Meet the head brewer for Gage Roads' Sydney venue

Gage Roads Brewing Co alumnus Nick Ivey will be the head brewer at the company’s experimental Sydney brewpub under its Atomic Beer brand – marking the WA brewer’s first foray into east coast venues.

Once the City of Sydney Council has given the site the green light, having already completed a successful public consultation phase, it will be full steam ahead for the brewpub in the suburb of Redfern.

A flagship site for the Atomic Beer brand, the new microbrewery on site will enable Ivey to cut his teeth at a site of his own, as well as provide a small-batch experimentation lab for new beers.

“We’re doing this because we’re crazy about hops and hop-driven beers and I would love to do more experimentation with that,” Ivey explained.

“All these big hop growers are coming out with more experimental hops, but over here in WA we can’t do those small batch experiments just with the size we’ve reached.”

It’s a major move for the Western Australian native, and living the Sydney life will be a big change for Ivey as well as Atomic.

“Sydney is a totally different city to Perth. Once you get out of Northridge and and the Perth CBD it’s pretty suburban, whereas there everything is so built up in Sydney all the way out.

“We’ve got an office in Surry Hills, and just outside the door there are like five pubs in 50 metres.”

To compete in the crowded Sydney venue market, Ivey is aiming to make sure the venue and brewery is a “well oiled machine”.

“I’d like to collaborate with local businesses, become part of the community and make fantastic balanced beer, which is my main goal.

“That will contribute, and we’ve got a great team behind us working on strategy too.

“The timing was right [for the Atomic Beer site]. Western Australia is a stronghold for us, and over on the east coast we’re not necessarily a household name, so it’s a really good time to spread our wings.

“We’re taking what we’ve got to the nation and we’ll hopefully win some hearts and minds.”

Career progression

Gage Roads have been training some of Australia’s best brewers and venues such as Atomic Beer mean that the listed brewer has a better opportunity to keep talent in-house.

Miles Hull, head of marketing at Gage Roads, said that Ivey was an obvious choice for the position.

“Nick decided to become a brewer for love of flavour.

“With a hospitality background and an interest in wine, he had no brewing experience when he started but his passion and interest in how beer is made as seen him come up through the ranks.

“That passion is not unique in the team, all our brewers share that, but Nick was really engaged in hops and how we can influence flavour.”

The brewing alumnus of Gage is part of their strength, he said.

“We’re really proud of brewers that have come through the ranks. Between us, Little Creatures, Mountain Goat and others, we’ve been able to provide a great platform for brewers to learn the trade, skill themselves up and go onto a whole range of other jobs.

“[The Atomic Beer site] helps us by having another outlet to retain the brewers that we bring up, and enables us to provide greater opportunities for them.”

When asked what he’d advise anyone looking to get into brewing, Ivey said that doing some study through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling would really help, as well as having a commercial bent.

“[The IBD training] put things into perspective in a commercial brewing aspect, so learning about the science behind it with something like homebrewing, and getting that commercial context [is ideal].

“I’d also say when you do get in a role, be a sponge, take everything in. Batter down everyone’s doors, rock up with a good attitude and you’ll do well.”

Taking a different path

Ivey said his path to Gage Roads was determined by a lateral move into brewing from the wine industry.

He has worked in hospitality since finishing secondary school, landing a job at il Lido, a Perth Italian institution, before heading to sister venue Gordon St Garage where he wrote wine lists and ran front of house.

He followed his partner to Italy when she moved there for study, and it proved to be a pivotal moment in his own career.

“I went over to Italy expecting to find loads of amazing wine, which of course I did. But just down from the apartment we were staying at there was a gypsy brewer. I started talking to them in broken Italian, and they replied in broken English, and I was exposed to an amazing craft brewing scene that I just wasn’t expecting to find there.”

While he may not be fluent in Italian these days, he brought with him a pervading love of beer.

“I knew nothing about beer and how it was made, but I had a lot of spare time and dove down the brewing rabbit warren. When I came back to Australia I started homebrewing and ended up building a three-vessel system with reverse osmosis water system.”

Getting involved with Gage was a bit of a fluke he said, after obtaining then-brewing manager Dirk Penny’s number.

“I ended up coming to the site and Dirk told me there was nothing available. He sent me off with a six pack to drown my sorrows.

“I left feeling a bit dejected but when I was halfway home, my phone rang. It was Dirk asking if I’d go into packaging as there wasn’t anything available in brewing right then.”

He quickly worked his way up from scrubbing floors, and he explained that going for Gage Roads, still one of Western Australia’s biggest independent brewers, was a no-brainer.

“For me it was because there was a deep pool and depth of knowledge in the Gage Roads team which I could learn from.

“In a smaller place there’s only the head brewer and you’re limited by their experience with what you can learn. It also had equipment that other breweries just don’t have.

“I learned heaps from the Gage Roads brewers, and now I’ve got heaps of experience and can bring a bit more experience into the Atomic Beer brewery. I’ve got those fundamentals down and it’s then that you can really start experimenting.”

Public consultation has been completed on the Atomic Beer site, and the next stage ifs receiving full council approval.

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