An Ode to the Inner West; or, Cam's Top Five Favourite Inner West Craft Breweries

An Ode to the Inner West; or, Cam's Top Five Favourite Inner West Craft Breweries

Willie the BoatmanSo the truth is I’m a beach guy. Through and through. If I’m circulating somewhere between the holy trinity of Bondi, Byron and Bali, then I’m pretty happy. Add bare feet to the mix – better still. Surfboard in tow – things are looking perfect. Craft brew in bare feet after a surf – well, I think that describes my idea of paradise. Lucky for me there’s no shortage of beachside breweries these days. And they are damn good ones. And I’ll get to them in another missive. But the fact is, Sydney’s inner west (and outer west for that matter) is seeing a veritable blossoming of craft beer breweries and me and my sandy feet are finally venturing forth to answer their siren call.

The inner west has a reputation for doing this kind of small scale, high quality, hand-crafted, uber-cool thing really well. It’s got real deal hipsters who walk the talk and don’t just wear the uniform, it’s got disused light industrial areas and old warehouses that are just begging for fermenting tanks, chilling systems and kegs, it’s got creative types up to wazoo who can make it all look rustically attractive and cool, it’s got an excellent array of pubs and bars in which to consume craft beer, it’s got a big student population who need sustenance, and it’s got semi-affordable real estate! It doesn’t have any swell and it doesn’t have the 380 bus route but experience is showing me that these things can on occasion be made up for with really, really good beer.
Young Henry'sYoung Henry's, Newtown
Fast becoming the Big Daddy of Inner West craft breweries, Young Henry’s can be found all over town – from Tony Joe’s burger joint in Bondi, to the Art Gallery of NSW, the MCA, assorted music festivals, and sometimes in our very own beer boxes (Natural Lager – we loved you this January). Young Henry’s kicked off in 2012 in, you guessed it, a disused light industrial factory in Newtown. Success came thick and fast and Richard Adamson and Oscar McMahon and their formidable team haven’t looked back. But it still wears its inner west heart on its sleeve, never more so than with the Newtowner - summer ale it brewed to celebrate Newtown’s 150th anniversary. The bar is just as cool as you imagine it to be but they close by 7 so this is all about the arvo session – and it’s a great scene. Super relaxed, super friendly, dogs, kids, old folks, young folks, you name it. It has the distinctive feel of a community but not one that’s closed to outsiders like yours truly. I dig it.
Batch Brewing, Marrickville
Heading down the very gritty Sydenham Road and I was feeling a looong way from home. Little did I know that tucked into – you guessed it – a converted smash repair warehouse – was a brewery that was about to make me feel as at home as I’m ever likely to feel in the inner west. Soft leather couches that are pleasantly impossible to extract yourself from, scattered rugs, fairy lights, some dudes jamming on guitar, and friendly locals spilling out on to the street with their brews (again with the friendly locals!), make for an all round easy vibe. My hosts are Andrew Fineran and Chris Fidwa, two American expat homebrewing afficionados who met while playing lacrosse, opened this joint and the rest is history. Apart from the accents and the lacrosse thing, they are fully fledged inner westies and while their beers may travel further afield, like Young Henry’s they are steeped in the community and culture of their home turf. Witness, for example, their recent chai-infused WheaTtea ale created in collaboration with Newtown tea brewers, Ttotaler. Chai and ale? Now there’s an inner west combo if there ever was one! I like the zingy bittnerness of the the Flying Fox Amber Ale which is on tap but it’s the Simcoe Pale Ale that’s coming back east with me in a Bomber.

Willie the Boatman, St Peters
Pat McInerney and Nick Newey are the boss men here and their tasting bar occupies a – yep, you guessed it – old paint factory on Mary Street in Tempe. The community spirit is on tap at this big, bright and breezy joint too. McInerney is a recipient of the Marrickville Citizen of the Year award for his creative and continuous support of assorted local grassroots campaigns. He and Newey name all their beers after mates and local legends, just like Willie the Boatman himself who, legend has it, was a Scottish convict who rowed supplies across the Cooks River to Tempe House. Like the other breweries I’ve visited, if there’s something that’s taken your fancy on tap you can buy refillable growlers here. I was pretty keen on the Old Salty – a 4% German malted wheat beer. It’s a bit lemony and a bit salty. Traditionally you’d serve it with a shot of schnapps but I like the cube of marshmallow you get here instead – just the right amount of sweetness and a bit playful too. I’m taking the Black Bunny Old Style ale home with me and I know I’ll be back for more.
Wayward Brewing Company, Annandale
Pete Philip has been gypsy brewing around Sydney for years and has a solid reputation for creating beers with character so there was considerable excitement attached to the launch late last year of the Wayward brew pub. After the chilled out arvo session vibes of my first three stops, the rollicking beer hall buzz of Wayward makes for a fun shift of gear. Philip’s wife, Yvette, is responsible for decking the place out and a highlight are the cavernous old wine tanks out the back from the main bar (the whole laneway was once a winery) that you can nestle into with your brew and a pizza delivered from up the road. Wayward’s great selection of refreshingly non-mainstream brews (a jasmine saison and chocolate doppelbock for starters) are on tap straight from the cool room and, in true inner west style, local loyalty runs deep so at least one tap is always given over to a local brewer, often a gypsy brewer like Pete once was. Heart warming stuff.
Grifter Brewing Company, Marrickville
Trent Evans, Matt King and Glenn Wignall started Grifter back in 2012, brewing the odd batch (the odd very good batch, that is) using the equipment at their mates’ Young Henrys. The enviable situation of demand outstripping supply followed and a few years of hard slog later, they kicked off in – wait for it - an old industrial laundromat. It’s an impressive set up. The boys added a few larger tanks to the turnkey system they’d originally bought from YH which means they can now produce a core range of pale ale, pilsner, IPA and oatmeal stout. Small batch, limited release beers revolve through the other 4 taps at the 8 tap bar. And a damn fine bar it is. I had a couple of games of pool with some friendly locals (is anyone NOT friendly in this part of the world?) and tried the Bright Eye pilsner, before working my way up to the Big Sur IPA. Big on hops, as you’d imagine, but still pleasantly sessionable. Well, for a 6.7% that is. I like the story attached to the Big Sur which is that the Grifter guys wanted to “experiment with how many hops we could add to the kettle before we blocked the heat exchange”. Lots, apparently! Needless to say, my pool game deteriorated dramatically by my third round.

These are not the only breweries in the inner west, but an eastern beaches boy is only up to so much exotic travel in one weekend. My crafty heart will always be somewhere salty and seaweedy and sandy but I tell you what, the inner west knows how to seduce. It gets you and you don’t even know it’s happening. It’s got character and charm to burn and no more so than in where its beer is being brewed. I’ll be back. Try and stop me.

Cheers, Cam  

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