Port Macquarie is a smallish town about 4 hours’ drive north of Sydney. The population is roughly 46,000, so you wouldn’t think there’s much going on here. Yet, for such a small population, they have not one, not two, but three breweries! Mark and I only had time to visit one, though. The one we visited was the Black Duck Brewery and Bar.
Set in an industrial area, it’s a bit tucked away and faces a lovely strip of forest. The first thing that struck us as a bit odd was seeing people coming out of the brewery, not with kegs, but with cartons of eggs. At first we thought we had the wrong building, but the sign told us we were in the right place.
My pre-arrival research told me that they offered tours at 2pm, and we had arrived with just minutes to spare. I love brewery and distillery tours for some reason, I never get tired of them. We went up to the bar and inquired about the tours, and the fellow we spoke to sort of looked at the time, said, “oh, it’s almost 2, I hadn’t even thought about it today really.” So we decided to check out their beer selection on tap in the meantime, and if a tour went off we would just jump on it.
Black Duck makes about a dozen craft beers, primarily ales, which includes a “once a year beer” made in small batches. Eight of their beers were available on tap.
They also had taster paddles. Since we wanted to be available quickly if they did offer a tour, we decided to split a paddle between the two of us. We decided to go with these four: Summer Swallow, a mid strength ale, Platypus, an Australian pale ale, Heron’s Craic, an Irish red ale, and Indian Runner, an India pale ale. The bar area, which is really just rustic tables and chairs set up right inside the warehouse, was surprisingly busy for a Saturday afternoon. It was also hot as all get out, so we sat outside to try our tasters.
I can’t say I had a favourite, as they were all good, just different. Hubby tends to love really hoppy IPAs, where I lean towards wheat beers. But what we found is that IPAs in Australia don’t tend to be that hoppy. Which is great for my particular tastes.
It wasn’t long before a Black Duck staff member popped over to our table with two cartons of eggs. “Would you like some free eggs?” he asked. “Ummm…eggs?” we kind of laughed. As it turned out, seeing people walking out of the brewery with cartons of eggs wasn’t as random as we thought. One of the staff has a farm and their chickens just produced way too many eggs for them to know what to do with. Hence, Free Egg Day at Black Duck Brewery. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any since we were staying in a hotel without a fridge. We later noticed an entire pallet of eggs in the warehouse. They weren’t kidding when they said they had too many!
We finished the sampler paddle, then went back inside the warehouse. It still didn’t look like a tour was going to go ahead, but we were okay with that. We just liked the ambiance. The bar wasn’t fancy by any means, but the place had an amazing sense of community. Judging by how many patrons had cartons of eggs beside their beer glasses, it was obvious that the locals loved coming here, even if it was a bit out of the way.
We decided to stay for lunch, which also gave us the excuse to try a few other beers. The bar had a $10 special which included a beer and a pulled pork slider, which was a decent value.
Besides, how many brewery pubs have a pig on a spit?
Just as I was digging into my slider, the fellow we had initially talked to about getting a tour came to our table. Turns out he was the owner of Black Duck Brewery himself, Al Owen. The tour was on, and it was very informal. Al announced to everyone in the bar that we were getting the tour, and anyone else interested could join in.
He started the tour at our table, with samples of the primary ingredients that go into beer: water, grain, and hops. The only thing missing in this demonstration was of course, yeast!
We soon walked over to the actual brewing area where the real magic happens. The timber jackets are just decorative. Inside they’re all stainless steel:
I don’t know why I was so anxious to get the tour; everything was in the one warehouse and I could just turn around in my chair and see it all. But I always love doing brewery and distillery tours. And when you can speak directly to the owner, so much the better!
They do everything in-house, including the bottling:
Currently, they produce about 50,000 litres per year. But they are working on a new factory, which will increase production to 500,000 litres per year!
After the tour we went back to our table to finish lunch with two other beers, a blonde ale and a stout:
There really wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch; but this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Black Duck has won several awards for their beers at the Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show. They make something to suit pretty much every palate. And you know what they don’t make? Sour beers or rauchbier (smoked beers). They should get an award for that alone.