“The more craft beer in the world, the better the world is. The macro brewing companies have brainwashed everyone with their shit beer and all their advertising. If we can change just a few people’s minds to drink handcrafted beer, I’d be stoked.”
Flamin Galah founder Sam Hewson doesn’t pull punches when it comes to his love of craft beer. He lives and breathes it and often brews it seven days a week. It’s that unbridled passion that’s propelled him and wife/co-CEO Claire to open not one but two taprooms in two years in two different locations.
“It’s like keep up or die with Sam,” Claire says, laughing. “When he’s passionate about something he just won’t stop, he’s like a kid in the candy store.”
In July 2021, the couple upgraded from their cellar door-factory unit in Huskisson on NSW’s beautiful South Coast to a full-scale brewery-taproom just around the corner. Boasting a stunning pretty-in-pink bar, a fairy-lit beer garden and The Nest food truck (run by their chef besties Adam and Tracey), it’s quickly become a "Husky" hotspot with locals and tourists alike flocking there in droves for their "flamin good" beer.
One venue would be enough for most people, especially in its first year, but not Sam and Claire. With the taproom taking off and a manager hired to handle the day-to-day, Sam was already starting to hatch new plans for the Galah.
“He’d stay up to midnight watching all sorts of brewing videos on Youtube,” Claire recalls. “He’d say, ‘I’m bored, what are we going to do? Are we gonna do this second taproom?’”
Surprise, surprise, they did. Fast forward a year and Sam, Claire and I are chatting over a round of Pacific ales at their very shiny, very new Sydney taproom in inner-city Chippendale.
In conversation, Sam and Claire are thrilled about the launch but also positively shattered after three months of intense renos (encapsulated in a snapshot here) to transform the old, dormant Hotel Broadway site into their newest home, set up with The Nest friends Adam and Tracey.
Things haven’t slowed any since opening either. In true Flamin busy fashion, on the day we meet up, Sam brewed 12 hectolitres of beer in Husky then drove two hours here to deliver new kegs and do this interview. Meanwhile, Claire – who’s currently living round the corner – has been flat out running the bar, managing staff, promoting it on social media, and even doing old school letterbox drops in the local area.
“The renovations were three months of 16-hour-days straight with no break,” Sam says. “The last day was 21 hours nonstop. I think I broke Adam who was helping me.”
“We actually lived above the pub with Adam and Tracey in this shoebox studio during the renos,” Claire adds. “We slept on mattresses on the floor with a tiny kitchenette and one bathroom. They’d all snore and I couldn’t sleep.”
Thankfully, the hard labour and sleepless nights have paid off. Like their Husky HQ, the "Chippo" venue is a work of art, drawing on the couple’s past careers (Sam was a builder, Claire an interior designer / visual merchandiser) to create what may well be Sydney’s most fabulous taproom fit-out.
Featuring a polished pink concrete bar, gold art deco lights, pink furniture and metal galah-shaped tasting paddles, it’s a fantastic space in which to soak up Sam’s award-winning beers, sours and seltzers alongside custom cocktails and The Nest’s delicious range of burgers, baos and tacos.
“When we were looking for a location and first walked into this place, Sam’s brain just started ticking and his eyes went black… it’s like he left his body,” Claire recounts. “The bar is art deco in a 160-year-old building so we wanted to pay homage to the history of this place. Make it art deco but modern.”
“We really wanted to stand out amongst other breweries,” Sam says of the strong design aesthetic that runs through their venues, packaging and marketing. “Whenever we travel, we always appreciate having a beer in a nice place that’s a bit different.”
With the taproom surrounded by universities and shopping centres, and just five minutes from both Central Station and trendy Newtown, Claire says they also wanted the space to appeal to as many people as possible.
“It’s about attracting different demographics than just the craft beer drinker, including people that may prefer to drink cocktails or seltzers,” she says. “So we have student discounts and specials, live music and trivia too.”
Locals have shown a lot of love in the venue's early days, although some have naturally mistaken the taproom for the pub it used to be, which has led to some interesting conversations.
“We’ve had some people come in and ask ‘Why don’t you just have regular beer like Great Northern?’ – which happens at the Husky brewery too,” Claire says. “It’s just about educating people and saying, ‘What type of beer do you like and do you want to try something?' Some walk out but others stay and enjoy it.”
Interestingly, Sam and Claire reveal Flamin Galah 2.0 wasn’t always going to roost in Sydney. For a while, they considered Canberra or Wollongong instead, before a weekend trip to Sydney and a visit to Marrickville’s famous ale trail with Adam and Tracey won them over.
“Plus, we’ve always had a lot of Sydney people visiting us in Huskisson and telling us how much they loved it,” Claire explains.
“And we don’t wholesale our beers into Sydney, so we wanted this to be the place to come get them,” Sam adds. “Trying to get reps to sell into this market from outside is a quick way to go broke. Ideally, we’d like to sell all of our own beer.”
Opening a venue in the big smoke – at a time of rocketing rents, cost-of-living cutbacks and a crowded craft scene – might seem like a wild gamble, but Sam and Claire are excited about the challenge and the possibilities.
“We had some initial negative responses to the plan from some people,” Claire says. “They were like, ‘I’m not sure how it’ll go’, but the same conversation happened before we opened Huskisson. A lot of people have asked, ‘Why here, why now?’ so we do have a lot to prove, but there’s so much room to grow here.”
Furthermore, they figured it couldn’t be harder than the shit show involved in setting up their Husky brewery, which saw them spend a year in council approval limbo before they could even start building followed by multiple COVID waves once they had.
“The first time was all in, balls on the line, with zero money and hopefully the clothes on our back,” Sam says. “We were open for ten weeks and then we got the full eight-week COVID lockdown. It was a massive blow but we kept moving as we always do.
“We canned a lot more beer and we did cocktails in squealers – that was Claire’s idea – and takeaway food from The Nest, so we can still turn over a little. It was enough to survive.”
Claire takes up the tale: “This time with Chippendale, we already had the blueprint from home. We knew where we’d get our glasses from, we knew where we’d get all the alcohol from. It wasn’t half as hard as it was the first time.”
So now, with two gorgeous taprooms under their wing, surely the Flamin Galah founders can take a breath and put their feet up, right? At least just for a little bit?
Given Sam’s craft beer crusade and manic momentum, somehow that seems very unlikely.
“When he gets bored, we’ll probably do a third venue,” Claire says, with another laugh.
Flamin Galah’s Sydney taproom is located at 166-170 Broadway, Chippendale. You can visit their Huskisson home at Unit 8/5 Erina Road, Huskisson. And you'll find both in The Crafty Pint app, alongside hundreds of other breweries and good beer venues across Australia.