It was where he'd been brewing many of Grassy Knoll's beers while building a reputation for simple brews designed for warm days spent by shimmering bodies of water; as such, the offer was one he couldn't refuse.
It's one that's set to burst into life this weekend too, albeit not as Grassy Knoll Brewing. Nope, when they welcome guests into their own space for the first time it will be to venue with a fresh name: Seeker Brewing. But if you're whether this spells the death knell for Grassy Knoll beers, or are simply wondering what to expect from the new venue, Jeff has the answers.
“We were looking for a new company name to go with the brewery takeover that we’ve had here in Wollongong,” he told The Crafty Pint.
“We got offered to buy Bulli Brewing off Michael Peliquin, who is going to continue all the brewing, so we just went for it. Pretty much it meant the opportunity to take over the brewery with a fresh name and a fresh start in the Wollongong scene."
For now, Knollheads (as I am now affectionately calling you), Jeff has made it clear Grassy Knoll beers will still be available on tap at Seeker, with Michael continuing to brew and release his Bulli beers.
“We’re going to keep it as the core range for the moment," he says. "We will still definitely be brewing the session ale, the Valley Mid, Coastal Haze and Pacific IPA.
“We’re going to be doing classic hazies, we will have a couple of them always up our sleeve. We’ve got 12 taps at the moment; Seeker will have five to start with and the others will be the Grassy Knoll beers we’ve still got in stock.
"It’s gonna be one of those things that just evolves and we’ll see where it takes us really. If we can manage both brands that would be cool but it might be unrealistic.”
Contrary to what lovers of folk-pop might suspect, the name Seeker Brewing has nothing to do with the Melbourne four-piece. Instead, the name is inspired by the vast amount of recreational activities on offer in the Wollongong and wider South Coast region.
“Wollongong is surrounded on all sides by activities: mountain biking on the escarpment, surfing on the beach and a great music scene all around," he says. "The seeker name sort of comes from that whole cheesy idea of seeking pleasures – thrill-seekers and all that jazz. Hop seekers too, everything that interests you, I guess!”
Although originally from the North Coast, Jeff and his team have well and truly put their roots down in Wollongong, an area that suits their "she’s all sweet" attitude and love for the recreation and music scenes. With no shortage of like-minded community members as well as business owners who don’t mind a bevy now and again, Jeff revealed he is already collaborating with a few notable Gong locals on some special release beers.
“We are brewing a hazy pale to collab with the local mountain bike clothing store, Huck the World; it’s going to called Huck Hazy. And Daniel Radburn from Radbar, a music venue that used to be down here, we are doing a draught style ale for him.
“I definitely think [craft beer] is getting more popular in Wollongong. Bottleshops that only had Stone & Wood now have two fridges full of not only local craft brewers but big-hitters from Sydney too. We’ve got breweries popping up all the time; the most recent is Principle Brewing, and before that Dusty Lizard, and Resin before that, and that’s just since I’ve been brewing!
“All the brewers and brewery owners get on really well – in my experience it’s always been really good. The biggest problem is we’re all way too busy, so we never get a chance to hang out in each others' breweries.”
With the Gong officially thirstier than ever, Jeff and the team are preparing to launch Seeker with one brewing decision that may surprise some members of the knock-off drinks crew.
“What I am going to focus on now are low alcohol beers," he says. "I’m looking at a range of small beers under two percent; I’m keen to muck around on some specialty grains to make them taste full-flavoured. People have to drive here so I’m looking forward to having a range for them. That’s something I’m so excited to do."
If you haven’t come round to low-alc beers yet, there’s no need to start sweating as Seeker will always have crafty classics on tap.
“Hazy is by far one of the easier things to sell. Bottleshops seem to stock them without any question now. If we do any sort of hazy NEIPA it’s an immediate yes from any bottleshop. Part of the lineup will always be a NEIPA and a hazy ale; we’ll also do a crisp session ale and some old school IPAs.”
Designated drivers well and truly included, it seems there will be something for everyone when Seeker open their doors, revealing the former Bulli Brewing as a space that's been considerably twisted and tweaked.
“It’s been exciting getting my hands dirty in here, redoing the bar and rearranging all these things, finally getting a chance to set it up the way I thought would help it run well.”
There's also a woodfired pizza truck out the front, which Jeff is adamant must contain one chef’s choice "secret ingredient pizza", as well as a large takeaway fridge with most of the range available in cans and any limited releases available in growler and squealer refills. However, those who come to sit and stay will not leave disappointed as Seeker has set out to create a venue worthy of your downtime whether you're visiting to chat or chill.
“When they get here they are going to get a sense that it’s a big lounge room space," Jeff says. "It’s a bit of a games room at the moment with a pool table, basketball hoop and a TV where you can watch sports. There is a 5m rose gum long slab bar you can actually sit at – we sort of want people to sit at the bar and drink beers and chat.”
With brewery tours and live music in the works (including sets by Rat Hammock for the opening weekend) Seeker promise to continue the legacy of two brewing companies while offering a point of difference authentic to the area.
All of this is a big win for the local craft scene, but is also indicative of the growing shift in focus towards lower alcohol beers. With hazies and NEIPAs produced with the bottom line in mind, it reflects an interesting change in what many brewers are offering punters in 2022. Seeker aren't the first to focus on low alcohol, big flavour beers, and certainly won’t be the last.
As Jeff puts it, it's a case of "focusing on the lifestyle associated with enjoying a beer: getting out there, going for a hike or a surf, and enjoying that beer!”
The Seeker team is hosting a launch party this weekend (March 25 and 26) featuring live music and wood-fired pizza, plus five new Seeker beers and a further seven taps of Grassy Knoll and guests. You'll find them at 4/1 Industrial Road, Unanderra, and in the free Crafty Pint app.