There’s something uniquely appealing about Botany and its breweries.
It isn’t home to Sydney’s highest concentration of beer makers; that honour goes to Marrickville and the surrounding inner west, with Brookvale and the wider Northern Beaches biting at the former’s heels.
Yet you can’t deny the special nature of the beer scene in this southern pocket of Australia’s largest city, bordered by the city’s main airport to the west and its major port to the south.
Certainly, its long history as both an industrial and a residential suburb — a place where striking warehouses look over old weatherboard cottages — make it fertile ground for brewers looking for both space and an audience.
Compared to many other suburbs in Sydney and elsewhere, however, craft beer came late to Botany. The first to arrive, One Drop Brewing, opened in 2019 — the same four digits that make up the suburb’s postcode. And maybe those four digits were a sign that craft beer’s presence here was long overdue, because two more breweries soon followed: Slow Lane Brewing’s first beers appeared in 2020 and Beer Fontaine’s came out early in 2022.
It’s their distinctive approaches to brewing, their identities, and their creativity that sets each apart. And, taken together, they make visiting Botany a distillation of the tapestry of modern Australian beer; it’s hard to think of anywhere in the country where you can enjoy more unique beer experiences in fewer square metres.
And, hey, if you’ve just touched down in Sydney with a thirst, it helps that they’re close to the airport.
Let’s start with the first to open. Because even as Australian brewers look to push boundaries with novel ingredients and techniques infusing their rapid-fire releases, One Drop stand out. Among the close-to-100 new beers they released in 2022, there were those featuring fruits you’ve likely never eaten to new hopping processes and fairy floss-filled sours. And that’s without mentioning the popular beer slushie machine.
One Drop driven by fruit and fearlessness
Sure, they have a core range that includes the wonderfully dialled-in Botany Bay Lager but to understand One Drop a good place to start is with the five or so tonnes of lactose the brewery goes through in a year.
“That’s back-of-the napkin maths but it’s at least five tonnes,” head brewer and co-founder Nick Calder-Scholes says. “That’s a lot of lactose.”
It certainly is for a brewery that at the time of writing makes around 250,000 litres of beer a year, but milk sugar alone doesn’t begin to capture the scope of their adjunct use or approach to beer. Or, more accurately, approach to booze: One Drop is also a distillery and makes ginger beer, other beer-like products and hard lemonade that tends to sell out as soon as it’s available.
“I’d say One Drop is driven by innovation and creativity,” Nick says. “We always want to be pushing the boundaries but in a well-thought-out way; not just throwing everything in with the kitchen sink.”
That creativity includes Clean Fusion, a process developed in-house whereby they successively scrub their heavily-hopped IPAs of yeast, protein and hop particles before a final dry hop. The aim is to counter any issues like hop creep and hop burn, but it also creates what they consider to be a true expression of hop aromas and flavours in the finished beer.
Before Clean Fusion, One Drop’s position as a bona fide hype brewery began with their sour beer program and the sheer volume of fruit they add to smoothie beers. The Double Take series, for example, sits at around 10% ABV with each beer featuring 420 grams of fruit per litre of beer.
“The fruits we go heavy on we are very familiar with,” Nick says. “We use a lot of raspberry and we know it very well. Like a chef, the more you know your ingredients, the better you can use them — and your supplier is a big deal too.”
In One Drop’s case, their supplier is the same person who keeps juice bars and health food on the east coast of Australia brimming with açaí, and the brewery’s yet to be let down.
As for the creative process, Nick says: “We have a beer on Friday. We come up with obscure fruit and we send it to our supplier and we ask him if he can get it. And he’s still yet to say no.”
It’s a production role that seems the perfect match for a brewer who grew up on New Zealand’s South Island and whose dad is now a blueberry farmer. But One Drop’s approach isn’t just about packing one fruit into beer — it’s in their combinations where things get weird.
Weird and wonderful
How does a blueberry, mango, banana and apricot sour sound? What about an imperial gose with raspberry purée, beetroot juice, marshmallows and black truffle salt? Does your local suggest partially freezing a beer can for maximum enjoyment?
Where many breweries strive to make nostalgic beers that bring back a long-forgotten memory of enjoying apple crumble or a chocolate bar, One Drop’s beers often use ingredients that require help from Google so you know what flavour you’re looking for. The blueberry and vanilla in Vibration Positive might be simple enough but then along comes jabuticaba: a purplish-black, grape-like fruit from South America.
For Nick and the brewers at One Drop, obscure fruits, uncommon combinations and nitro-dosed thick shake beers are about having fun and passing that excitement onto beer drinkers. It’s an experience captured in their taproom, which is filled with potted palm trees, vivid murals and a buzzing medley of joy that cuts through the sounds of reggae. The One Drop name was inspired by the one drop beat found frequently in that musical genre and the brewery’s ethos is built upon its values of creativity and community.
Anyone visiting the taproom can enjoy beer served from a slushie machine with a soft serve on top. To purists, it couldn’t be further removed from the brewing tradition but there’s a magic to the moment the first slushie of the day is poured: first one gets ordered, then another and, before too long, trays are filled with them as people smile wildly and pose for photos with a drink that looks like happiness in a small glass.
“It blows people’s minds and that’s what we want to do,” Nick says. “In no way do we expect you to buy a case of chocolate, vanilla, pancake stout. But we want you to take one can home and enjoy the artwork, read the back or the bottom and maybe have a chuckle somewhere before trying this absolutely mind-blowing experience.
“The taproom is just about having all that available at all times. So, you can have a slushie or ice-cream beer and sometimes we do beer blending.”
When word started to spread that another brewery was opening around the corner, One Drop’s regulars kept asking Nick if they were worried about the competition.
