Good Folk Brewing only welcomed the first customers through its doors in Newcastle this month, but for those familiar with the region's beer scene it's a venture that already has runs on the board.
The brewpub is the seventh venue from brothers Phil and John Elsley, they tell me as we sit around a newly varnished cable reel that's been turned into a table with views onto Hamilton’s Beaumont Street. Certainly, it's a far cry from the days when they were toiling for the government and banks while tinkering around with a homebrew kit and dreaming of a craft beer empire.
"Back then the selection wasn't too big," Phil says of the time when they launched their first venue. "So at beer festivals you could take a card [from a brewer] and ask what they could send you. Nowadays there are reps everywhere."
And while both are aware they're opening their first brewery in a saturated market, they believe quality will see them through; "They [craft beer drinkers] are more educated than they were a few years ago," Phil says.
The home of Good Folk is on the site of an old bottleshop that has sat vacant for around ten years. Phil got into a conversation with the landlord one day and mentioned they were looking to open a brewpub, telling him that if he could get approval for a brewery on the site, he'd sign a 20-year lease on the spot. Off went the landlord to the council and returned with a contract to be signed.
Turning their dream into reality coincided with COVID, yet they ploughed on. They picked up an unused brew kit from Young Henrys, which had been in storage for seven years, who sent team members to Newcastle to make sure all was well and also invited Good Folk's head brewer, James Horne, to Newtown to brew with them.
As the journey progressed, the team found plenty of people willing to lend a hand, from the friends and family investing in the business to peers in the local craft beer industry.
"The locals have been fantastic, they've pulled together to help out," John says. "The boys at Method, the crew at Maltnhops – it's a really good industry."
They plan to return the favour in the future, offering up tap space to local breweries and brewing collabs, all in the knowledge they've got taps at their six other venues – The Grand, Bartholomew’s (formerly Babylon) and The Blind Monk in Newcastle, The Whistler and The Family Hotel in Maitland, and The Sherwood in Lismore – to play with too.
As for their own produce, John says: "We've tasted the beers, which are great, so we are both excited and confident. We are fortunate to be able to test our beers in our venues as people judge with their wallets, so if they don't sell we can move on and try something else."
The brothers have given head brewer James the freedom to brew more or less what he wishes outside the core range. He says he first caught the homebrewing bug as a student, although it wasn't until he moved to Melbourne after gaining an engineering degree that his partner told him to "give it a red hot crack."
In 2017 he quit an engineering consultancy role (much to his parents' chagrin) and took his partner on a road trip from Melbourne to Airlie Beach, which he says, "basically ended up being a huge brewery tour."
Along the way, he stuck his head though the door of numerous breweries and received advice from the crews at Ballistic, Green Beacon and Balter, from getting a forklift licence to finding a traineeship in order to cut his teeth in brewing.
Later, while working at IronBark Hill Brewhouse in the Hunter Valley, he came across the Good Folk job ad. The Elsleys had a local favourite on tap, Danny's Wedge*, which they were looking to improve, so James got in touch, said he would brew them a trial batch, and turned up at the interview bearing a tropical pale ale gift.
"He was the only one that turned up with a brew, so that helped," John says with a laugh.
Phil adds: "We said, here's a non-working brew kit. Put that together and brew us some beer!"
They later gave him the styles and percentages of the core range of beers they wanted on Good Folk's taps, which have been turned into offerings including an IIPA, a hazy, an IPA, and a tropical pale ale among others. For locals not wanting anything too crafty, James has created a lager with Tooheys New drinkers in mind the team have labelled a "Normal Beer", in reference to the most commonly-asked question in their venues.
Speaking of questions, as they were preparing to swing open their brewpub doors, we James to answer those that make up our long-running Who Brews...? series.
Good Folk Brewing
Who are you?
James Horne – head brewer (pictured above). I've been brewing professionally since the beginning of 2019 after leaving a role as an engineering consultant, starting as a trainee brewer at Tribe Breweries then moving to the Hunter region and working at Hope Estate and IronBark Hill Brewhouse.
Where do you brew?
Good Folk Brewing, in Hamilton, Newcastle. But that doesn’t stop me from laying down batches at home too.
Why do you brew?
A passion for great tasting beer and a love for creating something from scratch. As an engineer I’ve always enjoyed the process and creating something unique, and I’ve always enjoyed a beer too. At home I love to cook, and the same goes for brewing: the creation of something tasty and then sharing it with others is why I brew.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Attending a homebrewing day course hosted by Batch Brewing back in 2016 sparked an interest in brewing, but I already did enjoy craft beer. One was the Stockade Brew Co's 8 Bit IPA.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
The idea for the brewery started with the Danny’s Wedge TPA, which is an ode to a mate of a large group of locals at the neighbouring bar, The Blind Monk. With the success of the beer, it was decided they would all open a brewery and the name Good Folk represents not only the people that are involved with the brewery but everybody that loves craft beer.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
Danny’s Wedge TPA: it’s the flagship beer, for the reasons above and the one that represents Good Folk Brewing.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
That’s a tough one – brew days with anyone else is always so much fun, I love teaching and seeing the joy people have while learning to brew.
Someone that has been a great sounding board and an inspiration is Bruce Peachey. His wealth of knowledge and willingness to help has always been so refreshing, and I think that is what is great about the industry.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
The Presets, Australian big hitters. But really it could be anything – I like most music new and old.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
I have Method’s Hazy IPA and Maltnhops’ Space Frogs Strata Hazy. Keeping up with what the other local boys are doing.
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
I can’t go past Crankshaft IPA. Call me old fashioned or lame, but there is no denying that beer has been a game-changer for Australian craft beer and for good reasons.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Method’s West Coast IPA is great beer, as well as Maltnhops’ DIPA – two beers that really hit the mark.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
I’ve used a range of Voyager Craft Malt’s products; I really love their culture and the malts they produce are lovely. Supporting local Australian companies I think is important and can help differentiate.
Where can people find your beers?
At the moment we are only in draught, in our own taproom on Beaumont Street and some other taps in Maitland at The Whistler, The Sherwood in Lismore and Babylon in Newcastle.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
To have a second venue with a larger production facility is the goal, or to be utilising contracting venues and be producing a great core range of beers that are recognised across Australia, while still having fun with limited beers and taproom specials on our 200 litre pilot kit.
* Danny was part of the Hamilton Running Dads group that runs every Thursday; meeting back at The Blind Monk for post-run hydration. Sadly, Danny died on the newly built tram tracks of Newcastle, when he fell from his bicycle. The team decided to brew a beer in his honour and named it Danny's Wedge as the ex-publican liked to have a wedge beer in-between beers. When the crew tapped it for the first time, the venue was packed out with locals and friends of this popular character.
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