Small town. Big dreams. Good beer. Great people. David Cox and his partner Haley Collis from Tin Shed Brewing in Dungog like to go their own way by doing things a little out of the ordinary.
“I was born and raised in Dungog, I went to high school here,” Cox say. “There was something like a hundred and forty people in the year I finished. I don’t reckon there’d be any more than 10 of us left in this town now . . .”
“So, I think, showing that you can do something like this in your home town is pretty invigorating for people,” Collis says, seemingly finishing Cox’s sentence.
Back in October 2016, the couple opened Tin Shed Brewery in a once condemned and derelict building on Dowling Street, the main thoroughfare of Dungog. Leaving the up-front façade relatively unchanged, the couple spent several months refurbishing the inside in order to make it fit for a small brewery.
“I was an avid home brewer,” Cox says. “We eventually just thought, ‘Bugger this, let’s do it ourselves’, so we started looking around and this place come up, about four years ago. It was marked as a derelict building. We had to fully re-build it . . . the floor was rotten and caved in, it had termite damage, fire damage, it was a complete write-off.”
Aside from the standard dealings with local council, which apparently went about as smooth as driving down Dowling Street, everyone in Dungog, including the local publicans, got behind Cox and Collis’s idea to open a brewpub in town.
“When the owner of the Settler’s Arms found out about us, she came to us and said, ‘as soon as you’re open, we want a keg of beer off you’,” Collis says, smiling.
“Locals are the backbone of our business, they’re so important to us” Cox says. “They didn’t have any objections to us opening.”
In the almost two years since Tin Shed Brewery opened, the couple say that they’ve changed the drinking habits of their fan base by luring them away from the nonchalant call of the mainstream and introducing them to the flavor and taste of real beer.
“Hops and locals didn’t go hand in hand when we first started, because these beers have such a unique taste, compared to most mainstream beers,” Collis says.
“It’s usually the fruitiness or the hops that deters people,” Cox adds.
“I can think of a few groups of guys that are in regularly, who, before, would just order lagers,” Collis says. “Now it's like, ‘one pale, one amber, a porter and a lager’. The shout is breaking up, I think because we’ve slowly worked on our customers to ease them into our beers.”
Locals are the backbone of our business, they’re so important to us. They didn’t have any objections to us opening.Tin Shed Brewery brewmaster David Cox
Tin Shed heavily rotates their taps, offering a range of different beers that Cox brews each and every week in order to keep the amber fluid flowing.
“I like to experiment and try to make unique beer,” Cox says. “Last Easter, I made a beer called Choc Bunny that had rabbit in it.”
Wait . . . as in real rabbit?
“Yeah, we got some from the local butcher, just for a bit of fun.”
“We added heaps of cacao nibs as well, so it tasted way more like chocolate than rabbit,” Collis, gratefully, explains.
When their daughter, Grace, was born, Cox brewed a beer using cherries. It took 10 boxes (50kg) of fresh cherries and 17 hours for both of them to pit each and every one to add into the brew.
“It was called Cherry Blossom, and it was delicious,” Collis says.
“Yeah, but it’ll never be brewed again,” Cox hastens to add.
Perhaps the best thing about Tin Shed Brewery’s brews, however, is that many of their beers clock in under 5% ABV, making them perfect for an afternoon pit stop.
“There’s no public transport in Dungog, so we had to think about our market, plus we get a lot of drivers and motorbike riders who’ll stop in for a drink with lunch,” Cox says.
Plans are afoot to have Tin Shed Brewery’s beer on tap in a few local places and pubs around the Hunter, but, for now, the couple are quite content pouring their beers fresh and direct to their patrons in Dungog.
In short, Tin Shed Brewery is a lesson in having a crack and advancing the community as you go.
“Heaps of people asked when we first opened, ‘why here, why Dungog?’,” Collis says. “The simple answer is we could afford here, we live here, our family is here and this is where we want to be.”