“It’s not easy to understand if you’re not too accustomed to how friendly the beer scene is,” he says.
“But we are so stoked to have them down the road. If we’re playing with barrels or Brett, then we definitely lean on Alex, and his brewers pop down to chat with us about fruiting and things like that.
“We are totally different ends of the spectrum, which is totally wild.”
Life in the Slow Lane
Alex is Alex Jarman, who launched Slow Lane with partner Yvonne in 2020, with their taproom following early in 2021. There are few breweries in Australia as close to one another as One Drop and Slow Lane but, while the walk might only take you a couple of minutes, stepping into Slow Lane is like walking into another continent.
Here, barrels fill the warehouse in a minimalist space of bright tiling, polished concrete floors, cheese and charcuterie. It’s the kind of elevated offering that naturally suits Alex’s beers, with the drinking cultures of Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic as much an inspiration for the taproom as the beers.
“There’s so much I love about beer culture in Europe,” Alex says. “That non-rowdy style of drinking where it’s all about the glassware — it’s different to going to a pub in Australia.”
Although European beer styles and drinking culture inspired Alex and Yvonne, their passion for beer stems from their time in New York. After moving there in 2012, they instantly fell for breweries specialising in classic Belgian styles and Alex started homebrewing before gaining experience at some of California’s craft breweries.
“It does make it confusing to explain,” he says. “We brew European-style beers, but everything I do is driven by my time in the US.
“Much of what inspired me was what I saw in the US scene, but also the US breweries are very open about what they are making. So, I was visiting breweries and there were also all these podcasts and articles without the language barrier.”
As the name suggests, Slow Lane’s beers take time; they are can- or keg-conditioned, while mixed culture beers, saisons and tripels feature prominently. But exploring Slow Lane’s beers is more of a journey through time.
Regal Authority was brewed to recreate the very earliest weissbiers from the 16th century. Fermented in wooden barrels for four months with Brettanomyces, the result was a wheat beer without the typical phenolic clove or banana notes of the style and more juicy, tart flavours of pineapple with hints of vanilla.
“We’ve been increasingly doing more of that stuff,” Alex says. “When I started, I was definitely into that mixed-culture fermentation and barrel-ageing, and we still do a lot of that. But we’ve found that our customers are into those historic European styles and they do quite well for us.”
As for their relationship with their near neighbours, Alex says beyond the friendship with the brewery team there, he’s grateful for the support One Drop have always provided.
“When we started, most of our business was them sending people our way,” he says. “Even now that happens and they’ve definitely got the bigger profile.
“It’s ended up that we’re kind of making the opposite type of beer. Not that it’s been planned, it’s just worked out that way, and it’s cool that you can see these two contrasts together.”
Beer Fontaine’s alt-trad attitude
Head ten to 15 minutes south of One Drop and Slow Lane and you’ll find Botany’s newest brewery carving out its niche: Beer Fontaine. As the name suggests, Belgium plays an influence here too, but while founder Marshall Harrington says he draws inspiration from his time travelling in Europe, he likes to tweak those styles to make them brighter and crisper to suit Australian tastes and the local climate.
“We don’t really stay traditional, we’re more modern,” he says.
“We’ll use hops Europeans would probably turn their noses up at, we use ingredients that are more local, and methods that are more local too.
“We just make the beers we want to and hopefully people like them.”
As far as statements of intent go, Patience is an impressive first beer. The 10.5% imperial stout spent a year ageing in single malt whisky barrels, before appearing without warning in bottle shops.
“I don’t know what brewery launches with a beer like that so maybe we’re idiots,” Marshall says with a laugh.
Beer Fontaine launched at the height of Covid when Marshall’s other business, a lighting company for TV and films, shut down. The long-time homebrewer with a degree in chemistry and a history working in food product development leaned on his past and soon started releasing 200-litre batches of bottle-conditioned beers.
These days, seeing craft beer in bottles is a rarity in Australia and, while they’ve released IPAs and other styles in cans, Marshall says the bottles seemed to help them get noticed in wine stores and regional bottle shops.
“The bottles present well in the shop,” he says. They sit there next to wines and look like they should be there.”
Soon after launching, his beers picked up a raft of medals and he expanded to a system five times the size. But bigger batch sizes haven’t reined in the experimentation, for example he’s planning a series exploring barrels and candi syrup.
“So, we’re using Belgian candi syrup to make dark beers and we’re barrel-ageing them in all different styles of barrels,” Marshall says. “It’s like doing a single hop series, which is cool, and people want to check ingredients out, so we’re doing it with candi syrup.”
At the time of writing, Beer Fontaine is in the final stages of approval for their taproom plans; previously, they’ve relied on a small tasting room from which they could serve just 10 people. And if there was any doubt Botany locals are looking for another brewery, it can be dispelled by Marshall’s experiences sat by the front door after a long day working on the build of his bar.
“Every time I sit there having a beer on Friday, everyone is walking past going, ‘When are you opening?’,” he says.
As for why Botany has embraced its nascent brewing scene, Nick believes it’s thanks to a sense of community that comes with young families calling the place home. One Drop’s other founders, Meg Barbic and Clay Grant, were locals before they opened the brewery and, with Meg having grown up there, she could see how much it was changing.
“There’s a lot of families here with kids and it’s quite developed now,” Nick says.
“It’s also got this crazy mix of residential, industrial, commercial; we are zoned heavy industry but right across our road is residential, so there is this tapestry.”
He says Meg likes to talk about how Botany has always been a place of twos. When she was growing up, there were two schools, two pubs, two bakeries and two fruit and veg shops.
“There were two breweries and now there’s a third,” Nick says. “So that’s broken, and there’s three or four gyms and there’s a lot of restaurants opening.
“Botany – it’s up and coming.”