Sydney’s inner west has played host to a variety of interesting characters in its long history. William Kerr, Anthony Albanese, Patrick McInerney and are among them – and, although they may sound like a random assortment of names, they’re all characters in a story that supersedes the area itself.
That story begins all the way back in 1830, when convict William Kerr was assigned the task of ferrying people, supplies, and (presumably) beer across what is now known as the Cooks River. It is that same Willie the Boatman whose name inspired business Pat McInerney in 2014, almost 200 years later, when – during a self-professed mid-life crisis – he decided against the new car and instead started a brewery.
With only limited experience in brewing and handiwork, Pat invested everything into a warehouse space and filled it with a hodgepodge of furniture, upcycled dairy milk vats turned into a brew kettle and a few nautical bits and pieces to pay homage to Willie.
The ramshackled and welcoming brewery was quickly embraced by Sydneysiders and Willie The Boatman has always been dedicated to their customers and community. That includes the MP for Grayndler and future Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, whose face and name adorns the Albo pale ale. It's one of just a few beers named after friends and local heroes, which seems to suggest that a close bond with Willie's can take you to the greatest heights and visiting the brewery is always a smart decision.
Despite the long list of successes, the brewery started to run into an issue – they no longer had enough space to brew their beer or for punters to enjoy themselves.
Having started with just a few grand, the rapid growth of the brewery necessitated a move to a larger location, which opened in autumn 2019. The new space is a stone’s throw from their original home and is part of Precinct 75, a vibrant creative hub that once housed an outdoor Taubman’s paint factory.
The modern Willie’s preserved many of the factory’s old markings, including its vintage signage, exposed brickwork, corrugated iron panelling and impressive metal windows that fill the brewery with light.
The bar, of which the owners are particularly proud, is an ornate carved wooden affair (complete with "bullet hole"), while the brewery venue features many spots to enjoy a pint and a yarn.
The brewery’s history makes for an enticing story it’s one feels as embedded in Sydney’s inner west as the tales of convicts that have long since gone. Fortunately for the modern community, Willie The Boatman continues to flow and brings with it golden nectar and a warm spirit.