Dan Norris was making websites for a living when his friend Eddie Oldfield mentioned a novel idea he had for a craft beer. Soon their other mate, professional brewer Michael “Govs” McGovern, was bringing the spice-rich Eggnog Stout to fruition on his newly assembled homebrewing setup – and kickstarting a new Gold Coast brewery almost by accident. “We were just keen observers,” says Norris.

The three launched Black Hops a few months later in November 2014, after handing out the initial homebrewed run to friends and family in the lead-up to Christmas. With its fragrant blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla bean and brandy flavours in the chocolate-y context of a dry Irish stout, that first beer came out nearly perfect on the first attempt.

“It’s really rare for Govs to not nail it the first time,” says Norris, noting his mate’s high success rate out of the 250-plus different recipes that have since followed the stout.

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After a couple years of moonlighting at established breweries, Black Hops opened its own brewery and taproom in Burleigh Heads in 2016. Today it has a larger production brewery and taproom in Biggera Waters, plus a newer taproom in East Brisbane. There’s even a speciality taproom adjacent to the original brewery called AWOL, which exclusively serves barrel-aged beers.

“You take the base beers and put them in different barrels and leave them for different amounts of time,” Norris says. “Some could be sour, some could be fruity, some could pick up whisky flavour. We have the Pink Mist Raspberry Saison in gin barrels, so it picks up some of those aromas.”

Black Hops uses grain primarily from Queensland and local fruits for such AWOL varieties as feijoa and raspberry. It also recently collaborated with Hilltop Hops in Brisbane. Many loyal taproom customers contributed to Black Hops’ crowdfunding efforts, raising $18,000 to finish its first brewery and then $400,000 via equity crowdfunding to build the much larger second one – enabling contributors to get a stake in the actual business.

Evolving over the years from unprofitable slabs of 24 bottles to more affordable (and neatly square and stackable) packs of 16 cans, Black Hops now sells out of limited releases in just a couple weeks. Luckily, it currently releases two or three different beers a week, and is gradually adding more to the online store so the rest of the country can catch up. Black Hops is becoming more and more renowned for hazy beers: its biggest seller, the G.O.A.T. Hazy IPA, placed fifth place in 2021’s GABS Hottest 100. The much-newer East Coast Haze is nearly its second biggest seller already, while the limited-release hazy Moondancer proved especially popular.

While that first Eggnog Stout isn’t a high-volume seller compared to the above, it’s become something of a Christmas tradition, earning inclusion in Bridge Road Brewers’ curated mixed pack of holiday beers available at Dan Murphy’s later this year. And Black Hops continues to welcome grassroots beer ideas from its staff, using an open Slack channel to corral all the suggestions.

And once a staff member has been there for a year, they get to brew a limited beer of their choice with a custom label. The Neverland Grapefruit Hazy IPA started out as a one-off staff beer for taproom manager Jesse Goodman, and now it’s a regular fixture. Black Hops also brews special beers for investors, and revisits previous brews all the time.

“So there’s always beer to make,” says Norris, keeping that DIY spirit fully intact.

This article is produced in partnership with Dan Murphy’s. Check out their curated selection of 'Aussie Made' drinks that aims to support local makers.