Expansion for IronBark Hill Brewhouse

IronBark Hill Brewhouse in the Hunter Valley is expanding capacity as it looks to grow its distribution network.

The brewery, founded in 2016, proved resilient during COVID and has benefitted from the influx of domestic tourists, and now head brewer Andrew Drayton says the brewery is ready for a capacity expansion.

“We started with a small 200-litre Braumeister, then probably come the turn of 2017 we got a 500-litre Braumeister and a couple of extra tanks to keep up with capacity in the following couple of years,” Drayton explained.

“But the new 12hL will enable us to be a bit more in the wholesale space, most of it has been focused on the venue but over time we have been picking up wholesale.”

IronBark’s experience during COVID solidified the need to expand capacity, after ‘pivoting’ to online sales, before rushing to supply the reopened market.

“It was a small struggle to start with to get back brewing, we were chronically running out for two or three months and then it got to a point where orders picked up for wholesale, but we still have more for package and draught is starting to pick up again.

“You’d fill kegs and cans and they’d be gone, they went fast.

“We started having discussions about upgrading the brewkit and employing an extra brewer full time, so I could go between doing brewing and planning the expansion.”

IronBark hired brewer James Horne to help, who joined from Hope Estate, having previously had a production brewer role at Tribe Breweries and working as an engineer.

“We hired James back in November to get ready for the expansion, but the kit is yet to leave China and we’re planning out how we will fit into the existing space.”

Fresh blood for IronBark Hill

Over the years it has been in business, IronBark has seen a lot of change in the industry and growth in its own backyard, with new entrants including Mighty Craft’s The Mighty Hunter Valley venue, joining Hope Estate and Sydney Brewery nearby.

With the industry becoming more competitive breweries need to stay nimble, and bringing Horne on has helped IronBark to do this.

“With our expansion we’re looking to expand on the wholesale a bit more, and since James came on board we’ve been able to increase our volume somewhat because he’s come with some experience and so we’ve been able to move the beer around a bit more than normal.

“He’s brought in new techniques and things which I didn’t have with my limited training.”

Horne’s appointment has also given IronBark some bandwidth to look into diversifying its beer portfolio and brewing skills.

“We’ve been starting to brew some more things for the venue, so we had been running a few extra beers beyond our core range.

“We’ve done our first kettle sour, a ginger beer, and we’re doing a bit more exploration into IPAs and a few other style beers, including our GABS beer. It’s our first release at GABS, it’s a sweet marshmallow biscuit stout.

“With him bringing some fresh eyes and fresh ideas in, I’ve been able to spend a bit more time coming up with new beers and some of the ideas work with the ideas I’ve had over time which I haven’t had time to get to.”

The new 12hL brewkit that Horne and Drayton will brew on is a Tiantai brewhouse.

“We chose it after speaking to a few people in the industry and I’m part of the Rockstar Brewer programme with Hendo. A lot of the discussions were about Your Mates and Moffat Beach’s expansions. I know Matty and Shaz, and he said to go and use them.

“So far with the process, they have been really good. COVID has made it difficult to provide full service as far as installation and stuff but they’ve been very helpful on that side of things,” Drayton said.

Distribution plans

IronBark Hill is coming up to five years in business this year, and backs on to a winery owned by Drayton’s father, Peter Drayton Wines.

Developing its brewpub model and distribution plans has been an ongoing balancing act.

“Being a brewpub trying to do wholesale, it can be fun and challenging,” Drayton said.

“We have had some more demand on the wholesale side, we are seeing a lot more people visiting.

“Wholesale is picking up and at the moment I’m leaving a little bit on the table, we’ve had a bit more Sydney market demand, and a lot of the [tourism] trade here comes from the Sydney market too.

“We’re also trying to push into Newcastle. It’s growing as a market for craft beer and getting more exposure.

Exposure is something in short supply in an ever-crowded market, and IronBark Hill has been developing strategies to up its presence, starting with its first GABS appearance.

“The GABS beer will give us some exposure,” explained Drayton, “and we started entering the awards circuit, for feedback on the quality side.

“We slowly got into it, in 2018 entered and walked away with a couple of bronzes at the Indies, in 2019 we did Sydney Royal and the Indies, and we got a silver and a couple of bronze medals for our Summer Ale and Black Forest Stout.

“We went for a few different ones to pick up other opportunities from that exposure, at Sydney Royal for example they put an order in and showcase your beers – it was actually something we couldn’t fulfil completely because of our size, and there was a spike in online sales from Sydney after that too.”

The main thing for IronBark is to continue to improve its beer and business.

“Our beer is getting better all the time as we learn new things,” Drayton said.

Back to News