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 a captive market means they’re trying to pass off an inferior product, you couldn’t be any further from the truth with their brews continuing to pick up big awards and medals at major competitions right across the country.
Shaun Blissett and Ashur Hall are the brewing duo responsible for the top drops coming from the North Wollongong brewery. Since taking over the reins of what used to be the 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 and availability, there’s also growth within their own range. Outside the regular beers, there are frequent seasonal releases which push the brewers stylistically as well as letting them have a bit of fun (case in point with the increasing number of beers inspired by cult Australian figures). And, as if that wasn’t enough to keep them busy, they also make use of the brewery’s relatively large tank capacity by taking on contract brewing from other craft brewers.
Aside from getting down to the brewery to chat with the guys as they’re brewing up a storm, there are a couple of other options for you to get a taste of the Illawarra beer. The first is to grab a growler from the brewery (usually available 2pm-6pm) and take your favourite beer home with you – it costs $10 to buy a branded growler and $15-$35 for each successive fill, depending on your choice.
The other sure bet is to pop down to the Illawarra Brewery bar at the nearby beach where they always have a wide range of Illawarra brews pouring at any one time, including the latest seasonal releases. While the brewery may be the engine room of the operation, it’s here at the bar where the battle to get locals to drink their local brews is really being won. And when you’re sat there on the deck in the South Coast sunshine, overlooking the Tasman Sea with a fantastic fresh beer in hand, it’s not hard to see why. NO
Illawarra Brewing Company Beers
- Illawarra Brewing Jerome O.G.
- Illawarra Smashing Rumpkin
- Illawarra / Local Taphouse Hawaiian Cookie
- Illawarra Brewing Hefe
- Illawarra Brewing Apocalypso's Big Brother Double IPA
- Illawarra Brewing Oatmeal Stout
- Illawarra Wilkinson's Curse
- Illawarra French Kiss
- Illawarra Brownish Bomber
- Illawarra / Local Taphouse Chuck Norris
- Illawarra Apocalypso
- Illawarra Belgian Pale Ale
- Illawarra Saison du Soleil
- Illawarra "Slasher" McKay P.A.
- Illawarra Smashing Rumpkin
- Illawarra Abbey Brune
- Illawarra Saison Rouge
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 Brewing Jerome O.G.
You know that feeling when there’s something different about someone but you just can’t quite place it? They’re still familiar, but somehow altogether different. Maybe they’ve just had a haircut or shaved their beard. Or maybe they’ve had a life-changing experience, like being locked up inside a dark place for the past six months. Well, the last of these is exactly the fate that befell Jerome. It all harks back to the 2013 GABS festival when the Illawarra Brewing boys released their oak-aged Shiraz barrel saison, French Kiss. This beer, Jerome, was an original experimental trial batch for that beer. Having since been tortured – sorry, inoculated – with a lambic culture, it’s been sitting, waiting, brooding in one of those old Shiraz barrels for more than half a year. And now it’s been released, in all its mutant Lambic Saison glory. Dark, malty, dry, tart, funky and fascinating, Jerome is just the sort of wild companion you’d want on these warm summer days.
Style: Barrel-Aged Saison
Illawarra Smashing Rumpkin
When you read through list of ingredients that went into the Illawarra Brewing Company’s Smashing Rumpkin, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d mixed it up with the shopping list for your mother’s kitchen pantry; nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, ginger. But there’s no mistake – although you’d actually be half right too. That’s because, for their annual pumpkin ale, the boys from Illawarra once again turned to brewer Ashur Hall’s mother’s pumpkin pie spice mix (being from upstate New York, she evidently has some pumpkin pie pedigree) to give the necessary authenticity to the brew. With 2013 being the third year in which they’ve brewed the beer – and the second time they’ve aged it in old Rum barrels – they’ve had a chance to ponder feedback from previous efforts and make some refinements. Much of that has to do with more focus having been put on the cinnamon and nutmeg – those apparently being the things that really make a pumpkin pie taste like a pumpkin pie. The other obvious thing required for a good pumpkin beer is pumpkin, and plenty of it. The 2012 version had more pumpkin than the previous year and this year has more still. So much more, in fact, that they actually had to rent a commercial oven in order to roast it – all 40 kilograms, all cut by hand. So was cutting 40 kilograms worth of pumpkin by hand worth the effort? Absolutely – this is a smashing beer. NO
Style: American Spiced Pumpkin Ale
Illawarra / Local Taphouse Hawaiian Cookie
It’s hard to say exactly where the genesis for this beer came from, but we have it on good authority that it had a great deal to do with one of the staff members of Darlinghurst’s Local Taphouse starring in this video. Beyond that, it’s really anyone’s guess. But what we know for certain is that this is the second collaboration between Wollongong’s Illawarra Brewing Company and the staff from one of Sydney’s finest beer bars. Following on from the very well received Chuck Norris Red Ale, the Taphouse crew again headed south for an interactive brew day. Who knows if it was the unusually hot Spring weather or the fresh and fruity smell of the hops drifting through the air that gave them inspiration, but a tropical theme was settled on and the beer style the collaborators chose was a Golden Ale. The resulting brew has been described to us as “a tropical buffet”, which we inference as having much to do with the four varieties of hops that were used; Wai-iti, Amarillo, Citra and Galaxy. But what of the flavours of the mythical Hawaiian Cookie itself? If you’ve not tried it before (and it’s probably safe to say that most haven’t), it mightn’t best to use this beer as your point of reference. As one of the brewers suggests, “it tastes nothing like a Hawaiian Cookie, but it is sessionable as fuck”. NO
Style: Golden Ale
Illawarra Brewing Hefe
They’re becoming the sort of thing you can set your watch by at Illawarra, such is the regularity with which new beers make their merry way from the minds of Shaun and Ashur into tank, keg, schooner and grateful gullet. Hot on the heels of their Double IPA comes this Hefe, a style that, as sure as the 26C days in Melbourne, is a sign that winter is passed and warmer days are coming. Being Illawarra, there’s a bit of a New World twist on this Old World Bavarian style, with relatively new Kiwi hop Wai-iti adding “touches of kiwifruit and citrus” to the more traditional yeast-driven qualities you’d expect, such as bubblegum, banana and clove. It’s a beer that pays homage to the 11th century and modern day brewing too, they tell us. It’s also out and about around NSW now.
