Few breweries have made their mark on the Australian beer scene quite like One Drop.
The first craft brewery to open in Botany – the Sydney suburb where they've since been joined by Slow Lane and Beer Fontaine – they were picking up gold medals for their beers within months before starting to reveal their true nature: one of the most outrageously envelope-pushing operations to be found anywhere.
From the development of new hopping techniques to high ABV beer slushies and sours featuring a cheeky 420 grams per litre of fruit, there appears to be nothing they won't try.
It's an approach that might rile traditionalists but often even they are won over by One Drop's inventive and frequently outlandish creations, which is testament to the talent of head brewer Nick Calder-Scholes and his team.
Ahead of their fifth birthday, we invited them to look back on their first half decade via five of their favourite beers.
Nick Calder-Scholes (above left) will never forget the first time he walked into One Drop’s proposed brewery site with fellow co-founders Meg Barbic and Clay Grant.
“It was an absolute piece of crap,” the head brewer recalls. “It used to be an old paper warehouse full of the pamphlets you used to get in your letterbox. It was mouldy and waterlogged and someone was living upstairs – it was a weird place, man.”
Fast forward to today and that soggy paper wasteland has become one of Sydney’s most innovative and prolific breweries, releasing more than 300 of the most exciting and bonkers beers you’ve ever heard of in just five years.
Now boasting a bright, airy space, vibrant murals of Caribbean sunsets and Bob Marley (One Drop is named after reggae’s signature drum beat) and a new gin bar, Nick, Meg and Clay have put the portside suburb of Botany on the craft beer map and, most importantly for them, created a lively community hub for locals.
“Meg was born in Botany and grew up here and she wanted to open up some breathing room that wasn't dominated by pokies,” Nick says. “A space where you could be creative and free and come and hang out with your family.”
Looking back, he says the start feels like “it was only yesterday and also forever ago”. After a triumphant opening in 2019 (they won three AIBA golds in their first three months), One Drop hit a COVID-shaped wall in 2020 with lockdowns leaving the one-year-old brewery on the brink.
“If you look at the bank account, it really feels like three years because we weren't open essentially for two years,” Nick says. “But during that time we also found new ways to engage with beer lovers and the social media community. Closing down forced us to open up in a way that really helped the brand and the beers go quite far.”
That lockdown squeeze also inspired Nick and his team to double down on their ethos of “creativity, innovation and originality” and really push the boundaries of what a beer can be as well as the ingredients – and volumes of them – they used.
Since then, they’ve experimented widely with cutting-edge hop products in ultra-modern IPAs, launched their Water Exploration series (recreating famous lager styles and water profiles from around the globe) and pioneered the super-charged sours Nick fell in love with while brewing overseas in the UK and Europe. Their Rainbow Country rock candy beer even featured edible glitter in the mix.
“After COVID hit, I was like, ‘I don't really care what anyone thinks anymore, let’s do what we want.’ That opened up so much more creativity, like, why limit ourselves?”
That approach has seen One Drop become a sour superpower with their range regularly dominating Untappd’s top ten for such beers. In a significant milestone, their flagship smoothie sour We Jammin’ – a fruity beast brewed with mango, guava, banana, Tahitian vanilla, icing sugar and a shed load of lactose – landed at number 40 in GABS’ Hottest 100 of 2023.
“People are often like ‘what the fuck!’ when they first taste our sours, but they’re also like ‘now I can bring other people down to Botany [who don’t like traditional beer’]. With our sours, our slushies and beer ice cream, I like to think we're making an original, inclusive creative space where you're having an experience that's not your usual brewery or venue.”
One Drop celebrates their fifth birthday this Saturday February 3 and you’re invited. To get the party started, we asked Nick to pick the five beers that define their five years.
Kellogg's Cornflakes Nitro Milkshake IPA
We did this in our first year of brewing. The Kellogg's factory in Botany is famous for the smell of cornflakes across the entire suburb, especially when Meg was growing up. One of the Kellogg's girls was drinking here just after we opened and we joked about a collaboration. We went down to Kellogg’s HQ and they were really keen to get involved and do something local.
I wanted it to taste like the milk at the bottom of the cereal bowl when you're finished eating and you slurp the milk back and it's sugary, creamy and soft.
Read Mick Wüst's take on the beer here.
Double Vanilla Custard Pancake Imperial Nitro Thickshake IPA
This was our "Fuck it, let’s give it a go, we might be bankrupt next week during COVID" beer. It came out in 2020 during the peak of lockdown.
We were sitting here one afternoon saying: "Fuck, we might go under." And I was like: "Well, I've always wanted to make a beer with four times the amount of lactose I ever thought was possible, so let's just do it because, if we don't, soon there might not be a brewery to do it on."
We added 50 kilograms of custard powder and 200 kilograms of lactose into a 2,000 litre brew. Plus a super heavy wheat base and lots of maple syrup, vanilla and biscuit malt. With nitro, you shake it and it cascades and it’s a real experience.
Read Judd Owen's take on a later release of the beer here.
Blueberry Double Take Imperial Sour
Our blueberry sour scored an AIBA gold medal in our first year so, during lockdown, we were like: "How can we push this further than we've ever gone?" It became so incredibly popular that Double Take became a series using different fruits.
Given we were in lockdown, for the launch we told 50 to 100 influencers: "We're going to send you some beers and we want you to create content and release it at this time." And because everyone was at home, they got super creative.
It was less about us launching a beer that day and more like, wow, this whole community is getting around us - and that felt really good.
Read Mick's write-up on the first Double Take here.
This was our first foray into big smoothie sours and the springboard for everything we do now with that style. It’s super well-fruited using a small amount of unfermented fruit after fermentation and very well-balanced for what it is. It’s one of the most re-brewed and re-asked for Thicc Bois we do.
The beer has also proven to be One Drop's most popular in terms of the annual GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers poll. In the most recent vote, the beer climbed 60 places to number 40.
Read Judd's take on We Jammin' here.
Free Flow Hoppy Ale
Our fifth birthday beer. Hoppy Ale is a style coming out of the States that's like a double IPA with a really light-colour and new world hop-forward flavour that sits between seven and nine percent ABV.
It’s very pale in colour with a high intensity of new world hops that give big, overripe fruit flavours of guava, passion fruit and white grapes. I think this is a perfect birthday beer for us, because it shows where we want to go on the creative innovation side in future.