What is it about Marrickville that encourages brewers to move into disused warehouses like thirsty hermit crabs? Is it the distinctively working class roar of the ever present flight path, or the businesses that are best catalogued by scent rather than appearance?
Either way, the Golden Triangle apparently still has room for more breweries, the newest of which is The Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre.
Hawke’s Brewing was founded by Nathan Lennon and David Gibson with the blessing of the great man himself back in 2017 with the aim of raising funds for the not-for-profit launched by the late PM, Landcare Australia, via the sale of highly approachable beers bearing his likeness. We may have bade farewell to Bob in 2019, but in 2022 we are saying, "G’day!" to him again as his beers and unmistakably Aussie spirit come to life at a venue which I must point out looks nothing like the inside of a warehouse.
It looks, to put it simply, daggy. Extremely daggy. The brown glass, the wooden signage, and a pool table that genuinely looks like it’s been through some rough years with a big family. Museum-like glass cabinets in the rear Pool Room hold a host of Bob Hawke memorabilia and even feature educational signs explaining the finer points of Hawkey’s exploits.
The wallpaper, lighting, flooring – the god damn smell of the place... Everything creates the experience of stepping back to an Australia that's a good 30 years gone, right down to the Richie Benaud commentary tracks playing in the men’s bathroom.
Although they now brew Hawke's beers here, after building the brand via contract brewing, there’s a reason it’s called a leisure centre and not a brewery. This is an immersive tribute to Australian clubs and RSLs.
This concept really comes to life with in-house Chinese bistro, the Lucky Prawn: lantern lit with lazy Susans, vinyl chairs, a fading red and gold sign, and all the prawn crackers you could desire. The kitchen serves up Austro-Chinese classics such as spring rolls, honey prawns, dumplings, and prawn toast made which manage the cunning trick of being made with fresh ingredients while still being uncannily reminiscent of the typically frozen classics.
And while on the topic of frozen classics, there's deep-fried Viennetta too... [And there I was thinking this would be the only occasion we'd get to refer to Viennetta on this site too – Editor]
Of course, the beer is why we’re here, however, and on that front Hawke's doesn't disappoint. On tap are the well-known Hawke’s beers, such as Patio Pale and their trademark Lager, as well as a few seasonal limited release beers. Titled One Hit Wonders, and exclusive to the Beer & Leisure Club, the venue's first guests will be met by a lineup that includes a seriously sippable ESB and an XPA featuring the gang’s pet hop, El Dorado.
Charged with overseeing brewing onsite is head brewer Brodie French, who offers some insight into his approach.
“Brewing something wacky and releasing it even if it didn’t turn out perfect isn’t brewing to me,” he says.
“I like to return to a beer people like and try to keep that consistency going like the first brewers who made a name for themselves because the beer tasted the same every time.
“We don’t want to over hop anything too much, but El Dorado is the salt of hops. Just add a little bit and it all comes to life.”
Elsewhere on the taps, I personally loved the lemony Hoppy Sour Ale and hopheads will get a real kick out of the limited release, West Coast style Legend IPA. There’s also cider and wine for non-beer drinkers who want a photo for Instagram, or to peruse the Hawke memorabilia which would be easier to measure in kilos than number of items.
Perhaps the greatest achievement lies behind the scenes, however. Hawkey’s passion for the environment runs deep with the brewing gear featuring a hot liquor return system designed to waste less water, a solar-panel-covered roof that can power the whole venue on a sunny day, and a UTS-designed hydroponic lettuce farm that absorbs all the CO2 produced during brewing.
“The lettuce we grow becomes our San Choy Bau!” says co-founder Nathan Lennon.
There is thought in every corner of The Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre. As such, even if, like me, you believed Marrickville had hit "Peak Brewery", the Beer & Leisure Centre has a genuine point of difference and manages to offer much more than your typical brewery experience. [*Seinfeld voice* Not that there’s anything wrong with that!]
It’s a time capsule. A refreshing, delicious, sustainable time capsule that Young Liberals will physically not ever be able to enter (if they managed to make it into the Inner West in the first place).
If you miss a time when politicians could drink a beer without looking like an awkward alien on vacation, Hawke’s is pouring one for you, and one for the country.
You'll find The Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre at 8-12 Sydney Street, Marrickville, as well as in the free Crafty Pint app. You can read more about the Hawke's story and view more photos of the venue on the brewery's Crafty Pint page.