It’s worth making one thing clear from the off: the Bulli Brewing Company is not, in fact, in Bulli. That was the original plan, to set up shop in the self proclaimed ‘Black Diamond District’, a few kilometres north of Wollongong. But hope has a habit of being harpooned whenever it concerns the production of alcohol in suburban surrounds. It was no doubt disappointing for founder Michael Peloquin, since he lives there and it would’ve made for a handy commute but, after two years searching for site, that part of the plan had to be abandoned.
By then, whether through presumption or optimism, the brewery name was already registered so he figured he’d just stick with it, see what happened when he found a good spot. That, as things transpired, was on the other side of town, in the industrial part of Unanderra.
This is virgin territory as far as craft beer goes, a strange area to find a brewery. Then again, it’s also a strange place to find one of the largest Buddhist temples in the southern hemisphere. But there it is, the tall tower of Nan Tien, just over the road. Considering that complex is one of the region’s major attractions, perhaps it’s not such a bad place for a brewery after all. It’s far from the first business in history to benefit from a constant caravan of thirsty pilgrims.
There’s a degree of casualness in the way this brewery operates. It’s not the kind of place that pumps out a hundred different beers a year. As it stands they barely do a half dozen. Prolificacy is just not part of the plan – not yet anyway. For Michael the brewery is a long term project. He works in finance, has done for decades, and Bulli Brewing is partly the result of peering into the sunset and wondering whether being buried in spreadsheets is necessarily the best way to round out one’s working life. Would it not be more personally fulfilling to brew beer, deliver kegs, meet people and have a bit of fun? Frankly, yes, it would.
So that’s more or less how it goes. Michael and right hand man Andrew Stanbrook brew when the beer is needed – usually a few batches per month – and sell it to a handful of venues around the region. It’s scarcely more complex than that. Because he owns the building outright, the commercial imperative is a little less intense than many brewery setups. He’s still gone in with full commitment, getting himself qualified amongst the first graduating class at Sydney TAFE’s micro brewing course, but he has the luxury of being able to grow slowly, to take a tinkerer’s approach. That may go a long way to explaining why, day to day – or at least for good parts of each day – the brewery may not even be the main attraction.
From sunup on weekdays the brewery is better known locally as the Brewer’s Cafe, fuelling a steady stream of tradies and local business folk with caffeine and hearty food. You can still get a beer, of course, but it’s the weekend when the place takes on a more familiar brewery feel. That’s when people have time to linger rather than pass through. They bring the family and the dog. There’s time to order pizza. Time for live music. Time for more than a taster.
And the beers produced here are generally the kind that demand more than a taster. They’re openly approachable, but interesting nonetheless. The pale ale, for instance, isn’t your super fruity New World variety. It’s got a Belgian background, with more esters and more intrigue. The core dark offering, for instance, is a beer that’s lighter in nature than a Porter or Stout. These are easy beers to drink, but they’re still a little different from the norm. And for a brewery named after a suburb where it’s not, that seems quite appropriate.