The Localist

Shark Island micro-brewery: Interview with James Peeble

Shark Island micro-brewery

Interview with James Peebles from Shark Island micro-brewery, in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire.

As a moonlighting bartender in a typical Sydney pub, I can spot a tourist a mile off. They typically exhibit disorientation when nobody escorts them to a table, uncertainty about where to place their order, hesitancy about approaching the bar – all familiar sights. A gaze across the many beer options proves more confusing still. “I’ll take the most popular beer”, is a common default.

While the more established beers like Carlton Draught, Tooheys New, VB and the like are popular, ask for the bartender’s favourite craft beer and you’re likely to get something much more interesting.

Over the past 10 years micro-breweries have been popping up all over the place in Sydney, concocting unique small-batch brews in instagram-friendly packaging designs. Once pursued passionately by the most hipster of hipsters, craft beer is now well and truly appreciated by the rest of us.

I can actually report that the most fanatical raw carrot eating, fixie bike riding, beard donning hipster who rides around the streets of Newtown with a weathered Penguin classic deliberately hanging out back jean pocket now drinks VB, not craft beer. Why? Craft beer is too mainstream now, man. But that’s hipsters for you – always trying to be ironic.

I took a trip down the back streets of Newtown myself recently to catch up with ‘maybe a bit, I’m not sure’ hipster James Peebles from the newly established Shark Island micro-brewery. My goal: To find out all about craft beer.

So James, what exactly is craft beer and how does it differ from your mainstream Aussie beers like VB and Carlton?

Craft beers are more ‘artisan’, I suppose. They’re handmade with no chemicals and no preservatives. Made in smaller brews, they’ve got more of a big flavour hit than the standard options.

When I first moved to Sydney I noticed there was not much variety in the beer world, now there seem to be so many options. You actually started your first brewery over a decade ago…

Yes, 12 years ago in central west NSW. It was just the beginning of the trend, and there were only a few of us around back then. The macro breweries like James Squires, Little Creatures and Mountain Goat, they were the pioneers [and have become a bit like the new generation mainstream beers at many pubs in Sydney]. Then there were the little guys like us, just starting out.

What inspired you to go ahead and start Shark Island micro-brewery?

Most of us start out as home brewers. I was brewing at home, and researching everything about brewing. I was at a family dinner one time, enjoying the finished product, when it occurred to me – this would be great to turn into a career. The family agreed and we decided to go into business together. We had different people working on different areas of the business and it was great fun. Unfortunately as a business it didn’t quite work the first time, but we started a legacy and with this new collaboration of friends we’ve perfected it.


Shark Island micro-brewery


Some people say that craft beer is like appreciating a fine wine, with different intricacies in flavour, and quality over quantity. What are your thoughts on this?

100% agree. It’s actually a whole new area that’s left behind some of the snobbiness of the wine tasting scene. Each beer has a unique taste and aroma, which comes from the blend of hops and malts. The pairing of particular foods with craft beer is also an idea that’s growing. Like, Pilsners go really well with spicy Thai food, and dark beers go with heavy savoury food like pies.

We’re sitting here appreciating a craft beer right now, how would you go about discussing this beer with your friends?

Generally you have a smell first to check the aromas, you’re looking for either a hoppy aroma, one that’s more fruit driven, or a peppery aroma. Then, just take a sip… and with beer, unlike wine, you have to actually swallow it to get the full experience. With wine, you can use the spittoon. I’ve never understood that. If it’s a hoppy flavoured beer, its going to be quite bitter, and if it’s malt driven you’re going to get that nice sweet flavour you find in dark beers.

Who drinks craft beer in Sydney, who is your target market for Shark Island brews?

Well we’re based out in the Sutherland Shire of NSW [near Cronulla

Beach] so our main market is beachgoers. We produce light easy drinking beers, like Kolsch, Summer Ales and Golden Ales. Our Pale Ale is on the bitter side, for something different. Craft beer used to be aimed at middle and upper income earners, but now we are really trying marketing to everyone, even trying to convert those VB and Tooheys drinkers to craft beer as well.

Speaking of those old school beer drinkers, in Australian culture lots of people pick one beer when they’re young and stick with that brand religiously though their life. How do you think craft beer is changing that landscape?

Very true. I think people are realising that there are some nice flavours out there, that aren’t going to break the bank so to speak. So they can have a few and still have a good night. Craft beer is so diverse they can try out different tastes to suit their preference, light and heavy, no dramas to it.

Do you think craft beer is a generational thing?

100%. Back 10-20 years ago it was the VB, the Tooheys, the Fosters. Now younger people definitely want to try something new. And it’s an image thing now too, it just works that way. People want to be on the ball with new brands and tastes.

That brings us to hipsters, they do like their craft beer don’t they?

I do look like a hipster, I’ve got the hipster beard and hipster glasses, but I’m not one…

How do you feel about hipsters, given that they are a target market for you?

It’s a love hate relationship. You love it, because they just love the beers, and they really get into them, but sometimes they can get a bit too intense about it.

Like too fussy about analysing what they’re drinking?

Yes. Sometimes it’s good to just be able to crack a good beer and enjoy it without any deeper meaning. We want to make beers that are enjoyed in this way, but we also want to keep the hipster folk happy, because deep down inside, maybe I am one, a little bit, I’m not sure… 20 years older than most of them though! [The truth comes out!]

Do you see any parallels with the Sydney craft beer scene and other states in Australia or internationally? Where do you look for inspiration?

Well Melbourne and Western Australia have got a great craft beer market at the moment that we seem to be following behind, and the US. If it’s a big trend in the US, we tend to follow suit. It was IPA for a while, and now salty beers are coming through. They’re getting really artistic over there and we follow through over here. But a lot of the breweries in Sydney are also experimenting with their own ideas, and we like creating something unique as well.

Where do you see the future heading with craft beer in Sydney?

I think its still on the rise, there are new breweries opening all the time. It’s going to have to reach a plateau at some stage, but I don’t see that happening for at least the next 10 years or so. I think the hipster phase might die out at some point, but the love for craft beer will continue on.

Shark Island runs a cellar door on Thursday 3pm – 7pm, Friday 2pm-7pm and Saturday 12pm-7pm. They also arrange a number of events, check out their Facebook page from more information.




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