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Freshwater Brewing Co. on Beyond The Pass

An all-inclusive brewery injecting some much-needed brightness into the Australian brewing scene.
In this episode, Tom Bruce & Jonny Bucknall (Freshwater Brewing Co. Co-founders) and Graeme Alexander (Lightspeed’s Hospo Oracle) talk brewery communities, better lagers, why when it comes to pouring Czech tech is the best, plus we make a serving of hearty brisket tacos.

Who are they?

An incredible brewery

What do they do?

Beers, cocktails, tacos & good times

Since when?


Craft brewery located in the Northern Beaches, Sydney

Freshwater Brewing Co. was made of a mixture of good experience and timing.

With each of the Co-founder’s shared histories in the brewing industry, they had plenty of ideas and understanding as to what they wanted Freshwater Brewing Co. to be and, more importantly, what it wouldn’t be.

There is a path that is well-trodden when it comes to setting up a brewery. Fit out a warehouse with brewing equipment, keep it dark and dirty, pump the pub rock over the speakers and get to pouring your beers.

It’s a business model that has worked for many in the past, and it will continue working for many more in the future. It just wasn’t what Freshwater Brewing Co. wanted.

Instead, Freshwater Brewing Co. and its delicious brews are just the tip of an iceberg that subverts the usual tropes of an industry that has found its niche in grunge and rough edges, providing a community hub that caters for the many, not the few.

Making Braised Brisket Tacos with Christopher Green, Freshwater Brewing Co. Head Chef

It begins with beer

“Braised brisket tacos” is hard to say (for me)

As with most good times, this dish finds its roots in delicious, wonderful beer. I only wish I had enough time to be there when this happens, but Chef Chris isn’t playing any games when it comes to crafting the star of his tacos. This brisket cooks for a full 6 hours in a bath of Freshy’s Smoked Helles Lager (amongst other things that he wouldn’t tell me) to achieve a tenderness and complexity of flavour only found when you spend hours upon hours soaking in booze.

*Note, telling your significant other that you’re not drunk, you are, in fact, building some complexity of flavour within yourself does not work as a valid excuse for embarrassing yourself at the family Christmas this year.

Next comes the tortilla

Corn > flour

There’s something you should know about me: I’m a taco snob.

For me, if you’re making tacos and you want them to taste anything like their counterparts in Mexico (and I guess the US too), you’re gonna have to ditch the flour tortillas and serve them up on some corn.

You can imagine my joy when Chris reached for some white corn bad boys upon which we were to build something absolutely bueno. It’s a small adjustment that can take your tacos from Old El Paso to muy sabroso in an instant.

Head Chef Chris knows what he’s doing.

It’s taco time

Chris handles the meat, I’ve got everything else

There is no sweeter time than taco time. Try arguing this point with me and it will be the most one-sided argument in the history of time because I’ll be too busy fanboying over tacos to respond.

To go with our braised brisket we need some accompanying ingredients and it starts with a fresh, zingy slaw: shredded cabbage dressed in their own sriracha/kewpie mayo. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s amazing.

Next comes a mountain of brisket on each and a glint in my eye so loving, so sparkling that my wife might start to get suspicious that she’s about to lose her husband to a plate of food.

This is then joined by a spoonful of Chris’ own charred corn salsa: a refreshing mix of charred corn, jalapeño and capsicum that cuts through the hearty umami of the beef and adds a little heat to the mix.

Our tacos are finished with a pinch of pickled red onions for a bit of acidity, some fresh lime and the only thing you would never find me putting on any food, ever: coriander. This is no slight on Chris, but coriander tastes like soap (to me) and has no place anywhere on a plate of food.

Our tacos are complete. They’re hearty, they’re balanced, the coriander has been picked off and cast asunder (by me) and they last about 30 seconds before I’m staring down at an empty plate and a room full of people disgusted at my savage dining techniques.

More about Freshwater Brewing Co.

A brewery nestled in Sydney’s Northern Beaches where incredible brews meet an all-inclusive space. Catering to more than just beer nerds, this beachside haven is a community hub for all times of day.

