20 June 2024

Brewery in a paddock in the middle of nowhere bubbles with success

| Edwina Mason
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man working in brewery

Mike Coleman’s interest in brewing beer was ignited in the UK and Germany, then Melbourne where, using a backyard set-up, he experimented with different flavours. Photos: Bulla Creek Brewing Co.

Build a brewery in the middle of a paddock off a beaten dirt track in the NSW South West Slopes and they will come.

They may have been 40,000-45,0000 feet in the air on a jet midway between London and Melbourne when the idea came to them, but Mike and Steph Coleman reckoned they were onto something.

Now, Bulla Creek isn’t known to many, bar the historically interested local few, but the skeleton of this settlement fringing a creek midway between Young and Grenfell harks back to travellers seeking succour and refuge during the region’s settlement days.

A Catholic Church, school and public hall – all now remodelled into homes – are still evident as you pass over the bridge on Henry Lawson Way, but by the time you turn down Jerrybang Lane, a few kilometres north, you’d almost be forgiven for feeling lost.

“Plenty of people tell us they drive along the road thinking, ‘We must be in the wrong place’,” says Steph.

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But a full car park and scores of weekend tourists and locals are proof that what seemingly bordered on madness has now turned into a bubbling business for people whose only wish is to escape the dreary everyday to fully immerse themselves in beer, bucolic scenes and the dream of one couple.

Bulla Creek Brewing Co had its genesis long ago in the UK but gathered momentum when Steph and Mike, with solid careers in business and engineering, decided they’d throw in life in Melbourne to head seven hours north up the Hume Highway.

Step strong connection to home – a fifth-generation family farm – and Mike’s passion for brewing had evolved into a pipe dream to start a farm-based brewery with a strong local focus.

So, on a spot known as “the little paddock”, which overlooks, yes, Bulla Creek, where Steph first learned to ride a horse, they spent their first year building a custom shed.

“We’d spent seven years thinking about it, four years planning it and about 18 months building it,” Steph said.

“That time saw us researching, connecting with the industry, plenty of hold-ups, tasting a lot of beer and nailing (and failing) recipes.”

For Mike, that began in the UK, but also Germany, then Melbourne where, using a backyard set-up, he experimented with different flavours to craft his beers – his scientific mind fast adapting to the processes.

On June 3, 2023, the backyard officially segued to Bulla Creek Brewing Co officially opening and, says Steph, Mike was as happy as a hop in a can as the crowds poured in that day to try his 10 beers on tap.

“In our first seven weeks, our Vienna Lager and Cream Ale were the clear favourites, but people were also loving the wide range of styles where there’s something for everyone,” she said.

Visiting Bulla Creek Brewing Co is a veritable beer brainwash – alongside the lagers, slash pilseners and ales there are bold and hoppy IPAs (India Pale Ale), dark, rich and creamy stouts, bold and rich porters and some clever local collaborations including a Cherry Sour, Cherry Porter and Coffee Milk Stout.

Mike will also occasionally tip his hat to his German muse in a Honey Blonde German Altbier.

man and woman holding their two kids

Leaving their jobs in Melbourne, Mike and Steph Coleman moved north to Bulla Creek to build a brewery. Photo: Bulla Creek Brewing Co.

You can eat the grain and smell the hops that go into your glass, because, says Steph, there’s more to beer than you might think.

“We knew from the get-go we were building a business in an area where there was a lack of exposure to independent breweries and the variety of beer styles, but we thought it was a risk worth taking,” she said.

“But while we had a good gut feeling this idea would work, year one has really outstripped our expectations. The reaction has been really positive, probably more than we could have hoped for.”

Steph says the brewery is about the people and the experience as much as the beer.

“I think putting a lot of thought into this has served us well. For us it’s about how do we make it a great day out for people,” she said.

The past 12 months, including the rotating round of trucks offering something of a world feast from burgers to barbecue, pizza to pasta, dumplings, nachos and paella, there’s been live music, art exhibitions, drawing workshops, hops tours and, now, seasonal feasts.

A collaboration with renowned chef Howard Povey, now living in Grenfell, the FEASTS are a series of seasonal degustations featuring five courses drawing on local produce, with beer pairings and feature talks by the chef, the brewer and local growers.

The Autumn FEAST attracted 40 people, and they’re hoping the 28 July Winter FEAST will muster greater numbers into the brewery.

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For now, the focus is on the June long weekend with Grenfell’s Henry Lawson Festival on their doorstep.

It’s been termed “a great brewery in the middle of nowhere” and Steph and Mike love that.

Steph says their biggest strength and weakness is their position: a dirt road, in a paddock, not on a major drag.

Even for the bike riders who cycled 192 kilometres from Canberra – all the way, including the dirt – for a beer and some lunch.

“We’re always surprised and delighted by the people that come and come again, and don’t see the distance to us as an issue; the people that are travelling through NSW and find us by just typing “brewery” into Google maps in the hope they’ll find something,” says Steph.

“I guess growing up here, I knew what to expect, but we do still have moments where we’re like, ‘Wow, this is very much because we’re out here’, like when the kangaroos hop through the carpark or when a neighbouring farmer rocks up in their ATV.

“It’s all pretty romantic until it gets to Monday and we have to take the rubbish to the tip ourselves!”

For more details on Bulla Creek Brewing Co and coming events, visit its website, Facebook page and Instagram.

Original Article published by Edwina Mason on About Regional.

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