Newcastle brewer takes pride of place in city's beer culture

King of beers: Lachlan MacBean's Grainfed Brewing produces local tap favourite, Sneaky One, as well as 3 Sons Red IPA and East Coast Pale. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
King of beers: Lachlan MacBean's Grainfed Brewing produces local tap favourite, Sneaky One, as well as 3 Sons Red IPA and East Coast Pale. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Written across beer brewer Lachlan MacBean’s T-shirt are the words ‘Think Local. Drink Local.’

“My philosophy is to make great beer that’s worthy of Newcastle, and anyone else who loves beer,” he says.

Grainfed Brewing Co.’s owner/brewer Lachlan MacBean has a vision to brew quality beer - lagers, ales, porters and more -  for Novocastrians, in Newcastle.

My philosophy is to make great beer that’s worthy of Newcastle, and anyone else who loves beer.

Lachlan MacBean

Back in the day, before he established Grainfed, MacBean used to brew for Bluetongue Brewery. He got the job after studying at the University of Ballarat and worked for Bluetongue until the multinational brewing and beverage company, SABMiller, bought the company in 2006.

"I was pretty upset about the missed opportunities at Bluetongue," he says. "Little Creatures was on the rise, and a few American pales were beginning to appear around the traps. I used to say to the boys, 'come on, let's make an American Pale Ale . . .

"The other thing I think Bluetongue got it wrong was not aligning themselves with Newcastle. This city has a strong history with brewing beer, and, even more recently, getting behind the independent brewer’s movement,"  MacBean says.

After leaving Bluetongue, MacBean decided to spend more time at home with his three sons, which gave him more time to think seriously about starting his own label. Not wanting to be too far away from the emerging craft beer scene in town, and, perhaps, to do a little on the clock R&D, MacBean started slinging schooners at The Albion Hotel.

"There were a lot of great beers on tap at the Albion," says MacBean. "Corey [Crooks] did a great job keeping things interesting, but the thing that struck me about a lot of the beers coming through the taps was that none of them were made by a Newcastle brewer. I would think to myself, why?"

Seeing the type of brews on tap at The Albion, MacBean figured he could brew as good a beer as any of them, if not better. So, with a bit more time at home to refine his own brewing skills, MacBean started experimenting with different recipes and ingredients to try and develop his own style that could be unique to Newcastle. His first commercial brew was a straightforward but refreshing summer ale he called Sneaky One.

"I came up with the idea for the Sneaky One while I was working at the pub,” MacBean says. “Hunter Beer Co.'s Kolsch and Stone & Wood's Pacific Ale were, by far, the two biggest sellers, and just I thought, let's see if I can jam a beer right in between both of them. I didn't want the fruitiness of Pacific Ale, but I liked the dry, easy drinking style of the Kolsch."

The Albion was soon selling a keg a day of Grainfed’s Sneaky One, and today it remains MacBean’s biggest seller.

“I just about had double my production of that beer almost overnight,” says MacBean. “It’s still my most popular beer, accounting for around 65 per cent of my total production.”

The plan is to eventually begin canning or bottling Sneaky One so that Grainfed fans can spread the love further afield, and even enjoy a sneaky one, or two, at home.

“We’ve been thinking about putting Sneaky One in cans, but, the problem is, it’s a minimum $30k to get going,” MacBean says. “And, to be honest, the beer is so popular around town that, more than anything else, what I really need is more kegs.”

In the meantime, MacBean has slowly been brewing and releasing other beers under his Grainfed label, which includes the red hot 3 Sons Red IPA, the super refreshing East Coast Pale, and an ode to Newcastle’s history of coal and love of dark beers, the Coal Porter (reviewed in this edition).

“My mission from the start has been to brew good beer that’s worthy of this great place,” MacBean says. “We’re lucky to live in such a beautiful place with a great community of people all working hard to make it even better . . . Hopefully my beers will reflect that, and in time, who knows, maybe one day someone will enjoy a can of Sneaky One on the other side of the world and think of home in Newcastle.”