Sanctus Brewing Company opens in NSW

Sanctus Inside
Sanctus Brewing Company is expanding distribution interstate just a month after opening its doors in the Clarence Valley in northern NSW.

The brewery launched in October in the rural area, which sits between Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour.

Beers made in the newly-opened brewpub will also be available at Melbourne Cellar Door at South Wharf from 29th November.

Banjo Hillier was formerly a winemaker in Western Australia before he moved to the east coast and become a brewer at Hargreaves Hill, an is now spearheading the Sanctus beer lineup as head brewer.

“My background is brewing and winemaking in WA, and I also worked for Hargreaves Hill in the Yarra Valley there. Then I moved up to Albury and ran a brewpub there, working the bar and making the beer, that was the Albury Brewhouse,” explained Hillier.

“One day the owners of Sanctus were down there and they’ve always wanted to start up a brewery, they lived up in NSW where we are now. We spent six or seven months just talking about putting one in place and then it started getting serious.”

The brewery site is located at Clarence Valley, a rural area famous for its Jacaranda Festival, in a refurbished industrial shed. Sanctus was founded by Nicole and Trent O’Connor, local businesspeople who own several ventures in the area.

“There was nothing here, just a shed and the idea of creating a taproom and a brewery,” Hillier said.

“[The O’Connors have] a few other businesses elsewhere that they run outside of this one, so bringing me on board as head brewer [helped them] to know what the venue needed, all the construction side of it as well as putting the brewery in and getting it up and running and getting the first brews in.”

Hillier moved up to NSW in February to get the site ready in time for its October opening.

It is fitted out with a second-hand 15hL two vessel system from Spark, and a Cask mACS canning line which produces 30 cans a minute.

There’s also a full commercial kitchen and a wood-fired pizza oven as well as a Texas smoker for American BBQ and brisket.

As well as the brewpub venue, Hillier’s beers will be available from Melbourne Cellar Door from 29th November. Cellar Door is an upmarket wine bar owned by friends of Sanctus founders the O’Connors.

Sanctus is taking a different approach to the rest of the industry in terms of its marketing, going for a generalist approach rather than focusing on it’s hyperlocal credentials, according to Hillier.

“That’s why the tagline is that it’s brewed in God’s country. Sanctus means holy in Latin, and that was our ideology behind picking that rather than having something very localised,” he explained.

“If we’re going to go down to Melbourne, people’s idea of God’s country is different, so it’s not just resonating with people here, anyone else in WA, NT – they are in their own ‘God’s country’.”

He said if the brewery used localised naming, imagery and beers, it may have prevented it appealling to audiences across Australia.

“It’s a lot warmer and a lot more laid back [up here], and a lot more midstrengths are drunk up here, like your XXXX Gold.

“So our first lager and pale ale were very, I’d say commercialised – a craft beer person might not drink it – but then 1,000 non-craft beer drinkers would.

“Even the XPA is laid back in bitterness, I’ve taken away some of those early hop additions in the kettle and am bringing them back right in the last 5 minutes, just to extract as much of the aroma and flavour as opposed to the bitterness, which a lot of people entering into craft beer get turned off by. If they had an IPA to start off with, they probably wouldn’t go back there.”

Sanctus is also producing some challenging beers, including sours, to appeal to the more mature beer market in Melbourne.

“We also do a lot of sours and semi sours, they are based upon the same concept as a Solo or a Lift soft drink, pushing the pH range a bit lower with lactic fermentation, and then fruiting it up.”

He said that as a result of this experimentation, Sanctus was offering a blueberry sour, a pineapple and coconut sour, and a sour wheat beer with ginger added – his version of a ginger beer.

The benefit of launching in two very different places geographically is that there can be certain ‘synergies’ – using the wine bar and NSW venue as testing grounds for new beers, for one, he said.

“It’s bringing something from up here down there,” said Hillier.

“I’ve got an imperial stout we’re sending down, it will still be cool enough down there while it’s nice and hot up here.”

He conceded that the Melbourne was a tough market to crack, but he wanted to be flexible when it came to catering Sanctus beers to a specific market.

“It’s a very flooded market,” he said. “There are lots of IPAs for example, I can make a double IPA and send it down there but choosing the right venue to match the beers with and the clientelle, rather than trying to flood every single bar with all our of or products, we chose what bars we’d like to go into (if they’ll have us!) and alter the beers for what they need and what different kind of beers they’d like.”

Sanctus Brewing Co is located at 5 Re Rd, Townsend NSW 2463 and will be available from Melbourne Cellar Door, 25 Dukes Walk, South Wharf VIC 3006, from 29th November.

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