28 July 2023

Full steam ahead as Nelligen's iconic Steampacket Hotel gets new lease on life

| Katrina Condie
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Steampacket Hotel owner Ben Johnston

Ben Johnston is excited about reopening the ‘spruced up’ Steampacket Hotel at the end of August. Photo: Katrina Condie.

Nelligen’s Steampacket Hotel is undergoing a makeover inside and out ahead of its reopening just in time for the NelliJam Winter Breaker Country Party on Saturday 2 September.

The pub’s new owner, Ben Johnston, says it’s full steam ahead as a troupe of tradies works to complete the renovations in time for the festival’s post-pandemic return.

“We’re excited to be getting stuck into it, and we’ve got an amazing local team here working inside and out to ensure everything is finished on time,” he says.

Walls have been torn down to open up the main bar area and a new kitchen is being installed, complete with a servery. Once the renovations are complete, patrons will also enjoy a refreshed restaurant, sports bar and cosy ‘jungle’ chill-out space.

Outside, the beer garden is being tidied up to make it more welcoming for families, and there are plans to construct a putt-putt golf and party zone on the hillside terrace area.

Ben, who also operates The Old Canberra Inn and Dickson Taphouse, is keen to retain the hotel’s character but bring a refreshing new vibe including good pub food, craft beer, local wines and a calendar of community events and live music.

“Everyone in the community is so positive about what we’re doing,” he says.

“It’s a critical part of the community and we’re delighted with the support we’re receiving from the locals. They’re really excited and looking forward to having more festivals and music events all year ’round.”

Ben has welcomed the new venue manager Jake Adams who has worked in the hospitality industry all over Australia and in South East Asia, run his own cafe in Parkes and has a special interest in boutique beers after working at the award-winning Blackman’s Brewery.

Jake, his wife and three kids are looking forward to relocating to the Eurobodalla from Geelong in Victoria where he managed the iconic Beachhouse Restaurant.

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With a wealth of experience, Jake has loads of ideas he’s keen to bring to the Steampacket. But he says it’s important to talk to the locals about what they want, and to retain the venue’s “community spirit”.

“We’re well aware of our location in the heart of Nelligen and that the Steampacket is an institution in a way,” he says.

“You can see by the plaques on the walls that this place has been the lifeblood of the community, and we really need to hold on to that.”

While it may have a fresh new look, exciting new menu and expanded beer and wine offering, Jake says it will still be an affordable venue for families to visit and enjoy.

“We hope people will come and hang out here for the day enjoying the food, coffee, cocktails and banter,” he says.

“It will be very much a family-orientated pub, and we want it to also be a gastro pub, serving really good, fresh, clean pub food like steaks and schnitzels, and of course, showcasing the local seafood and Clyde River oysters.”

He says well-known Canberran, executive chef Matt Standen, will oversee the menu and new kitchen, serving quality food at a good price.

The bar will boast 24 taps with 12 different beers on offer including all the old favourites plus an ever-changing variety of independent and local beers including the Broulee Brewhouse and Capital Brewing Co.

“Over the past 18 months I’ve been really developing what I like about boutique beers and I’m excited about selling the dream of independent beer to our customers,” Jake says.

“We’ll showcase different small businesses throughout the seasons. Going into summer we’ll have sour beers like a New Zealand pickle juice sour – which sounds peculiar but is amazing – and in winter we’ll have stouts and porters on offer.”

The wine list will also feature local wines from Cupitt’s, Two Figs and others.

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After first speaking to Ben over Skype during a family trip to Vietnam, Jake was keen to make the move to Nelligen because he felt he was a good fit for the team and supported Ben’s vision of sustainability, local community and fresh produce.

He’s been swimming and surfing at the beach every day and is keen to bring his AFL skills to the Batemans Bay Seahawks.

Nellijam organiser Danny Freeman says he will keep working with the new team to ensure the music events continue to attract locals and visitors to the town.

“The NelliJam Winter Breaker Country Party returns on Saturday 2 September, headlined by Oz country royalty Brooke McClymont and Adam Eckersley, with eight other killer country acts,” Danny says.

“The return (post-COVID) of the fourth annual country festival is really exciting for us and the initial response to the event has been huge.

“NelliJam music events are moving into their 13th year and the new owners at the Steampacket are incredibly motivated and excited to continue to help us grow these events for our local community.”

Tickets to the NelliJam winter party are available now via Humanitix.

Original Article published by Katrina Condie on Riotact.

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