There’s a lot to be said for preparation.
It has the ability to turn something that we think we’ve seen before into something truly special and unique, moulding ideas—revising them—until they take form and realise a vision that, until now, existed only in the abstract.
And good preparation, when informed by equal experience, is a place where magic can happen.
Such has been the case with Freshwater Brewing Co.
Founded by a quartet of hospitality mainstays—Tom Bruce, Jonny Bucknall, Chloe Morgan-Webster and Brett Phillips—they have combined not only their collective ideas, but also their lessons learned to establish a brewery that subverts the usual tropes of this particular corner of hospitality and created something that stands a little left of centre (if not head and shoulders above) their brewing counterparts.
I had to make the trip North to Freshwater Brewing Co. to check this place out for myself.
“How hard could it be?”
First impressions matter.
Whether they’re made by the people, or the space, or in this case both, the weight a good first impression can carry and impart upon somebody is priceless.
Freshwater Brewing Co. and its Co-founders, Tom and Jonny, who were kind enough to sit down and talk to me, make a very good first impression. There is an effortless connection between them. They work so seamlessly with each other, and bounce off one another so naturally that their connection feels contagious. They make you feel part of their team from the first moment you meet them.
Tom: “I’ve been working in bars and cafes since I was a wee lad, and it was always just something to make a bit of money. I never really saw it as much of a career. When I started getting into more managerial roles and I moved into a brewery on the Northern Beaches, I sort of realised that I could actually make a bit of a career out of it. Luckily, I already really enjoyed beers, so the two just went hand in hand.”
Jonny: “I sort of bounced around from big breweries and little breweries, then picked up a pretty unhealthy habit for home brewing. The two things can really change your trajectory in life.”
It’s a good thing Jonny was able to recognise a trajectory taking shape, and more importantly, was game to give such a trajectory some backing in order to realise his vision and make Freshwater Brewing a reality.
Tom: “Johnny gave me a call and said, I’m thinking about opening up this brewery, and we’d always joked when we used to work together that when he was ready, I’d come and run it for him. So I got the call up and I thought, yeah, how hard could it be? Let’s get stuck in it.
“Chloe came on as our venue manager and one of our founders, and then the final piece of the puzzle was, uh, was Brett coming in? So it just meant that we had this great tight knit group that was ready to get, you know, get some hands dirty.”
Doing things differently
“The magic is in the yeast”
There’s a feeling as soon as you step foot into Freshwater Brewing that things aren’t going to be the same as other breweries. It’s light and airy, it feels welcoming, positive, inclusive. This is another one of those deliberate decisions I was talking about, in practice.
Jonny: “It’s quite easy to go to kind of a man cave, kind of blokey kind of vibe. But we were thinking, well, let’s open it up. Let’s be community focused. Nothing makes us more excited by seeing a nice mix of characters that are having a good time. And then they come back. That’s always great.”
But it takes more than a nice space to keep the people coming back for more (it does help though). The brewery industry is one ripe for stagnation and there’s a certain fatigue that is beginning to set in. People are growing tired of the never-ending production of heavy IPAs and pales. They’re growing fond of the light end of the spectrum again. And in a world in which the humble lager is king, you need to be sure what you’re doing is pitch perfect.
Jonny: “We always wanted to have a focus on crisp, easy drinking beers. We’re five minutes from the beach, 90% of our beers that we brew are lagers. When you decide to do lagers, you just need to get things set up differently.”
“We’ve got lager tanks. They’re these horizontal tanks that have secondary fermentation, whereby the lager just ferments out slowly for a long period of time. The magic is in the yeast, and the yeast just sort of does its own little thing. Those tanks are tapped straight into the beer lines. We’ve got a Czech side port tap—we’ve got a couple of them— and they’re a bit niche. But if you’re going to go through that full brewery experience, they’re like nothing else.”
Stand for something
“Just do your thing and do it well.”
There was one thing that Jonny told me which blew me away with its profound simplicity and that was that you have to stand for something. When you’re doing something with a predetermined purpose behind it, it lends that purpose to everything it touches.
Jonny: “We’re both pretty excited about the idea of doing something our way. If you stand for something, then everything else falls into place. You know, if everyone’s the same, the customer doesn’t get a choice and it’s a bit of a boring world. There’s plenty of other people that will be doing other great things, so just do your thing and do it well.”
Like I said, simple.
Tom: “You’ve been to a brewery before. You’ve probably seen the classic dad rock band on a Saturday night, which, frankly, I love—sometimes it’s an absolute riot.
“We just try and look at some things that people aren’t doing. We’ve had fashion shows in here, we’ve had inquests for roller discos, we have markets in here quarterly. We’ve got a massive venue here. So we do our best to lean into that and make sure it fits with our brand.”
This rolls over beyond the tanks and the space, into the kitchen, where the team didn’t opt for the easy way out, rather to take the idea of brewery food options and stretch the possibilities. It’s given us a menu that wouldn’t look out of place in any bar or restaurant along the water’s edge, and it’s definitely something different to the countless breweries who so often neglect such a crucial part of the drinking experience.
Tom: “Straight from the get go, we knew that we didn’t just want burgers and pizzas and food trucks. We wanted to have an offering that really reflects what Freshwater is to us. We do as much of this stuff in house as we possibly can. So from pickling, to brining olives, making hummus and tzatziki, beetroot dips, our own tortillas, all that sort of stuff, something that you’re happy to eat every day.”
Another thing Freshwater Brewing has leaned into is its proximity to other breweries. It’s inevitable that in such industrial surroundings, there’s going to be a few competitors taking advantage of the large warehouses available to brew some beers.
But it’s how Freshwater (and the surrounding breweries) have approached their situation. There’s none of the expected rivalries and guardedness. Nobody is hoping for the other to fail. Instead, they’re working together to create an overall better experience for everyone, be that the public or the breweries themselves.
Jonny: “We meet once a month and have a chat about initiatives. It’s like should we do a collaboration beer or should we do a festival? Or should we do X, Y and Z? And it’s great. It’s the way you should be. You know, we’re all a load of small businesses hustling, working hard and with so much passion. If you can collaborate and work together, it just makes everyone’s life easier.”
So, the next time you’re after an afternoon of easy drinking, mellow surroundings and a good vibes, why not pop up to Freshwater Brewing Co.
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