The suburb of Tempe, famously known for its IKEA and its location right underneath the final approach to Sydney Airport, has played host to a variety of interesting characters in its long history. William Kerr, Anthony Albanese, Todd Payne, Patrick McInerney and Nick Newey are among them – and, although they may sound like a random assortment of names, they’re all characters in a story that supersedes the suburb itself.
That story begins all the way back in 1830, when convict William Kerr, slave to the owner of Tempe House, 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 partners Pat McInerney and Nick Newey in 2014, almost 200 years later, when – during a self-professed mid-life crisis – the two "fat dads" decided to start a brewery.
With only limited experience in brewing and handiwork between them, they invested all their capital 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. Some of the very first beers made on their inventive system were named after friends and local legends – Todd’s Trailer Ale, Crazy Ivan and the now retired Foo Brew.
Upon brewing a corn ale, a pre-Prohibition era, "working-class" beer, the pair decided to name it after a real working-class man - MP for Grayndler and Labor Party leader, Anthony Albanese.
Whether Albo was consulted or not depends on who you ask, but the beer certainly put the brewery on the map, with photos of Albo and his eponymous corn ale going as far as The Sydney Morning Herald. Soon after, Albanese and Mayor Darcy Byrne joined the area's brewers for the launch of the Inner West Brewers Association, a body that aims to rectify legislative barriers for craft beer breweries and make the Inner West Sydney’s beer mecca, so happy accidents and all that.
As a result, Pat, Nick and Willie became local heroes in their own right, treasured by the Tempe community that had always been a cornerstone of their business. In fact, so strong is their love for community that is has and always will be the cornerstone of their business. Both owners have young kids, and the importance they’ve placed on education in particular has led to a "no no" policy towards keg donations for public school events. Instead, they’ll supply the beer, turn up with the jockey box and pour schooners themselves throughout the night.
Despite the long list of successes, the brewery started to run into issues – not least because they’d run out of local legends after which to name their beers. Despite years of success in the industry in terms of people’s choice awards and public school appreciation certificates, they’d only every taken one official medal home for their beers. They became their own harshest critics for their beers and decided they needed a professional hand. So, they called on another of their friends, beer consultant and judge Neal Cameron, now with the Institute of Beer.
He helped to overhaul their brewing process and, in one year, saw them turn that one medal for one beer in to five medals for five beers. That relationship with Neal has continued to flourish and he still visits the brewery every three months to assess the process and keep Willie on course.
One more welcome challenge was that of space. Having started with just a few grand, the rapid growth of the brewery has necessitated a move to a larger location, which opened in autumn 2019. The new space, which is in the same complex as the previous and also once housed an outdoor Taubman’s paint factory, is as light and breezy as the old one, complete with painted white walls and exposed brick façade. The bar, of which the owners are particularly proud, is an ornate carved wooden affair (complete with "bullet hole"), the seating area larger and there’s even a function room for private events.
Along with the move comes brand new brewing equipment, the most welcome change of which is an actual flow meter, rather than just two buttons – water on, water off. Thankfully, the beers and the legends will be preserved, with old favourites remaining in the core range. Then again, the brewers are always up for experimentation – rumour has it that Nectar of the Hops was in fact the first NEIPA brewed in Australia.
What will be lost is the old dairy equipment, which will always remain as a fond memory and testament to the creativity and skill of Pat, Nick and the brewers, something that would make Willie – and the rest of the characters in Tempe’s long story – nothing but proud.
Marie Claire Jarratt