News / Food & Drink

Something new is brewing in Victoria Street

Brunswick’s newest beer barn has been opened by four friends who met at a home brewing club

Co-conspirators (from left) Maggie Smit, Deon Smit, Tim Martin and Jacqui Sacco. Photo: supplied

Mark Phillips
Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Q: Put together a nurse, two ambulance officers and a sales and marketing manager who share a passion for craft beers, and what do you get? 
A: Brunswick’s newest brewhouse

Two couples – Tim Martin and partner Jacqui Sacco and Maggie and Deon Smit – first met through a home brewing club half a decade ago. 

This Friday, they will realise a dream three years in the making when Co-Conspirators Brewing Company opens its new venue in a refurbished factory/warehouse building in Victoria Street, just west of the Upfield railway line. 

The building will not only be the permanent location of the company’s brewing operations but is the latest kid on the block in Brunswick’s burgeoning pub brewery scene. It joins venues such as Inner North, Foreigner, Temple, Alchemy and the granddaddy of them all, Thunder Road, that offer tap beers brewed on-site to thirsty locals and tourists alike. 

The opening of Co-Conspirators is more than 12 months late as COVID-19 played havoc with the four owners’ plans to originally be open in at the start of this year. 

But Jacqui Sacco, who quit as a business development manager for a hotel to be the company’s operations manager, says the wait has been worth it with the architect designed, light-filled former warehouse licensed to seat 195 people.  

Jacqui is the only one of the four co-conspirators who does not come from a health care background. 

Her partner, Tim Martin, who is the company’s finance manager, has been a registered nurse and nursing manager, while head brewer Deon Smit, and his wife, Maggie, who oversees the company’s online sales, wholesale and exports, were both ambulance officers. 

They first met in the middle of last decade through Merri Mashers, a club for serious home brewing enthusiasts in the inner northern suburbs. What began as a hobby soon had commercial potential after they won several home brewing competitions. 

“Tim and I were looking to do something creative and were both in office-based roles,” Jacqui says. 

“Maggie and Deon also were looking to do something commercial and we kind of met up and the rest is pretty much history. We decided to start the company and launched in December 2016 with the main goal that we were always going to open the brewpub.” 

Until now, the company has been a “gypsy” brewery, renting space and equipment to make its products. 

Since their launch in 2016, they have produced about 40 different types of beer, each sold in a distinctive can imprinted with a cartoon character designed by Melbourne beer enthusiast Clint Weaver. They carry quirky titles such as The Henchman, The Activist, The Matriarch, The Berserker, The Dealer and The Editor. The business has grown rapidly to now export to Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong.  

The search for the right location for the brewpub took the foursome as far as Preston and the western suburbs before they found the perfect site right under their noses in Brunswick in a building which had ironically been the home of another brewery Himmel Hund. 

“So it’s got a little bit of brewing history already,” says Jacqui. 

That was back at the end of 2019. Despite the frustration of COVID, the delay did allow the company to crowdfund more than $600,000 from 402 investors towards the fit out of the building. 

“We were all really motivated and wanted to get it done, and we really believe in the brand and what we want to offer here,” Jacqui says. “There is always hard times … Without their help, we wouldn’t be able to open. It was really good support from them.” 

Six gleaming new metal tanks stand ready to begin brewing and once the operation is fully underway they will be able to make up to 6000 hectalitres at a time. 

With a constantly rotating roster of ales, the taps will pour up to 16 different types of beer at a time.  

For the opening, head brewer Deon Smit has produced nine beers including Saison, which he describes as a “farmhouse style beer”, an IPA, an Imperial rye, a caramel stout and a raspberry stout. 

“One of the things for us is to keep mixing it up so every time you come in there will be something different to try,” he says. “ We want to keep it fresh for the regulars.” 

All fruit and most other ingredients in the beer are Australian-grown and the company avoids preservatives. 

“We don’t like to do a core range of stuff,” says Jacqui. 

“We’re really seasonal, we constantly rotate, and now we have over 40 beers in our portfolio. We might have a beer we made two years ago and we think oh, we haven’t made that for a while, let’s bring it back.” 

The brewpub is spacious and airy, with a children’s play area near the back and a small beer garden/smoking area to the side. For now, Small Axe Deli will supply food but a kitchen is also being built for opening in the middle of 2022. 

The commitment to keeping it local extends to stocking Brunswick based winery Noisy Ritual and whiskey maker Gospel Whiskey, along with Cedar Fox gin made in Coburg. 

“We want to make sure that our venue caters for everyone, not just the beer nerd,” Jacqui says. 

“We want families, couples to be welcome here. We want to be the neighbourhood place where people can feel really comfortable coming to have a drink at.” 

One thing seems to be for sure: none of the co-conspirators will be going back to their other jobs for a long while – if ever.