Look around the Gold Coast and change is everywhere. The “white shoe brigade” has entered semi-retirement and a lower Australian dollar is bringing back international visitors. Meanwhile, the GFC ran a broom through the 27-kilometre strip an hour south of Brisbane, clearing the way for a slew of smaller, more specialised and community- minded businesses.
That new moxie extends to craft brewing. Three Gold Coast operations in particular are punching well above the region’s weight: Black Hops Brewing, Burleigh Brewing and Balter. Each occupies a fresh fit-out in an industrial estate, with its own bar.
Black Hops is the boundary-pushing millennial of the trio. Owners Eddie Oldfield, Dan Norris and Michael McGovern blend social media chops with a passion for experimentation to create hype for their truly unusual beers.
Black Hops was the first Australian brewery to crowdfund its launch, raising $17,000 through a Pozible campaign in January of this year (pledges, including a book detailing their journey, are currently hitting backers). But while things have moved fast, this is very much a small-batch brewing operation catering to locals.
Oldfield estimates they could put in a full day’s bottling and still only turn out 50 cartons. There are plans to stock selected local bottle shops. Otherwise Black Hops will continue to concentrate on fresh draught at selected outlets.
“We follow our own path,” Oldfield says. “We love making beer, brewing beer and selling beer. We love having locals come in to talk shit about beer.”
“People are coming out of the woodwork and really supporting us,” continues Dan Norris. “It’s exactly what we had hoped would happen. It started two years ago with a homebrew, an eggnog stout. Pozible after that. And here we are. It’s so good to be able to have direct interaction with the people that support you.”
The trio isn’t afraid to brew weird. One entry at the 2016 Great Australian Beer Spectacular (GABS) was the “Assault Trifle”, a trifle-inspired pale ale with coconut, jelly and cream sherry. Another was “Kill Patrick”, a stout with Tweed oysters and tamarind. Rounding out their list are Goses, saisons and ales that look to reflect the salty coastal backdrop. Locals are flocking to the converted Miami tasting house a month after opening, proving the GC palate is maturing.
By comparison, Burleigh Brewing is an institution on the Coast. A massive new site at West Burleigh hosts live music, pilot batch beers and a food truck on Friday nights, when the place really comes alive.
“Where we are now is the result of a ten year labour of love,” says the company’s Scott Gillies. “I guess what will end up happening [in Australia] will mirror the States, where there’s basically a brewery in every community. And that’s great. There are certain beers we reserve for locals. Most of our pilot batch beers will only be available on tap here.”
Drive further south, over the Currumbin Bridge, and you’ll find Balter. It’s owned by four of the Coast’s (and the world’s) best-known pro surfers, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Bede Durbidge and Josh Kerr. Add celebrated master brewer Scott Hargrave, formerly of Stone & Wood, and it’s a marketer’s wet dream. There were plenty of cross-armed beer snobs predicting failure – that is until they sipped the brewery’s extra pale ale (XPA), smacked their lips and decided things were going to be okay after all.
“We’re just doing our own thing,” Hargrave says. “Head down, bum up. When the guys first came to me, I had to be convinced it wasn’t just about celebrities or sportspeople. I had a reasonable history and a good reputation. The guys were adamant this was the real deal.
“They wanted me to make the beer I want to make,” he says. “They wanted to know if I already had beers in mind, and I did. The XPA. A beer we could build a brewery around. I’d been in the industry a long time, so they were sort of leaning on that. It worked both ways.”
With the brewery and tasting house doing a bustling trade, Balter is raising huge interest despite having only launched two products. The aforementioned XPA is a floral, sessionable beer that just picked up a Gold Medal at the CBA awards, and there’s the newer Alt Brown, a maltier ale.
“We want to include people in drinking better beer,” Hargrave finishes. “We want to take people out of their beer comfort zone without alienating them.”
Each brewery is building deep roots in the community, employing locals and giving back to the place they love so much while making exciting beer. Each occupies a niche, complementing the offerings of the other. It’s beer symbiosis, it’s beautiful and it’s happening on the Coast now.
Black Hops Brewing
15 Gardenia Grove, Burleigh Heads
2 Ern Harley Drive, Burleigh Heads