If you’re in Wollongong and you’re looking for local beer, there’s only one place to go. Really. The Illawarra Brewing Company (IBC) is Wollongong’s only brewery and therefore, by default, its home of handcrafted beer. But if you think that a captive market means they’re getting trying to pass off an inferior product, you could not be any further from the truth.
Judges in several high-profile beer competitions have bestowed many plaudits and the corresponding medals on IBC’s core range of beers. Indeed, if there were some sort of beer Olympics, IBC would surely rank high in the medal count.
Shaun Blissett and Ashur Hall are the brewing duo responsible for the top drops coming from the recently expanded brewery in North Wollongong. Since taking over the reigns of the old Five Islands Brewery and rebranding to Illawarra Brewing Company, business has been steadily increasing in every direction. Helped by the aforementioned accolades, word is getting out about their beer and it’s becoming increasingly available in the bigger markets of Melbourne and Sydney.
With growth in popularity there is also growth within their own range. Outside the core range of beers, there are regular seasonal releases which, stylistically, continue to push the brewers. And, as if that wasn’t enough, they also take on contract brewing from a number of other craft breweries – a sure sign of the high regard in which their produce is held.
If you’re ever in Wollongong and keen to try the beers, but not really in the mood for being inside a brewery watching the guys shovelling grain or cleaning tanks, you’ve got a couple of very good alternatives. The first is to make use of the growler filling station and take your choice of beer home with you. The other is to pop down to the nearby beach where you’ll find the Illawarra Brewery bar. On a fine day, there can be few better places to enjoy a beer than out on their deck looking out towards the Tasman Sea. And you can always be sure that any beer you get there will be amongst the freshest you’ll find. Nick O
Illawarra Brewing Company Beers
Illawarra Draught Ale
The recommended first port of call on a trip through the Illawarra beers, this Aussie Pale Ale is a crisp, clean, easy drinker. It has the lighter characters you might expect from this style: citrus, lemon, melon and a dash of pepper or hint of spice. The subtlety of these elements allows the flavours of the wheat malt to shine through. Picture yourself during summertime at the brewery bar, looking out over the beach and the ocean, with one hand clutching a pint of Draught Ale – that about says it all.
Style: Australian Pale Ale
Pepper? Check. Clove? Check. Banana? Check. Your nose will let you know you’re in Wit country. But, just to be sure, you’ll need to taste it. Orange peel… citrus… coriander seeds… this classically-styled beer has more layers than a Belgian monk in winter and a lot more spiciness too.
The world is all about being efficient these days – getting what you need faster and with more bang for your buck. This Brown Porter is an exercise in efficiency, providing your Recommended Daily Intake of dark chocolate, espresso coffee and bitter cocoa in a single glass*. As a relatively dry and sessionable porter, this is definitely one for that friend who ‘doesn’t like beer’.
- A single glass may not actually provide your RDI of these ingredients. You may need two or more.
Illawarra Rust Amber
The Rust Amber Ale tiptoes the line between beauty and brawn without ever losing its balance. It is the colour of an industrial leather work boot, has the cleanest of roasted malts, a molten caramel flavour that oozes down the middle of your palate and a strong hop presence that never takes away from its floral finesse. Like leaving your car parked by the seaside, this rust will simply grow and grow on you.
Style: Amber Ale
There’s one in every family – the overachiever. Good looking, sophisticated, always winning awards. That’s the Koelsch alright. It picked up the trophy for Best in Class at the 2012 AIBA, a gold medal at the AIBA and gold at the Sydney Royal Beer competition.
Medium bodied, golden straw coloured, unfiltered, citrus, pear and a hint of malt – this is everything it needs to be. And to think, you can’t make a proper ‘Koelsch’ outside of Köln…
Awards: Best in Class 2012 Australian International Beer Awards Gold Medal Royal Sydney Beer Awards 2012
Illawarra Nelson Pale Ale
Brewing is a certainly a global game these days. Inspired by America, sourced from New Zealand and the US and made in Australia, the Nelson Pale Ale was originally conceived as a seasonal release. With a solid malt body, a crisp, bitter finish and the all-important US/NZ hop hit, it picked up a gold medal at the Sydney Royal Beer competition and a bronze at the 2012 AIBA. That was plenty to convince the brewers that this was worth adding to the permanent range.
