Dusty Miner founder Stuart Duff brews from the shed in his backyard

Right stuff: Dusty Miner brewmaster and owner Stuart Duff. Picture: Daniel  Honan
Right stuff: Dusty Miner brewmaster and owner Stuart Duff. Picture: Daniel Honan

Up from the underground in just three years, Stuart Duff of Dusty Miner Brewing has established himself as one of the best brewers in the Hunter Valley.

When he’s not working full-time as a fitter in the mines, Duff is down the back in his shed tinkering with recipes and ideas on how best to convert water, malt, hops and yeast into refreshing ales for us beer lovers of the Hunter to drink and enjoy.

“For a little brewery, I’d say I’ve done alright,” says Duff, standing in his backyard garage in Aberglasslyn; a garage that has been converted into a 300 litre nano-brewery thanks to 20 years’ experience of home brewing, some important advances in technology, a bit of general construction and electrical know-how, some zoning luck, and, crucially, a benevolent wife.

“Cath said I had to get some feedback from others who knew beer better than members of the family or a few mates of mine before I could go and turn our shed into a brewery,” Duff says. “So, I took some of my Pale Ale to the brew shop in town and gave it to the boys there, and also to Dylan Brooks, who ran the Pourhouse in Maitland, at the time.”

The positive feedback Duff received was enough to convince Cath that he should go ahead and fill up their shed up with a series of stainless steel tanks and grace the neighbourhood with the pungently sweet scent of soggy Weet-Bix boiled down inside of a warm farmyard barn.

Of course, having first received his wife’s approval, Duff now needed to convince council that this backyard brewing caper was a good idea.

“One of the hardest parts of the process was getting through council, but I got lucky because this part of the property is zoned rural, while the front of the house is residential,” Duff says.

“Then, when I went to the council meeting, there was 12 councillors including Mayor Peter Blackmore, and everyone voted in favour of it.”

Within just six months of setting up his backyard brewery, Duff’s beer was on the pour at the Pourhouse in Maitland. Brewing at half the capacity or less of many of the Valley’s other permissible bootleggers, Duff is able to stand shoulder to shoulder with them all, which include the likes of Hunter Beer Co. and Hope Estate (both located in Wine Country).

“I remember back when people thought, ‘who’s this bloke in his backyard with his little brewery’, but now those same blokes know I can make good beer,” Duff says.

“I’ve picked up medals and awards for my beers since I started, so I know I can make a consistently good product, which I feel proud about.”

I’ve picked up medals and awards for my beers since I started, so I know I can make a consistently good product, which I feel proud about.

Stuart Duff

For instance, Duff’s Dusty Miner Black Bones Dark Ale has picked up a silver in every competition it has been entered in over the last three years. In brewing awards parlance that means the beer is pretty spot on, with only a minor imperfection as it relates to the brewing category and style it’s been entered for.

“After Black Bones was awarded a silver medal at this year’s ‘Indies’ [2018 Independent Beer Awards], the Clarendon Hotel in Newcastle got onto me and said ‘we want your beer’,” Duff says.

Dusty Miner beers feature regularly on taps all around the Hunter, including the Happy Wombat in Newcastle West, the Blind Monk on Beaumont Street, the Whistler in Maitland, and as far north as Gloucester, at the Roundabout Inn, on Queen Street.

Duff bottles his beers too, which you can usually find in craft beer havens like Warners At The Bay bottle shop, and The Prince of Wales Hotel bottle shop in Merewether.

Duff will even take a few brews in to work with him to give his underground mining mates a taste.

A special: Saison Du Dusty from the Dusty Miner.

A special: Saison Du Dusty from the Dusty Miner.

“One of the blokes came up to me and said ‘you’ve wrecked me’, and I said ‘what do you mean?’… He said, ‘I can’t just go to the pub now and get a normal beer, I’ve got to look for something like yours to drink,” Duff recounts, laughing.

If you’re keen to have your taste buds ‘wrecked’, or, at the very least, changed for the better, check out his brew.

  • My recent review of his Saison du Dusty special: It pours lively, frothy and foamy. Big bubbles bulge towards the top of the glass before settling in amongst the off-white coloured head, like the eyes in a slice of Swiss cheese. Saison’s ain’t meant to be sweet, but dry and full of spice instead. Thankfully, cette bière n’est pas doux, but rather spicy, in the peppered orange zest, bruised apricot, hops (and ginger) sense of the word. A little sweaty too; more so in the mouth, which is perturbing, yet mouth-watering, slick, yet soft, perhaps a little chewy, finishing bone dry, like talc. A commendable crack.