Back in 2019, this intrepid explorer opened the door of the Grain Store pub in Newcastle's east end, jumped on the newly-opened light railway, and with the famous words "Go west, young man!" resonating in my head, began the Newy Crafty Crawl.
Back then, this journey consisted of five main craft beer venues between East Newcastle to Hamilton. Among these watering holes was just one brewery – FogHorn – with the rest pulling beers from the usual suspects from Australia's craft beer scene.
Four years on and how things have changed. Embark on the same journey now and there are 11 venues worthy of your attention – of which six are breweries – and that's without mentioning fine spots for the beer lover further afield: Carrington Bowlo and Young Street Hotel in Carrington; Modus Beer in Merewether. What's more, the likes of Grainfed Brewing and Akasha are waiting on the periphery to start pouring their beers.
Despite the travails of COVID, Newcastle continues to build upon its reputation as a "must-visit city" for craft beer aficionados as more venues and breweries continue to open and the city's beer fans embrace them.
As Shawn Sherlock, head brewer and owner of FogHorn puts it: "The growth in the Newcastle scene doesn't surprise me at all – the only surprise is that it has taken this long!
"Newcastle has always punched above its weight sales-wise in the craft sector, and has always had very strong per capita demand, compared to other larger markets.
"The new entrants are bringing good things to the market and, so long as the beer stays good, I think there is plenty of room for further growth for all."
So, as we start our updated Crafty Crawl – one that now needs to be taken on in two stings – where better to begin than one of the venues that helped put Newcastle on the crafty map and the man that drove much of the change: the Grain Store and its owner, Corey Crooks.
STOP ONE: GRAIN STORE
In March 2023, Grain Store was once again voted the number one craft beer venue in NSW in Beer Cartel's Australian Craft Beer Survey. It's an excellent reflection on the pub team and helps highlight the growth of the local craft scene that industry legend Corey Crooks champions. As he said at the time: "This is yet another feather in the cap for Newcastle and the sensational indie beer scene we have cranked up in our town."
For the craft beer drinker who has not yet visited Grain Store, you'll find 21 taps of independently-owned Australian beer in an old warehouse that was built by, rather ironically, Tooheys Brewery in 1885, and converted into a craft beer venue by Corey and his wife Kristy.
It makes for a fine start to the Crafty Crawl due to the sheer number of taps present (which should provide for all tastes), even if that might cause delays if you want to get out the front door to visit the other venues. It doesn't help either that the Grain Store has become an extension of people's lounge rooms, with large couches and stuffed chairs ideal for getting cosy when warm sunlight streams through the windows. Once you are in, it's very very hard to get out...
With so many beers to choose from, sometimes your best bet is to get the knowledgeable bar staff to put a tasting paddle together and chip away at that beer list. Pair these with some of the fantastic food offerings coming out of the kitchen, or settle down with an old-school board game, if that's your go.
A visit to Grain Store should be a bucket list item for any craft beer lover touring Australia – just be careful if they are playing Hotel California on the pub's sound system...
The Grain Store is at 64-66 Scott Street, Newcastle
STOP TWO: BARTHOLOMEW'S
Catch the tram from Newcastle Beach to Crown Street, from where it's a short walk from the light rail platform to Bartholomew's. Arguably the most impressive-looking beer venue in Newy, this speakeasy is set up in an old ballroom, with two magnificent chandeliers hanging over the bar area, while a rolling ladder assists staff trying to reach that rare 21-year-old single malt whisky on the top shelf (there are more than 200 whiskies up there).
There's a steady rotation of craft beer through the 14 taps, sometimes harder-to-get-hold-of special releases, and they also pour beers from the locals at Good Folk Brewing.
This venue has a pool table so make sure you've got a pocket full of $1 coins if you fancy a game or two to complement your beer(s). If you're on your crawl between 4pm and 6pm from Wednesday to Friday, you'll also get a couple of dollars off the price of your beer. Alternatively, head into "Barts" on a Sunday afternoon and enjoy live music from local musicians along with Sunday drink specials.
Bartholomew's is at 145 King Street, Newcastle
STOP THREE: FOGHORN BREWHOUSE
You've got a mere 280m walk until you reach stop three. FogHorn turned eight in 2023 and continues to enjoy a love affair with its fellow Novocastrians. The first brewhouse in Newcastle – and the venue all that have followed look to for inspiration – is firmly entrenched in the city's craft beer scene and led by one of the beer world's true gents, Shawn Sherlock, continues to push the boundaries of what a brewpub is all about, combining fresh beer with an excellent American-styled food experience.