Awards: Gold - Sydney Royal Beer Show 2012
Style: US Pale Ale
Illawarra Brownish Bomber
It’s a brown ale. Or is it? As Shaun Blissett from Illawarra Brewing tells us, apparently in US beer competitions there are certain characters a brown ale must have in order to be classified a ‘true’ brown ale. Everything else claiming brown-ness but not fitting the technical definition gets reclassified to a separate category: Texas Brown Ale. It’s a nice way of saying that it doesn’t quite fit in and that’s probably what you could say about Milo Kerrigan. The former (and, it should be said, fictional) boxer nicknamed “The Brownish Bomber” was as famed for his 27 knockouts – two of which he inflicted on opponents – as he was for his ‘expert’ television punditry on all manner of subjects.
As a tribute to this Aussie cult figure, the boys from Illawarra have brewed a Texas Brown Ale and named it The Brownish Bomber. The beer itself is indeed brown and uses all US hops, including the new El Dorado variety which gives a fruity, citrus punch. It’s got a classic malt base that should keep brown ale traditionalists happy, plus hints of chocolate and a slight whiff of tobacco.
Like Milo Kerrigan in the boxing ring, it won’t be around very long. Unlike Milo Kerrigan, this beer does a far better impression of a brown ale than he ever did as a boxer. NO
Style: Texas Brown Ale
Illawarra / Local Taphouse Chuck Norris
A beer made in 2013 but born in 1940, for that is the year that Chuck Norris was created. And this beer, surely, wouldn’t be the same without Him. It’s a beer created between the Illawarra Brewing Company and the Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst when a bus load of staff from the latter took a trip down to the former’s Wollongong brewery. Why the Chuck Norris obsession? We’re not exactly sure, but when it comes to all things Norris we know enough to know that questioning Him will only result in trouble. Instead, let’s just be content that we’ve got a brand new single hop American red ale on our hands, and one He could be well proud of.
The bitterness is crisp like His uppercut, the malt body is serious and well defined and the hops hit like a kick to the solar plexus – or more accurately like a seven hit combo representing the seven different additions of Mosaic hops through the brewing process. But far from flooring you immediately, which it so easily could – this is, after all, named for the man who can kill a living room – the beer will give nodding approval to those who summon up the courage to drink it by the pint. But always remain cautious, for this beer is Chuck Norris: seemingly harmless from the outside but will knock you the fuck out if you disrespect it.
Style: American Red Ale
The boys at Illawarra Brewing have released what they’re tentatively referring to as a ‘Summer IPA’. It’s an interesting moniker considering it was released only three days before summer officially ended, but let’s not get bogged down in the small details. The point we think they’re making is that this is an IPA with something different. Perhaps reasoning that we’ve become like a pack of Pavlov’s dogs when it comes to IPAs – where ‘IPA’ is mentioned our palates automatically go into some sort of anticipatory hop overdrive – they’ve released something ever so slightly gentler. It’s made from all pale malt and hop varieties from the east and west coast of the USA; Mosaic, Belma and Calypso. It’s the latter which perhaps shows through the most (and gives rise to the beer’s name) by dominating with tropical fruits – the likes of tangerines, citrus, grapefruit and lychee. While Shaun Blissett (one half of the brewing duo) says “we weren’t really keen on it being too bitter”, hops were added the whole way through the brew process and at 51 IBUs it’s unmistakably an IPA. The thing is, it just feels a bit lighter and softer – a Summer IPA that’ll do you nicely this Autumn. NO
Style: American IPA
Bitterness: 51 IBU
Illawarra Belgian Pale Ale
How do you travel to the forests in Belgium, back in time to ancient Egypt then to the West Coast of the USA without ever leaving Wollongong? The answer is in every glass of the new Belgian Pale Ale from the Illawarra Brewing Company. The BPA could perhaps be considered a little cousin to some big and burly Belgian pale styles; full for sure, but not too challenging. On the nose you’ll catch a whiff of the fruity esters that come from the Ardennes yeast; imagine yourself skipping carefree through Belgium’s Ardennes forest in full bloom with ribbons in your hair and a wicker basket full of cloves and bananas and you’ll be on the right track. Also classically Belgian is the malt billing which provides a foundation for the yeast and hop balance, hops which add plenty to this beer’s (new) worldly charm. The recently-developed USA-grown variety Zythos – the ancient Greek word for the ancient Egyptian word for beer – have been used to give tangerine, pine and grapefruit flavours and make for a smooth bitterness that’ll stay with you for a while. What won’t stay for very long though is the beer itself – it’s a limited release so get in quick. NO
Style: Belgian Pale Ale
Illawarra Saison du Soleil
The last time the boys at Illawarra played with saison yeast, for the 2012 GABS festival, we ended up with the rip-roaring Saison Rouge. Well, they’ve been at it again and have a little something to help ease your thirst as summer 2013 heats up to record levels. Called Saison du Soleil, or ‘Season of the Sun’, it’s very much an Australian interpretation of the old continental saison style. Firstly there’s the all-Australian malts, flaked wheat and spelt, then there’s the Aussie and Kiwi hops which bring out the fruity characters; think along the lines of pine, orange and citrus. Here, those hops add quite a pronounced whack of bitterness and contribute to a bit more fullness than might be expected from a traditional saison. Not that there’s no tradition; the brewers’ favourite French saison yeast was used, but fermented at a relatively low temperature which contributes to a lingering, dry finish. With enough lightness to be a quencher but a big enough body to make sure it’s noticed, Illawarra’s Saison du Soleil is a welcome Aussie saison for this most Aussie of seasons. Nick O
Style: French Farmhouse Ale
Illawarra "Slasher" McKay P.A.
