The Hunter Valley is synonymous with wine but delve a little deeper and you’ll find it’s not all semillon and shiraz.
Breweries are starting to pop up, taking advantage of the demand for craft beer in inner-city Newcastle in recent years. Cider houses, too.
There’s Ironbark Brewhouse at Peter Drayton Wines; Lovedale Brewery at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley; Matilda Bay Brewhouse; Foghorn Brewhouse in Newcastle and, at Bob’s Farm, the popular Murray’s Brewery, to name a few.
Hope Estate jumped on board the craft beer train in 2014. Owner Michael Hope wanted to open a brewery so bought the equipment. The next step was to find a brewer. Former winemaker Matt Hogan answered the call.
He had previously worked as a winemaker at De Bortoli Wines in Griffith before switching to assistant and then head brewer at the De Bortoli-owned William Bull Brewery. He mixes innovation with tradition at Hope Brewhouse and, he says, strives to achieve balance with each and every drop.
“I just fell in love with beer. It’s not that I fell out of love with wine or anything, I just loved the process of making beer a little bit more than wine,” he told Food & Wine. “The principles are similar but beer is not quite as forgiving as wine in terms of product stability.”
A survey by Beer Cartel this year revealed Australian craft breweries generate close to $500 million annually, and this is growing at 10 per cent per year. More than 50 per cent of the market is controlled by large companies however craft beer drinkers preferred to buy from independently owned Australian breweries.
There was strong interest (82 per cent of the 17,000 people surveyed) for a seal to identify whether a beer is from an independent Australian brewery, and younger consumers tended to look for quality over quantity and for products that align with their personal principles.
Last year Hope Brewhouse came out of left field and was named Champion Small Brewery at the national Craft Beer Awards. Consistency across several categories was the key to Hogan’s success.
“Our beers aren’t way out there, we go for balance,” he explained. “I don’t know if that comes from my background in wine-making or just being able to identify flavours and working out what goes well together. We try to keep it as natural and clean as we can, too.”