Go West: Hop Nation opens new brewery and bar in Footscray

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Footscray is set to get another awesome craft beer venue. Froth catches up with Hop Nation brewer Duncan Gibson on the eve of the brewery and bar’s grand opening.

As you may remember from our interview with Hop Nation in the December issue of Froth, Hop Nation consists of two blokes – Sam Hambour and Duncan Gibson – an Aussie and a Kiwi who met while working on wineries in New Zealand and decided to shelve their love of wine for a while and start a brewery in Melbourne. When we first met them in November they were gypsy brewing out of Cavalier in Melbourne’s outer west, but in March they secured their own place in Footscray – a massive 130-year-old warehouse – shipped over a copper brewhouse from New Zealand and built a cosy bar for punters to drop in and try one (or several) of their brews.

The DIY ethic is strong at Hop Nation, and the guys have put most of the brewery and bar together themselves. It seems remarkable the venue is ready to open in such a short time. Duncan admits it was a lot of work, with “a lot of late nights. We spent a lot of time in this building in the last three months.”

Duncan relaxes at the bar with his dog Benny.
Duncan relaxes at the bar with his dog Benny.

The space had been most recently set up as a photography studio so they had to take that apart before they could start building. “We took the bottom of that wall out, smashed the other wall out of it, slowly got the floor done and then slowly worked through everything else.” The hardest task was constructing the chiller room. “We took the chiller room down from New Zealand and Sam and I and another couple of friends put it all back together ourselves – that was pretty difficult.”

The large warehouse now consists of a large flat ground floor with the brewery itself tucked around the back, and a small bar at the front. When you walk in, the walls around the bar are covered with colourful murals by Putos Paint which resemble stained glass windows and make a striking statement against the brick interior. Upstairs, a mezzanine level fitted with benches and tables allows people to sit with a beer and enjoy the view over the brewery. The tables and benches they’ve made themselves out of recycled wooden pallets, while the bar leaners downstairs at the bar are reclaimed oil barrels.

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The artwork by Putos Paint.

While the exterior of the building looks like any other industrial facility, the lovely brick interior reveals its historic origins, with the odd bricked-up window from decades past and even traces of a second floor. Dating back to the 1880s, the building was originally used for processing whales to manufacture candles and wax, and there is a dark stain on the ceiling above the mezzanine which no amount of scrubbing could remove, and Duncan thinks it was caused by fat from the whale processing. Gross, and historically awesome at the same time.

The brewhouse itself is 20 years old and was used by New Zealand Dairy Association before being passed on to the Sawmill Brewery in New Zealand and then on to Hop Nation. The copper and wooden tanks are lovely to look at and create a warm feeling in the huge space. (Duncan is also stoked that they are much more manual than modern systems and require more of a hands-on approach.)

The bar opens to the public this Saturday July 23, and will be pouring beers from the Hop Nation range – the Damned Pilsner, the Fiend Australian IPA, the Buzz American Red, the Sturm Harvest Ale (a collab with Jamsheed Wines in the Yarra Valley) and the Kalash Russian Imperial Stout. They will also have three rotating guest taps.

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The bar with its reclaimed oil barrels and awesome artwork.

“We’ll do a Kiwi beer, a sour from Belgium, maybe Rodenbach, and something local. We always want to have another three taps of other [breweries], because it keeps it kind of interesting, and you can show people what you like and what you want to brew as well.”

Their future plans include a setting up a proper kitchen to serve food, but until then they will have food trucks coming down to feed visitors.

The pair also has their sights set on growing their beer range and serving them at the bar. “Hopefully in the next year our portfolio expands to like six to eight beers and [we’ll] always have different seasonals going. And we’re going to have good wines [at the bar]. We won’t have a big list but it will be solid. Maybe even do wine on tap as well.”

Hop Nation Brewery opens Saturday July 23rd at 4pm.
6/107-109 Whitehall Street, Footscray (10-minute walk from Footscray and Seddon train stations).
Opening hours: Friday 3pm-10pm, Saturday 12pm-10pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm
www.hopnation.com.au

Words and pictures by Emily Day