Home-brewing is a good hobby for making friends: there’s plenty of idle time for chat, and you’re never short on drinks. The two couples behind Co-Conspirators Brewing Co met this way at Merri Mashers, an amateur brewers’ club in Melbourne’s inner north.

Five years after launching the brand – to the day, almost – Deon Smit, Maggie Smit, Jacqui Sacco and Tim Martin have realised their dream of opening a Co-Conspirators taproom.

“It was always the plan, to have a brewpub,” Deon says. “It was in the very first meeting we had to talk about starting the business, we all had the vision for a brewpub.”

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Located on Victoria Street in Brunswick, the soaring warehouse and small-ish rear courtyard is licensed for 195 people. Twenty-four taps pour the brand’s signature hop-forward beers, plus sours, stouts, Bodriggy hard seltzer and Noisy Ritual wines. Current highlights include a 3.5 per cent ABV saison, the first beer made on-site; the Wheelman, a vibrant raspberry sour; and the Matriarch, one of the earliest and best hazy IPAs in the country.

Local Italian cafe Small Axe is supplying charcuterie boxes, and pizza can be delivered from vegan-friendly spot Green Acre. And this is just stage one. There’s more to come in 2022, including an in-house kitchen, mezzanine levels and a whisky bar.

The building itself, a historic engineering workshop that forged some of Melbourne’s early tramlines, took 18 months to find but “ticked every box”. The two couples took a 15-year lease and remodelled the long, narrow space with help from local outfit We Are Humble, creating vague laneways with little nooks and enclaves for secretive chats.

The 12,000-litre brewhouse, managed by ex-Hawkers brewer Olmo Maud, sits among it all, a deliberate focal point rather than being hidden up the back. It will brew exclusively for the taproom, while Co-Conspirators’ packaged beers will continue to be produced at Bodriggy, one of a few contract-brewing partners the company has worked with over the past five years in lieu of having its own equipment. But, as well as the mezzanines and whisky bar, a dedicated production brewery is planned – further out, where the rent is more affordable.

It’s a remarkable journey for four people who previously held full-time jobs in unrelated industries, only brewing on the side. Co-Conspirators’ first commercial release, a west coast IPA named the Henchman, was fermented at Public Brewery in Croydon. The couples bottled some “dodgy” samples by hand, whacked stickers on them and gave them to pubs in order to sell kegs.

It worked; the beers were more than worthy. But Co-Conspirators’ slapdash branding was letting it down. There are at least 500 breweries operating in Australia. Succeeding in this saturated market is about making good beer, yes – but how you package it is equally important.

The couples struck gold in 2017, when they hooked up with illustrator Clint Weaver for their third release, the Bookie pale ale. The label featured a shifty, trilby-wearing bookmaker.

“Our initial branding disappeared very quickly once we discovered Clint,” Maggie says, laughing.

Every beer since has featured a conspiratorial, quasi-underworld figure on its label (the Bootlegger, the Enforcer, the Dealer, et cetera), giving the Co-Conspirators brand an uncommon sense of recognition and continuity that’s resonated deeply with the public.

When Co-Conspirators launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the new taproom, 402 people put down cash, raising about $600,000 in total. Most of these backers are in Melbourne and Victoria, but others are located as far afield as Perth and the US. All 402 names are engraved on a plaque next to the brewhouse – a nice acknowledgment of their role in the journey thus far.

Co-Conspirators
377 Victoria Street, Brunswick
No phone

Hours:
Wed & Thu 11am–11pm
Fri & Sat 11am–1am
Sun 11am–11pm

coconspirators.com.au