In a converted warehouse tucked in a shady alleyway of Newtown, Sydney's colorful, artistic bohemia, peace of mind is being brewed, one sustainably-sourced and delicious pint at a time.
A sign on the wall reads "No Dicks!" and this tongue-in-cheek axiom could be used to describe the philosophy owners Richard Adamson and Oscar McMahon imbibe in their business venture, craft brewery Young Henrys at 76 Wilford Street. Since March 2012, Adamson and McMahon have been creating quality craft beer at Young Henrys, with an emphasis on sustainable brewing techniques.
Beer production is not traditionally a low-impact process, with greenhouse gas emissions from refrigeration, glass production, water requirements (100 hundred liters per bottle of beer) and food miles all being factors for consideration. Forward-thinking "green" brewers like Adamson and McMahon, along with collectives like the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association (ARCBA) and the Craft Beer Industry Association (CBIA) are doing their part to lower breweries' environmental impact and build strong, sustainable breweries in Australia.
One of the biggest factors to dictate the environmental impact in a beer's production is actually one many of us wouldn't consider — the canning or bottling process itself and the byproducts created. In choosing aluminum cans over glass bottles, Young Henrys is producing 30 percent fewer emissions, requiring 92 percent less material, and requiring 40 percent less volume cased up (allowing much more to be transported at a time).
Young Henrys also donates over 1 ton of spent grain per day — a byproduct of the brewing process — to a local farm for cattle consumption, avoids caustic chemicals in their brewing process, and encourages the use of refillable glass growlers for customers to take the tasty ales, lagers, and ciders home.
The business is also collaborating with community initiative Pingala (supported by a grant from the city of Sydney) to install photovoltaic solar panels that will help supply electricity for the brewing process, cutting down immensely on annual greenhouse gas emissions.
But on to the actual product...a responsible, low emission brewing process isn't going to slake one's thirst on a hot summer day in Sydney. A pint of Young Henrys Real Ale — winner of "Best in Class" and the gold medal for "Best Overall Beer" at the International Real Ale Festival in 2014 — just might do the trick. Young Henry's was one of just 10 breweries from around the world invited to that competition, and to win for a real ale in England, home of the real ale, was certainly a coup in which Young Henrys could take pride.
David Rogers, a bartender and brewing apprentice from Newtown, took the time to give us a tour and a run-through of the brewing process on a buzzing Sunday afternoon at Young Henrys. Tanks with names like "Cojones Grandes," "Clarissa," and "Chenzel Washington" hold the unfinished products and make it easier for brewers to identify the particular batches of beer with which they are working. Stacks of 64-ounce amber growlers wait by the water filtration system to be filled with fresh, innovative beers like the bestselling "Newtowner," a pale ale brewed with passion fruit, and "Bier Noir,"a complex, malt-driven German dunkel or dark lager.
All the beer is brewed from local hops — mostly from Victoria and Tasmania — and the vast majority of the finished product is distributed within a few suburbs. Rogers explained the brewing process in layman's terms, completely avoiding the condescension that sometimes infiltrates the craft brewing vernacular. He was clearly familiar with the raw materials, the equipment, and the fine-grind, low-waste technique that makes their brewing process unique. His enthusiasm for the high-quality finished product was easily contagious.
As we moved on to tasting the six tap offerings at the end of the tour, the room was filled with happy weekending Sydneysiders bellying up to the wooden tables arranged throughout the space and topped with rustic flowers. The whole place was surrounded by eclectic art.
The brewery doesn't yet have a kitchen, but a popular Sydney food truck called Mama Linh's was pulled right up to the door . Mama Linh’s was serving Vietnamese, and the scents of lemongrass and chili blending with the ever-present brewer’s yeast had patrons lining up to score fresh summer rolls and banh mi sandwiches.
We enjoyed all five of the beers we sampled, along with the cider, but the well-balanced, citrus-forward "Newtowner" ale was the clear favorite, tasting like a summer day in a glass. According to its creators this brew is "fun, fruity, and even a little bitter, just like Newtown."
The aforementioned Real Ale and the Natural Lager were also full of good flavors, and the Cloudy Cider was a crisp, sweet alternative, tasting precisely of the local Gala and Pink Lady apples from which it is derived. We also had the privilege of sampling an offering from the brewery's latest edition — a state of the art gin distillery designed by a moonshine specialist from Tennessee. The gin is distilled using a blend of thirteen different local botanicals and boasts a smoothness that belies its humble origins.
As I downed the last sip of "Newtowner" and prepared to head out into Sydney's bright afternoon sunshine, I was imbued with a sense of contentment that appeared to encapsulate the entire room, whose patrons varied in age from early-20s to late-60s and ran the gamut from heavily-inked mustachioed bohemes to tightly-buttoned, impeccably groomed executive types. The lack of pretense was as refreshing as the draughts. Even as an outsider one could easily be ensconced in such a welcoming, environmentally friendly, and plain-old cozy brewery to have a chat with locals and quaff a brew we can feel good about. Not a "dick" in sight.
Julia Reynolds is a travel writer, adventure enthusiast, and serial nomad living (mostly) in the Hawaiian islands. She is currently on a one-year trip around the world, avoiding air travel when possible and traveling slowly over land and sea. Some of her best travel experiences to date have been kayaking the Napali Coast of Kaua'i, diving the isolated atolls of Belize, and rock climbing in the Krabi region of Thailand. Her worst travel experiences have been getting robbed in Guatemala, breaking her back in Thailand, and breaking multiple bones in a mountain bike accident in Alaska. She still loves the places where the worst experiences occurred.