South West Rocks is well known for it’s natural beauty, yet behind the façade of glistening white beaches, vast granite boulders and olive green heathland lies an intriguing coastal town with more than a few aces up it’s sleeve. And now there’s another new reason to visit this tiny Mid North Coast hamlet – craft beer.
Being fond of the amber nectar, my partner and I timed our visit to this tiny town with the inaugural Crafts of the Coast craft beer festival at Seabreeze Beach Hotel.
Held over the first weekend in March, the event was created to showcase some of the fantastic craft brewing talent that calls this part of the world home. Four local breweries were in attendance, along with three others from further afield.
In between refilling my sample glass, I got a chance to speak with several of the local brewers and learn how they got their start in the craft brewing industry.
Operating just over eight months, Bucket Brewery was the new brew on the block.
Started by Kempsey locals Sam Preston and Tim Sproule, the duo were inspired by the beer scene of Munich and wanted to bring German-style beers to Kempsey.
“Kempsey is a great place but it often gets the short end of the stick,” Preston said. “We want to change that and create a beer the Kempsey locals can be proud of”.
With the help of their wives Amanda and Peta-Marie, Preston and Sproule are already making waves in their hometown. They currently have four beers available on tap locally - a Schwarz, a Munich Helles, a Weissbier and a Pale Ale.
It’s early days for Bucket Brewery, but if they stay focused there’s no reason they can’t achieve their goal and give Kempsey a new reason to be proud.
At the opposite end of the craft-brewing spectrum is The Little Brewing Company, which is no longer a startup but a genuine micro-brewing success story.
Started nine years ago, co-founder Kylie Little says it was initially her husband Warwick’s beer obsession that brought them into the industry, but it wasn’t long until she came to the realisation that she too was a bit of a beer tragic.
“Warwick started in the wine industry but was always more interested in beer,” Little said. “After a time, we decided it was where we wanted to put our focus”.
“When we were picked up by Dan Murphy’s just four months after we started, we knew we must have been doing something right. It helped us to get serious.”
“We both love beer, and it’s the quest to create the perfect beer that drives us.”
The Little Brewing Company now has two beer ranges - Wicked Elf and Mad Abbot – available at their Port Macquarie cellar door and Dan Murphy’s stores.
Murray’s Craft Brewing Co, the third brewers I chatted with, have a philosophy of ‘no boring beer’. Judging from their label artwork, they’re definitely achieving that.
Helping them stand out from the pack, Murray’s Brewery have designed a range of eye-catching labels – such as a hipster astronaut on Moon Boy Golden Ale and a cheeky Garden of Eden-inspired vixen for the Apple Shack Cider – and thankfully it’s not just style over substance, their beers and cider are both seriously good.
Started in 2006 at the ‘Pub with no Beer’ in Taylor’s Arms, and now based out of Port Macquarie, Murray’s have a reputation for thinking outside the box. One taste of their Jaffa or Watermelon beers and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Joe Lappin from Murray’s says they couldn't resist the chance to visit South West Rocks for the beer festival and highlight the region’s emerging brewing scene.
“It’s always good to see a new local event popping up, because it means people can discover a craft beer they may not have otherwise come across,” Joe said. “It’s also a good chance to meet the brewers and see the passion that goes into the craft.”
That opportunity to meet the brewers is apparently one of the reasons Seabreeze staged the event, the other being locals’ desire to try new and original beers. A Brewer’s Dinner held on the first night of the event was a highlight, with a beer-matched degustation meal and brewers sharing stories of their best beers.
Though Crafts on the Coast is still in it’s infancy, and it’s most likely only by chance that anyone outside of South West Rocks attended the event, the foundation is there for a fantastic event that takes advantage of it’s enviable location.
Seabreeze Beach Hotel says their ultimate goal is to have 30 or more brewers in attendance at future events, roping off the main street and making it a community-wide event to involve the locals, visitors and businesses of the town. It’s a big goal, but when you have a location like South West Rocks, anything is possible.
Where to stay
Seabreeze Beach Hotel is located in the heart of South West Rocks, directly overlooking the town’s foreshore. It offers clean, comfortable accommodation, a fantastic onsite restaurant, and bar with beer garden to take in the view.
How to get there
South West Rocks is located around half way between Sydney and Brisbane on the Mid North Coast, just 35km north east of Kempsey and 100km from Port Macquarie. Port Macquarie Airport is serviced by Qantaslink and Virgin Australia.
What to do
South West Rocks has astounding natural beauty and an intriguing convict past. Trial Bay Gaol, a convict built prison designed to house inmates constructing the town’s breakwater, is a fascinating ruin located just to the east of the town. Smoky Cape Lighthouse, one of the oldest and tallest in NSW, is also worth a look. Fish Rock Cave, voted one of Australia’s top five dive sites, is an absolute must-see.
About Chris Ashton
Chris Ashton is a curious traveller always on the lookout for the new, bizarre and unusual. A fan of exploring ancient ruins, diving with sharks and getting lost in city streets, he believes travel expands your horizons and helps shape the person you want to become.