Summer 1960/61, Fourth Test Match, Adelaide Oval. Australia down to their last wicket against a rampaging West Indies pace attack. With the series locked, Australia need to hang on to take the series to a deciding Fifth Test. At the batting crease were Lindsay Kline and Ken “Slasher” McKay – an ironic nickname for a man known for his staying power rather than attacking verve. For over 100 minutes the pair held firm and, on the final delivery, McKay elected to take the ball on his ribcage rather than chance an edge or LBW. The test was drawn and Australia went on to win the series. In homage to these late Australian heroics, Illawarra Brewing Co have created the “Slasher” McKay.P.A, with a local malt backbone and full batting line-up of Australia’s best finishing hops; Summer, Stella, and Galaxy. That Aussie stayer of bittering hops, Super Pride, was also integral in the design and naming of the beer. In fact, this beer is so focused on Aussie hops that they were added at every point from first wort additions through to the dry hopping stages – they even had to build a Hop Back. That leads to a beer with a clean, lasting bitterness and bouquet of fresh rock melon, honeydew and passionfruit. Like “Slasher” McKay himself, this is full of classic Aussie character but isn’t afraid to be different.
Style: Aussie IPA
Illawarra Smashing Rumpkin
In the early 90’s, a bunch of American Bourbon Whiskey oak barrels turned up in Australia. Seizing the opportunity for a slight career change they found their way to Queensland where, like a heaven-sent pirate, they spent the next 20 years filled with rum. After a well-lived life in the the spirit game, they moved south to Wollongong where the guys from Illawarra Brewing Company found them a new gig in their brewery, working closely with their 2012 Pumpkin Ale… Brewing a Pumpkin Ale is something of an annual tradition for IBC and the oak barrels gave them a chance to play with the recipe more than usual. Brewer Ashur Hall’s mum’s special spice mix (think allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and coriander seeds) was kept on, but they doubled the amount of pumpkin from the 2011 version and let the oak ageing “go nuts”. The charred interior of the barrels gives off a smoky character on the nose but drinkers will likely be more concerned with the vanilla, coconut, sweet spice and cinnamon notes of classic Caribbean spiced rum.
Australian Hotel Beer Festival 2012
Illawarra Brewing Company
The Local Taphouse St Kilda
The Local Taphouse Darlo
Bar Next Door to Samuels
King Street Wharf Brewhouse
The Albion Hotel
Style: American Spiced Pumpkin Ale
Illawarra Abbey Brune
It seems the boys from Illawarra have a bit of a thing for Belgians. Hot on the heels of their Saison Rouge comes another Belgian-style brew, though this one is at a very different point in the spectrum. Called Abbey Brune, it’s the IBC version of a Dubbel. Keeping things neatly within the ‘double’ theme, two yeasts were thrown at it as well as hops from two distinct origins, US and Continental. These all meet in the middle to provide the necessary balance and a pleasing herbal aroma. The dark colour of the brew comes not from dark candy sugar but – in another ‘double’ reference – from two types of malt; Belgian Special B and German Caramunich. You could never claim this beer to be lacking in character. At 7.6 per cent, it’ll give you double the trouble the next morning, but it’s deceptive sessionability means you’re also twice as likely to want another one.
Illawarra Brewery Bar
Style: Abbey Dubbel
Illawarra Saison Rouge
What to do when someone asks you to brew something you’ve never been made before and release it to thousands upon thousands of people at a beer festival? Saison Rouge is the answer. Illawarra Brewing Company’s entry for the 2012 GABS Festival was a Belgian-inspired saison that leaned heavily on stewed, dried fruit and specialty Belgian malts. Scoffing in the face of the winter event and any natural inclination towards dark, heavy beers, the Saison Rouge is clean, fruity, crisp and utterly drinkable despite a 7 per cent-plus ABV. Unsurprisingly, it is entirely unique and proved a big hit with punters.
Illawarra Brewery Bar
Style: Fruit-infused Saison