In Food + Drink

There’s A Pint-Sized Craft Brewery-Pub On This Surry Hills Corner

It’s a little known fact that when chemical engineers graduate from their degrees, many go on to become beer brewers.

“It’s a popular pathway,” says Scott Hayward, head brewer at Surry Hills’ Sydney Brewery. His first job out of uni was at a brewery, and worked for 11 years at the Bluetongue brewery on the Central Coast. After the brewery closed, Hayward worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a couple of years, before returning to his true love – brewing beers.

The Sydney Brewery is the recently-opened ‘craft’ brewer and bar attaché to the Rydges Sydney Central hotel on Albion Street, Surry Hills. Locals may know it as the former Bar Surry Hills + Italian Kitchen, but after a complete refurbishment, the chandeliers are gone, as well as the metre-long pizzas. Instead, there’s plenty of leather-clad bar stools, exposed brick walls, green plants, and – you can’t ignore it – a gleaming mini-brewery operation sitting prettily in the front windows.

We say mini-brewery, because at 500 litres per batch, the inner-city brewery is the pint-sized version (sorry) of its sister site, Lovedale Brewery, which churns out 1800 litres of booze per batch. With an output of 25 kegs a week, Sydney Brewery might make smaller quantities of the amber stuff, but that doesn’t affect the quality of their product.

“[We have] a pretty tried and tested process, [but] we have the flexibility to do new and exciting things,” says Hayward.

The brewery’s flagship beer will be the Albion Ale, a “nice and fruity, not overly bitter” extra pale ale. Named after the street on which the brewery sits, the recipe is still in development. Heyward is looking to taste-testing his work-in-progress concoction this week, but is already brainstorming for the summer months ahead. The small scale of their productions means gives him flexibility to experiment with seasonal brews – “stuff that’s turned around quickly to keep things exciting,” – and is toying with the idea of making a wheat beer.

But the million-dollar question invariably pops up: what exactly is craft beer? And does Sydney Brewery qualify for the craft beer tag? Aside from producing beer on a smaller scale, Hayward thinks good craft beers share one common element – love.

“They’re made more manually, not on an automated brewhouse where you just press a button. It’s made with a bit more love,” he says.

Licensee and hotel general manager Andrew McKenna says the other secret ingredient to a successful craft brewery is its staff.

“[We have] knowledgeable staff, who know our beers and know what they taste good with. Approachability is what we want,” says McKenna.

Mini chorizo dogs with smoked pepper relish Photo: Supplied

While waiting for the house-made brews to come off the production line, thirsty patrons can turn to the bar’s beer taps. There’s a selection of drops from Lovedale Brewery, of which many are named after Sydney’s suburbs; there’s a hop-heavy Paddo Pale, a dark Potts Point Porter, and the fruity, malty Surry Hills Pils.

Cider souls can also sip at the Manly Perry – a refreshing pear cider fermented with champagne yeast – and the gluten-free Agave Ginger Cider, available in bottles.

For the adventurous, there’s also a beer cocktail, a whisky-sour-meets-pale-ale combo using their Paddo Pale Ale. The brewery-bar concept has been 18 months in the making. Dr. Jerry Schwartz, owner of the Schwartz Family hotel group (under which the Rydges Sydney Central hotel operates) originally opened a brewery at the Macquarie Hotel in 2012, before expanding operations to the Lovedale site. But he longed for a home brewery base in Sydney, and the team have been keeping and eye and ear out for a suitable venue ever since. The current space features a wide, street-facing corner window, making it the perfect display for the “showpiece” brewery, says McKenna.

Shake and bake chicken tenders with chipotle aioli Photo: Supplied

Over the eighteen months of planning, design and construction, executive chef Rick Fowden had plenty of time to develop a beer-friendly food menu. It leans towards flavours form the Mediterranean and the US – there’s a burger, of course, as well as smaller bites like ‘chorizo slider dogs’, and ‘shake n bake’ chicken tenders with chipotle aioli.

Appropriately, the beers sneak their way into the food, via a cider-braised red cabbage (served on the side with the bratwurst); and a sticky porter barbeque sauce, drizzled on slow-cooked short beef ribs. The battered fish, too, went under some improvements. The batter was originally made with the pale ale, which was too heavy for the dish – it’s now done with the lighter Glamarama summer ale.

There’s plans to make the Sydney Brewery somewhat of an nightlife hub. On Thursday and Saturday nights, the venue will host live music – “it’ll be soul, jazz, RnB,” says McKenna – with DJ spinning tunes on Friday evenings.

And watch this space – there’s tentative plans for a rooftop bar and an in-house cinema (for hotel guests). For a mini-brewer, it looks like Sydney Brewery has big dreams.

Published 31 August, 2018