In case you hadn't heard, Hunter Beer Co. is dead (RIP). Long live FogHorn Hunter. The $1.5 million sale of the well-known Potters site in Nulkaba was completed earlier this year. Back in February 2020; what a year, huh?
"It's almost like we've had two starts," says Shawn Sherlock, CEO and chief brewing officer of FogHorn Brewery.
"We took on this venue in February and before we even had a chance to announce we were opening, we had to close, thanks to COVID. In hindsight, though, I think it definitely gave us the time and space to get on a better footing and really nail down exactly what we wanted to achieve out here."
The plan is pretty simple. Brew more beers for Hunter Valley beer lovers.
"When James (Garvey; former co-owner of FogHorn) and I first established FogHorn, it was very clear in our minds that we were going to pursue a multi-venue operation. We tried that down on the Central Coast, for a while, but it was hard to sustain over the long run," says Sherlock.
"Here, at the old Potters site, we've got the space to expand our operation and concentrate on brewing better beers, and more of them."
A crucial condition of the sale was the inclusion of fellow brewer and long-time collaborator, not to mention good friend, Keith Grice, and his off-sider Daniel Gayner.
"Obviously, Keith and I have been friends since we used to home brew together, back in the day," Sherlock says. "But, a big attraction for me, in terms of establishing FogHorn out here, was working with Keith and Daniel. Finding good people, let alone good brewers, in a rapidly growing industry is very difficult. You certainly don't get someone like Keith, who is every bit as experienced as I am in the industry. In fact, he's won as many, if not more awards than I have over the years."
Finding good people, let alone good brewers, in a rapidly growing industry is very difficult.Shawn Sherlock
"I probably should have moved on from Hunter Beer Co. a long time ago. I was way too comfortable," Grice says. "This is such a fantastic challenge, and provides me with an enormous opportunity to work alongside Shawn. There's not many other blokes I'd prefer to work with, to be honest."
Given the extra space that FogHorn Hunter has - relative to FogHorn HQ on King Street in Newcastle - the new Wine Country brewery will be used to craft the core range of FogHorn's beers including the Young Americans IPA, the Newy Pale Ale, and the award-winning Sligo Stout.
"The brewhouse is currently a six-hectolitre system, and we're looking at installing a 25-litre system in the near future. This will mean we can double-batch brew every day, five to six days a week, which will significantly increase our production capacity," Sherlock says.
Increased production means more beer for beer lovers. Indeed, demand for cans has significantly increased since FogHorn first released the Young Americans IPA in July of 2019. Now, plans are afoot for FogHorn to install their very own canning line in the not too distant future.
"We're not interested in being the biggest brewer in the region. That's not what's driving this expansion. We're just trying to brew more of the best beers we can; beers we can be proud of, without compromising on flavour, on quality, or anything else," Grice says.
To that end, despite the demise of Hunter Beer Co., a few old favourites will be reborn and rebranded under a FogHorn decal, including the mighty Hunter Kolsch.
"Even now, there's still people who think I'm going to change recipes or kill off certain beers that Keith and Dan made famous. Don't worry, we'll definitely be keeping the Kolsch, and the Slaked Magpie too," Sherlock says.
Vintage 2021 in Hunter Valley Wine Country is coming. I can see the stacked pallets of imported Peroni, now. Perhaps, next vintage, FogHorn Hunter can supply the vintage refreshments?
"Winemakers are the most conservative beer drinkers I've ever come across," Sherlock says. "They'll buy pallets of imported, expensive variations on mainstream lager, rather than their domestic equivalents. I'm not holding my breath, but I'll know we've made it out here once I see them drinking our King Street Pale, or our future canned Hunter Kolsch, instead," Sherlock says.