Building experience

“When he was ready, I’d come and run it for him”

All 4 Co-founders of Freshwater Brewing Co. seemed destined to own their own slice of brewing heaven, such was the calibre they built up in the years leading to Freshy’s opening.

Stints working in some of Australia’s finest brewing companies showed them the ropes and let them observe what works and what doesn’t, first-hand.

Jonny tapped into a skillset that seems tailor-made for his role: an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of beer (and a healthy/disturbing obsession with yeast) paired with a marketing background. Tom and Chloe (Morgan-Webster) have each seen to the smooth running of many a bar, whilst Brett Phillips brought along his brewing knowledge from nearby Modus Operandi to complete the dream team.


“You’ve got to stand for something”

Freshwater Brewing Co. is located in an area that isn’t lacking when it comes to breweries. In fact, they are one of six within walking distance of each other and, whilst some might view this as saturation, the teams behind these breweries lean into their close proximity to build up their industry, rather than to try and compete with one another.

This has led to breweries in this neck of the woods becoming much more than a place to sample a flight of heavy IPAs and buy a t-shirt for the road. They’ve become wholly individual experiences, each adding something different to every buck’s party or brewery crawl in the area for an afternoon of debauchery.

There is no competition, only the common goal to make their small pocket of the world a beer drinker’s paradise. And I dare say they’ve achieved just that.

Doing things differently

“Straight from the get go…”

As soon as you start talking to Tom & Jonny about Freshwater Brewing Co. one thing sticks out in the way they talk about their business and their ideas: everything is deliberate. Every single decision they have made, has been made with purpose and can be justified. Nothing is on a whim.

And it’s this attention to detail and foresight that has set them up for the levels of success that they’re enjoying and which permeates throughout every facet of their operation.

From their choice of beers (90% lagers, due to their proximity to the beach and a demand for sessionable brews), to their food offerings, down to the decor itself. Every last inch of this place is thoroughly intentional and it is a breath of fresh air breathed into an industry at risk of succumbing to what I like to call IPA fatigue.

Full transcript

Full transcript

Graeme: [00:00:00] When you think of breweries, you don't usually think of things like a Saturday morning coffee or yoga or visions of an endless summer. You usually think of things like a vast, dark warehouse setting, triple M favorites on the radio and beer nerds and stag parties all getting a little bit out of hand. And in a world of copy and paste breweries. I thank God that places like Freshwater Brewing Company exist and thrive. This is beyond the pass. A good place to start. Talk to me about your history in the industry. Like how did you get into beer in the first place?

Tom: [00:00:41] 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: [00:01:00] So I sort of bounced around from big breweries and little breweries, then picked up a pretty unhealthy habit for home brewing. So the two things can really, really change your trajectory in life.

Graeme: [00:01:13] Is there any absolute nuggets of wisdom that you guys have learnt that you've been able to bring?

Jonny: [00:01:17] 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 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 doing it well.

Tom: [00:01:35] Most people hadn't been inside a brewery. They haven't really seen the tank. They haven't seen how the sausage is made. So a lot of people, it's a new experience. So like I like to, you know, go, why don't you come have a look or, you know, try some beer off the tank, like, because a lot of people that sort of experience that it blows their mind. You know, that side of the customer service thing going above and beyond, like, I feel like it's a bit of a pillar. If there were six breweries around here, which there are, and everyone offered the same thing, brewery that has the best customer experience and the nicest people is going to be the one that genuinely does the best. 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. Right as we were ready to, like, really burn some rubber. Um, 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.

Graeme: [00:02:31] Tell me about the different techniques you guys use. So do things a little bit different with the brewing. Do things a little bit different with the pouring.

Jonny: [00:02:37] Yeah. Well I think for us we always wanted to have a focus on crisp, easy drinking beers like we're five minutes from the beach. And so that has made quite a big, you know, decision making around what style of beers. And so really 90% of our beers that we brew are lagers. When you decide to do lagers, you just need to get things set up differently. So sort of number one most obvious thing that's different about our brewery setup is we've got lager tanks. They're just these horizontal tanks that have secondary fermentation, whereby the lager just ferments out slowly for a long period of time. When it comes down to lagers, the magic is in the yeast, and the yeast just sort of does its own little thing. And those tanks are tapped straight into the beer lines. We've got a Luca tap, which is a Czech side port tap. We've got a couple of them and, you know, they're a bit unique. Um, they're a bit niche. But if you're going to go through that full brewery experience, um, they're like nothing else.

