Meet Foghorn’s Shawn Sherlock

GLASS HALF FULL: It’s the mission to create interesting new beers that drives Shawn Sherlock. Picture: Simone De PeakIN ancient Mesopotamia beer was considered a gift from the gods. It was said the porridge-like brew that the Sumeriansconsumed in 6thcentury BC was provided by Ninkasi, the goddess of beer, to “satisfy desire” and “sate the heart.”

More than 2600 years after mankind first discovered the art of mixing grain, water, yeast and hops, brewing beerhas never been more popular. While only the most inebriateddrinker might consider an ale a gift from the gods in 2017, the master brewers within the burgeoning craft beerindustry areviewed with a deep reverence.

One man leading the development and sophistication of craft brewing is Newcastle’s Shawn Sherlock. For the past decade the former Australian history university lecturer has been turning heads and tantalising palates with his creations, firstly at Murray’s Craft Brewing Co at Bobs Farm and now at FogHorn Brewhouse in Newcastle.

“If you were to ask people in the know in the industry they put him right up the top as one of the very best brewers in the country, in the very top handful along with the guys from Feral or BentSpoke,” says James Smith, founder of websiteThe Crafty Pint, a leading authorityon craft beer in Australia.

“He’s one of those guys that is consistently over the years, whether it’s at Murray’s or at his place, makingcracking beers and he does it across a broad range of styles.”

Others share Smith’s opinion. In 2012 theBeer & Brewer Awards crowned Sherlock the best in Australia for his work at Murray’s and just months after opening FogHorn in April 2015, the Sligo Extra Stout was voted the best dark ale at the Australian Craft Brewers Association awards.

James Smith on Shawn Sherlock MASH UP: Sherlock brews three 1800-litre batches of beer per week at the FogHorn. Picture: Simone De Peak

One of Sherlock’s craziest creations, remains arguablyhis most celebrated. In 2012 Smith enlisted Sherlock’s help to enter New Zealand’s Beervana Festival.

In order to blow the minds of the judges, Sherlock concocted a recipe for an imperial stout with Belgian yeast,200 green and blue-lipped mussels and 100 Port Stephens oysters. It was crowned Auld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep Imperial Stout and mayhave sounded a tad fishy, but the brew scooped Beervana with a perfect score of 45/45.

Murray’s later put theAuld Bulgin’ Boysterous Bicep Imperial Stout into production.

“That again showed me what a genius brewer he is because he can take all these strange ingredients and he understood how to put them together and make something that worked and was really tasty,” Smith says.

Sherlock’s road to untapping beer’s potential began like mosthome-brewers. The 44-year-old would tinkerwith his father Peter at their Waratah West house in the late ‘80s,attempting to turn Coopers home-brew kitsinto something drinkable.

“I just got bitten by the bug,” he says.“I always enjoyed it. There’s wasn’t much information around back then. It’s not like today where you canstart home brewing and like any hobby around there’s a thousandwebsites dedicated to it.

“Back then it was almost a secret society,” he says.“Someone’s dad or grandpa had been doing it for years and would pass down mysterious bits of information which waseither right or wrong.”

In his formative years brewing wouldremain a hobby. With the industry dominated by the big boys Lion Nathanand Carlton & United, brewing jobs werescarce.

The Broadmeadow High student instead focused on academia, completing degrees in English and history at the University of Newcastleand living overseas in Ireland where he further developed his love of stouts.

The talented drummer also pursued his rock star aspirations by playing inindie bandsVelvetine Dream and Einstein’s Wireless and the Irish-styled Tinker’s Curse. Eventually, Sherlock would complete his honours and a PhD in Australian labour history to become a lecturer and tutor at the university.

Yet the brewing bug was fermenting. Sherlock had long since bypassed the Coopers kits and was designing his own recipes,and in the process, winning competitions.

“I was getting more and more obsessed with the brewing side of it and at that time funding was getting cut from the arts and humanities in the university sector, so a lot of the full-time jobs were becoming harder and harder to get,” Sherlock says.

“I was in between contracts at the uni and an opportunity came up to take a commercial brewery job and my family backed me in.”

It was August 2006 and the brewery job was at little-known Murray’s, then only eight months old and based at Taylors Arm on the NSW mid-north coast. Sherlock was excited by owner Murray Howe’s vision and took the punt, moving north with his wife Karen and their daughters Ellie and Rosie, now 15 and 12.

Within two years Sherlockprogressed to head brewer, a role he excelled atuntil his decision to leave in 2014 and begin plans for his own brew pub with business partner James Garvey.

“From2009 to 2012 we were doing some really good stuff and it was a great experience and special to be a part of,” he says.“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave. There was no issue with Murray or Murray’s, I just wanted to start my own business.”

From the beginning Sherlock had a veryNovocastrian design in mind for FogHorn. Situated in the original Kloster Ford dealership, built in the 1930s, the King Street brew pub has named after the iconic coal ship horns which blastover the CBD and often rattlethe venue’s windows.

Inside the cavernous interior hang three flags commemorating the Newcastle Knights’ 1997 ARL and 2001 NRL premierships and the Jets’ 2007-08 A-League championship. The Knights tragic jokes “I won’t be needing another one for a while.”

However, what really catches the eye, is where the magic happens. The six fermenting tanks, which produce 1800-litre batches of beer three times a week, including porters, stouts, pale ales, IPAs, pilseners, wheat beers andBelgianand English ales.

All beer is produced on site and doesn’t require freight, which allows for a minimum turnover of three weeks from brewing to the customer’s glass. Most bottleshops and pubs stock beer brewed months ago.

Speaking to Sherlock his passion for Newcastle is infectious. He views FogHorn as part of the CBD’s greater renewal.

“In an era when manufacturing is moving out of town and to some extent dying, bringing back a manufacturing trade into the centre of the city was something good, albeit in a new different way to the old days,” he says.

“When we took over the space, it’s a warehouse and light industrial space. We wanted to make it really nice and a comfortable space, but we didn’t want to turn it into Las Vegas. It’s not what Newcastle is and it’s not what this space is.”

However, FogHorn is not purely a Novocastrian story. Last year FogHorn Erina opened on the Central Coast. All beer is brewed in King Street and couriered down the M1.A third FogHorn remains in Sherlock’s final vision.

“We haven’t got any immediate plans and we don’t have a particular location in mind,” he says. “I would hope we can grow. With a brewery this size, we could probably stretch to a third one before we can expand the equipment itself, but there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet.”

One area Sherlock is pushing to help FogHorn realise its full potential is changing the venue’s restaurant liquor license. Under its current license, customers must purchase food to buy alcohol.

Sherlock is a supporter of Newcastle’s lock-out laws and believes the city’s night-time economy has positively changed in the nine years since their introduction.

“We’re all adults here and surely we’re grown up enough in Newcastle that we can have a brewery where people can have a beer without necessarily needing to buy food,” he says.

“I can understand when we first opened people didn’t know what to expect, but I think for venues like us and others around Newcastle, if you freed things up a little, rather than problems coming back, you’ll actually find a more diverse and popular night-time economy.”

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