“People ask us ‘what’s good?’. And the straight answer to that is ‘we only pour good beer’.”

Corey Crooks

The NSW harbour city of Newcastle and the surrounding Hunter Valley region has punched pretty hard in terms of its craft beer credentials for what seems like an eternity now. With the likes of Foghorn, Hunter Beer and Murray’s setting the early pace, this regional area has long been a place to grab a great local beer. And when you add in the recent boom of breweries and other beer-related businesses, like Grainfed Brewing finally establishing a home, Modus going big in Merewether and Akasha Brewing taking over The Edwards, the area is now far from known as just a region famous for its wines.

But for as long as breweries have been dishing up local beers of distinction so too have Kristy and Corey Crooks and the couple have equally left an indelible mark on the area’s love for craft.

Their influence started with the reinvention of the great suburban pub the Albion Ale House into a craft beer haven, blossomed with helping see Newcastle Beer Week kick off in 2011 and is set to continue with plans to reimagine Tighes Hill’s Cross Keys Hotel into a crafty gastropub.

Yet a jewel in Newcastle’s crown when it comes to craft beer has come about thanks to their efforts since 2013 inside a 19th century built former grain store in the city’s east.

Celebrating its tenth birthday this year, The Grain Store has celebrated craft beer in all its guises from the outset and has done so by not just staying wholly and fiercely independent in terms of what they pour through their 20-plus taps, but also in only supporting locally-owned businesses across the board.

The Grain Store has been voted NSW’s favourite beer venue in the last four Beer Cartel-conducted surveys that canvas the habits and opinions of thousands of craft drinkers. And now they are our long overdue Beer Venue of the Year and the first regional venue to claim the honour.

Having emerged from the impact the pandemic had on hospitality trade with the same dedication to independent Australian craft in place and with a passion to see it celebrated and shared, many of our judges couldn’t look any further once The Grain Store became part of the conversation.

“We’ve always stayed true to ourselves,” Corey said. “We’re not on any bandwagon. We haven’t pushed beer on people, we’ve just sold it because we wanted to.

“And we’ve never swayed from the indie path. We do what we do and believe in supporting other independent companies.”

Just like with our Best Brewpub of the Year award this year, staff and their knowledge, care and attention were big reasons why votes shifted The Grain Store’s way. It’s testament to the entire operation when Corey mentioned that several of his current staff members have been with them since almost day dot and that they’ve only just said goodbye to their “right hand man” and venue manager since foundation Nick Pogonoski who left to run a pub in nearby Maitland.

“Staff are the venue at the end of the day,” Corey added. “The likes of Nick and Alex and Emily (the pair who now manage The Grain Store) and our head chef Dallas and the entire culinary team have been such a big part of everything we do.

“The big focus, ever since day one here, has been don’t be pretentious when it comes to the beer. Don’t judge people.

“Knowledge is power and we’re constantly getting our staff to know more about the beers they’re pouring. But we don’t ever want them to feel like they’re better than the customer.

“People ask us ‘what’s good?’. And the straight answer to that is ‘we only pour good beer’. But instead, we ask them ‘what do you like?’ and we shape our responses from that. We’ll always have something here for them, no matter their persuasion.”

What the judges said:

“It’s a real wonder how this place hasn’t won this award before. There are some seriously good bars on the list of past winners and The Grain Store has been consistently one of Australia’s best. Perhaps more people just need to get out there and witness it for themselves.”

“This is the place where independent craft beer in this country has a spiritual home. The love for indie beer doesn’t just pour out of the taps but it oozes out of the walls and in the faces of the people that work there. It’s a place that unconditionally pushes the case for craft at a time when it needs all the pushing it can get.”

Past winners:


You can view all of our 2023 Awards coverage here.

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