Over time, the team has transformed this once-abandoned CBD building dating from the 30s into one of the best places to head to, day or night, in Newcastle.
Shawn is a past Australian Brewer of the Year from his time at Murray's and is the puppet master to the brewhouse's 16 taps and one hand pump. At any time, you'll find them pouring classic styles like kolsch, saisons and pilsners alongside hazy IPAs and Belgian blondes, as well as staples such as pale ales, XPAs and stouts. If they've got a big stout on, don't even think twice (unless you're driving): tuck in as FogHorn's are among the very best in the country and have the silverware to back it up.
"We don't really have anything that doesn't pull its weight," is how Shawn describes his beer babies. Grab a beer and a New York-style pizza in preparation for the continuation of your journey.
FogHorn is at 218 King Street, Newcastle
STOP FOUR: THE CLARENDON HOTEL
It's another short stroll between stops three and four, with The Clarendon Hotel awaiting a mere 400m away.
The pub boasts a beautiful Art Deco front bar, built in the 1930s, with the original tiles continuing their unique lines up the wall, and a bar running the length of the hotel. Out back, there's an open courtyard complete with sofas to sink into as you take in the live solo acts the Clarendon supports.
The bar features ten taps of craft beer – and will often get hold of limited releases not found on the main drag; not long before I sat down to write this article, they had four taps pouring Coopers Extra Strong Vintage Ale dating from 2014 to 2017.
When the craft beer scene exploded in Newcastle, The Clarendon was one of the first venues to jump on board and it continues to search for, and pour, the sort of beers the city's beer fans are seeking. With the Civic Theatre practically next door, it's the venue to hit up prior to a show or gig. It's another venue with a pool table if you fancy challenging the locals. Good luck!
The Clarendon is at 347 Hunter Street, Newcastle
STOP FIVE: THE ROGUE SCHOLAR
Time to stretch those legs again – a whole 600m this time – as you make your way to the brewpub and live music venue that is The Rogue Scholar, a venues that's made a name for itself as a go-to small bar in the city. It's been around since 2020 and has an amazing 360-degree bar on its rooftop.
Owner and head brewer Adam Hardy (pictured above), whose family hail from Newcastle in England, has created a small English bar complete with 12 taps – pouring a familiar selection of Aussie IPAs, NEIPAs and pale ales – plus four traditional hand pumps serving up an English bitter, brown ale and a pale ale.
It's a great venue in which to enjoy a few half pints – which come to you in traditional glass handles – of those hand-pumped beers, while it can also back up as the final venue on your crawl courtesy of the live music acts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Expect the place to be jumping, though, as Newcastle's eclectic mixture of live music fans descend, often making a beeline for its dark back bar.
One thing you will instantly notice is some of the greatest lyrics of all time adorn the walls while the other half of the room has vintage concert posters plastered all over it, ready for those of a certain vintage to argue how many you've seen live. If you're lucky – or time it right – the rooftop bar will be open to you can take in the views over the city, dwarfed by the bright lights of the city's surrounding apartments.
Rogue Scholar is at 4-6 Union Street, Newcastle
STOP SIX: THE HAPPY WOMBAT
If you are attempting this as a day-into-evening crawl in one go, there's a chance you'll be flagging by this point. But we have good news: it's only 170m to the last stop – surely you can manage that?
Owned by Luke Tilse of Tilse's Apple Truck Cider, which features on one of the eight taps, this lovely little gastropub is the final venue on our Newcastle Central Crawl. Opening onto the street, The Happy Wombat has tables and chairs out the front perfect for watching the world go by.
There aren't many bars where you can walk out smarter than when you walked in, but if you apply yourself in The Happy Wombat, it's possible. On one side of the bar you'll find an eclectic mix of odds and sods that includes around 30 hardback copies of Encyclopaedia Britannica. So, if you are waiting for your friends or family to turn up, pick a book, slowly sip your beer while holding your hand to your chin, and do your best to look like a genius when they finally arrive.
The friendly bar staff pride themselves on their knowledge of the liquids they're pouring and are more than happy to let you taste the not-so-familiar beers they have on tap. You might even wander into one of many tap takeovers they host.
During winter, the resident crowd at The Happy Wombat get stuck into a Friday night BBQ, while the bar's food is renowned throughout the city to the point it can be a tough gig getting a table on a Friday and Saturday night without a bit of forward planning.
Part I of your Newcastle Crafty Crawl ends at 575 Hunter Street
Look out for part II coming soon, and check out other Crafty Crawls here. You'll also find all the venues above in the free Crafty Pint app, designed to help you find your nearest good beer wherever you are in Australia.