If you're in Wollongong and you're looking for local beer, there's only one place to go. Really. The Illawarra Brewing Company 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.
Formerly the Five Islands Brewery, they rebranded to the Illawarra Brewing Company and under the brewmanship of Shaun Blissett and Ashur Hall the brewery gained a fine reputation. With that duo leaving to join new breweries in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, Illawarra's treasured mash paddle passed to new head brewer Chris Sewell in 2015. He's been tasked with continuing on with what's become a bulging range of beers. Between a solid core selection of more approachable styles to big and bold one-offs and emerging experiments from the barrel program, there's plenty going on in this place.
In 2014 they opened a tasting bar where you're able to perch in a room above the brewery floor and watch the magic happen while sampling some of the wares pouring from six taps. While it's not the kind of place where you can sit and have an all-day session, they'll gladly let you try whatever you like in return for a gold coin donation into the brewer's coffee fund jar. And once you've found what you like, they'll fill a 2L growler for you on the spot - and it's properly counter-pressured to keep your fresh beer fresh longer (although they still advise it'll drink better when drunk sooner).
If you're in the mood for a beer but (a) can't make it to the brewery or (b) the brewery's closed, the other side of the business is the bar they run, opposite the Wollongong's main beach. In 2015 it was given a facelift and now pours 30 lines of craft beer, including all the Illawarra core range, all their available limited releases, nitro taps and guests taps pouring beer from fellow small Australian brewers.
It's fair to say that between the brewery and the bar, you won't find anywhere else on the South Coast pouring such a broad selection of beer.