There’s a lot about Sobah that makes it feel very much like your typical brewery. Its location – in an industrial part of Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast – certainly feels like the sort of place you'd find a brewery, and the 25-hectolitre brewhouse and sparkling tanks sure look like the hundreds of other breweries across the country.
On the other hand, there’s little about Sobah’s space – or indeed the Sobah story – that’s in any way typical. The brewery and café are open from 7am most days, they serve a modern café menu that champions native ingredients, and upstairs you'll find a gallery featuring Indigenous art.
Tying it all together is the non-alcoholic beer Sobah have been making since 2017, making the Burleigh Heads site Australia’s first brewery dedicated to producing non-alcoholic beer. Its opening follows a long journey for Gamilaroi man and psychologist, Dr Clinton Schultz and wife Lozen McDiarmid-Schultz (pictured above with head brewer Luke Cooper).
“It's taken almost three years to the day from when we first started looking for a property to actually being able to open the doors,” Clinton says, describing the moment as "quite surreal".
Alongside the stainless, Sobah also features a retail space that doesn't just sell their beer but also cookbooks from the likes of Mabu Mabu's Nornie Bero and food that, similar to Sobah's beers, showcases native ingredients. A mural by First Nations artist Alara Geebung Cameron looks over the dining area; his depiction of the wedgetail eagle, Maliyan, can also be found on Sobah’s branding.
“We wanted this whole space to be an experience,” Clinton says. “We didn't want people to just come in and stare at some tanks.”
The upstairs gallery is more than just a place to showcase Indigenous art too; it's a prime spot from which to gaze over the brewery and also gives them the chance to run events as diverse as yoga and last month's First Nations Artisan Market, or to hand it over to local groups to run their own events.
“Having that space upstairs,” Clinton says, “allows us to offer anything from the art gallery all the way through to doing some really cool different healing modalities upstairs. So, we're looking at having things like yoga and traditional healing.”
Setting up their own home gives them a better opportunity to support others too. It's something they’ve done since their inception, with past ventures including the Tropical Lager Coral’ation brewed to raise money for the Coral Sea Foundation.
“It’s just another way that we can help other mob out,” Clinton says. “It’s always been a big part of our business model to look at what we're doing and look at how can we utilise those opportunities that we're fortunate enough to have to help others.
“So, having that gallery space allows us to really champion and highlight a bunch of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists or artisans, in a setting that they probably don't get the opportunity for that often, to a whole new audience.”
It might have taken them more than half a decade from the release of their first brew to the welcoming of their first brewery guests, yet the founders are already looking well ahead: to 2032 and the arrival of the Olympics. They see their brewery as a destination for anyone visiting Queensland who is looking to experience contemporary Aboriginal culture.
“We want to be a place where, if people are on the Gold Coast, people say you have to go there,” Lozen says.
Beyond becoming a destination and a place in which they can tell their story, the new space gives them more flexibility when it comes to brewing too. For one, they'll now be able to pour tap beer rather than relying purely on packaged product, but it also opens up the chance to brew more styles, collaborate with others, and supply customers with fresher beer too.
“We can now produce what we need to produce when we need to produce it,” Clinton says. “It’s something that’s escaped the non-alc side until now because we’re the first non-alcoholic craft brewery.”
It’s also a space that’s primed for growth: the tanks they've installed to date sit a long way from the brewery roof, giving them plenty of room to manoeuvre within the warehouse. Interest in their products hasn't just come from within Australia but internationally too; Sobah already export to multiple countries.
“We purposely bought with eight-metre-high roofs,” Clinton says.
“We believe that there is still growth opportunity for those [non-alc] brands that have been there from the start that have got that traction and that momentum with them.”
Reflecting on their journey on which they launched Australia's first dedicated non-alc beer business to the point now where they exist within a market where there are many more breweries with such offerings in their range, Clinton says their authentic story, which we first covered in 2019, has allowed them to stand out.
“When we started, there wasn't really any acceptance for non-alc,” he says. “We were first and we had all the momentum, but it was challenging because we had to do all the education.
“I personally think you'd struggle to find a brand that is more authentic than us in this space. That’s something nobody can ever take away from us and we will continue to utilise to our benefit.”
While story is authentic, pioneering and unique, it's attracted no shortage of negativity: from those who didn't believe non-alc beer would take off, those who still think it shouldn't exist, and others directing racist attacks at the Aboriginal-owned brewery.
None of the negativity has seen them waver from their path, however.
“We've literally only got one staff member in this building who doesn't personally identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or isn't married into an Aboriginal family," Clinton says. "And that's our Samoan chef."
Sobah Brewery & Cafe officially opens on September 30 and can be found on Kombumerri Country at 1/314 Burleigh Connection Road, Burleigh Heads QLD 4220. You can find it and hundreds of other good beer spots in the free Crafty Pint app.
The photo at the top of this story is by Jade Quinlinvan.