Illawarra Brewing Apocalypso's Big Brother Double IPA
With the Apocalypso IPA a runaway hit down at the Illawarra Brewery since its release earlier this year, the brewers have decided to step things up and release a Double IPA, informally known as ‘Apocalypso’s Big Brother’ or, as we like to think of it at Crafty Towers ‘Megapocalypso’. Yet these beers are brothers more by name than nature. Sure, they’re both IPAs, but where the Apocalypso is a toned athlete that’s been raised on a diet of careful moderation, the Double IPA has spent a lot more time in the gym and might’ve even gotten into the ‘roids at some point. You know there’s plenty of sweetness underneath that muscular frame, but there’s a level of aggression that needs negotiation first.
So, while they’re brothers, you wouldn’t pick them as such from a lineup. For starters, the Double is 8.5 per cent ABV and has a rather lip-puckering bitterness of 84 IBUs. And, with the exception of the Calypso hop, the hop regime in the DIPA is entirely different to Apocalypso as El Dorado, Tomahawk and Citra varieties were thrown in – and lots of them – on top of an Aussie and US malt base. But in the end, there’s really no reason to feel intimidated because there’s plenty here to enjoy (especially if you like hops). It’s a bigger brother with a much dominant personality, but one of which little bro will still be proud. NO
Style: Double IPA
Illawarra Brewing Oatmeal Stout
By most accounts, the winter of 2013 has been unseasonably pleasant for the folks in Wollongong. With daytime temperatures consistently hitting the low twenties, it’s the kind of weather that’d have you reaching for the beach towel rather than a thick coat. Nonetheless, it is still, technically, winter. And the guys at Illawarra Brewing figured they should do doing their part to ensure that Wollongongers don’t miss out on one of the most enjoyable aspects of the cool season, namely cosying up with a nice glass of stout. An oatmeal stout, to be specific. Pretty much everything about this beer is dark, with the malts giving you notes of chocolate, toffee and coffee. And as you’d expect from the brewers having dropping a whole bunch of oats into the brew, it’s a very smooth and creamy beer – especially so when served on nitrogen. At 5.9 per cent abv, it’s got just a little heat and a little sweet for those cold days. NO
Illawarra Brewing Company
Style: Oatmeal Stout
Illawarra Wilkinson's Curse
Do you remember where you were when he took that kick? Were you moments away from crying into a schooner somewhere Down Under, or about to dance with joy somewhere on the other side of the world? While all rugby fans will remember Johnny Wilkinson’s extra time drop goal to claim the World Cup for England in 2003, many probably don’t remember what happened afterwards.
Having reached the top of the world, poor old Wilko started to fall apart: broken shoulder, haematoma in the arm, medial ligament damage, another shoulder injury, appendix removal, groin problem, torn adductor muscle, knee ligament (again), kidney damage, twisted ankle, more shoulder surgery, knee ligament (again!), shoulder again and a dislocated knee. Bloody hell. With that sort of run, you’d say he’s pretty unlucky. Then again, could it be a curse? Could it be some sort of comeuppance for having ripped the heart out of so many Australians in their own home? It seems the guys at Illawarra Brewing think so because, to mark 10 years since That Kick – plus the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour – they’ve released the Wilkinson’s Curse Pilsner.
If you’re an Aussie, you’ll find this much easier to drink than it is to watch the match highlights again – plus it’s got a pleasant amount of bitterness that’ll suit your mood. Everyone else will probably dwell less on the bitterness and more on the light malt, herbal and floral notes with a little bit of pine and apricot from the Sylva and Helga hops. If you’re after a taste, bear in mind that it’s very limited and will be probably gone before Wilko gets his next injury. And judging by his track record, that won’t be long at all.
Illawarra French Kiss
As it sits there with you at the bar, you’ll dwell for a moment as you gaze longingly unto it, taking in its beauty. Then you’ll make your move; smooth and slow, but determined. Anticipation turns to excitement as you lean in, then you smell it, that hint of fresh spice, not Old Spice. It’s the kind of enchanting aroma you’d expect from those French origins, sweet with a slightly yeasty tinge.
Eyes closed, eyes open – it doesn’t matter. There’s a fumbled excitement as it touches your tongue. The world opens. Taken aback in the first instant, you go with the motion and things start to change. Your mouth is full. It’s smooth, malty, a little oaky and strangely drying. Maybe not quite what you expected, but that’s ok because you’re up for trying new things.
You’ll be intoxicated – a little by passion, a little by alcohol – but you’ll enjoy having that gentle warmth to wrap your lips around. After a while you’ll find yourself loosening up a little, enjoying it more as you discover all the wonderful subtleties hidden within. As you draw away, you wipe your mouth with your sleeve. We all remember our first French Kiss. NO
Style: French Saison
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