Graeme: [00:03:42] It's not a go well with her, I reckon. Some tacos.

Tom: [00:03:47] I know a guy.

Graeme: [00:03:48] You know a guy. Let's go and meet a guy. Let's make some tacos. Yeah. Chris. Hey, how are you going, mate? Not too bad. How are you? Yeah. Good. So we're gonna make some braised brisket tacos?

Chef Chris: [00:03:59] Yes. Braised in in our smoked Helles lager. I've got everything set up. Let's get started. We're gonna start with some, uh, white corn tortillas. Yep. I'm just gonna warm them through. Um, I've got the braised brisket here. Obviously, we braised it for about six hours. So what I want you to do is take this compound. Mayonnaise. This is our sriracha. Kewpie. So a little bit spicy. A little bit salty. Yeah. And dress our coleslaw and then evenly distribute the coleslaw on the tacos. I believe in you. I know you can do this. I'll take care of the meat. You got the rest equally on each. Equally down the center. We're gonna build a little salad on top of these tortillas. Okay. Oh. Very nice. Do you want a job? We're hiring. Right?

Graeme: [00:04:38] If I ever say yes to going back into the industry, please, um, please kill.

Chef Chris: [00:04:42] Me. The next component, um, is going to be the brisket itself. Um, we're gonna pile that on top, um, evenly. It's all that sticky barbecue sauce. So now we'll go with the charred corn salsa. Just put a line of each on either side of the taco. Charred corn. Yeah. That's good. Yeah. Charred corn, jalapenos, capsicum, uh, zest and juice of limes. Good stuff. House pickled red onions, just for a little bit of sweetness and astringency. Just a couple. Just a little pinch. Yeah. Just a little pinch on on both of them. And then to balance out that sweetness, we're going to present the gas with a couple of limes for them to squeeze. And then now I'm Canadian. So where I come from this is still called cilantro. But I believe you guys call it coriander. Coriander. So there we go. There are our smoked Helles lager, uh, braised brisket tacos. Incredible stuff chef. Thanks for your help.

Graeme: [00:05:28] Thank you. Thank you lads. They are going to be some of the most shoddily put together tacos in the world. Your food offerings a little bit different to other breweries.

Tom: [00:05:39] Straight from the get go, we knew that we didn't just want burgers and pizzas and, you know, 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 taziki, beetroot dips, our own tortillas, all that sort of stuff, something that you're happy to eat every day.

Graeme: [00:06:01] The general vibe of your of your brewery feels like no one's alienated. Everyone's welcome.

Jonny: [00:06:06] 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 and then they come back. That's always great.

Graeme: [00:06:26] Going even further beyond, beyond the beers, to try and get people in and give them something to do and try and utilize such a good space. You guys put on some some pretty cool events, some pretty cool initiatives. I guess you've been.

Tom: [00:06:38] To a brewery before. You've probably seen the classic dad rock band on a Saturday night, which like, frankly, I love sometimes it's it's an absolute riot. We just try and look at some things that people aren't doing. You know, we had a really great event the other night, Surf Shapers, which basically involved a bunch of different local shapers, um, from the northern beaches and around Australia, coming down and sharing a little bit of insight around the craft. You know, we've had fashion shows in here. We've had, you know, inquests for roller discos, you know, 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.

Jonny: [00:07:13] You know, 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 we're all a load of small businesses hustling, working hard and with so much passion. If you can like, collaborate and work together, it just makes everyone's life easier.

[00:07:39] I'll drink to that. That's all I've got.

Graeme: [00:07:45] I've got nothing else. Yeah.

Jonny: [00:07:49] I've got so much more. Yeah. You just see my dog.

Tom: [00:07:52] Do you want to see me walk my dog.

Jonny: [00:07:53] Or.

Tom: [00:07:54] Are you gonna pull that one? Surely.