Hang on… is it called Woolgoolga Brewing, or Woopi Brewing?
For anyone not familiar with the coastal town of Woolgoolga on the north coast of NSW, let me save you some confusion: Woopi Brewing is Woolgoolga Brewing. Woolgoolga Brewing is Woopi Brewing.
Woolgoolga is called Woopi by just about everyone who knows it. The town’s just a 25 minute drive from Coffs Harbour on the Pacific Highway, but back when the roads weren’t as friendly and Woolgoolga was the northernmost regional rugby team on the Mid North Coast, the other teams would make the long trip to Woolgoolga and say: “Where the hell are we?! We’re in the middle of Woop Woop.”
Thus the name Woopi was born.
Whether you call it Woolgoolga or Woopi, the town is surrounded by natural beauty: awe-inspiring old growth rainforest on one side, gorgeous coastline and endless ocean on the other side. The beaches are made for surfing, and there are hiking trails and mountain bike trails galore. It’s no surprise why people are moving from the cities to the Coffs region, and in the past few years it’s become easier to do; as remote work becomes more popular, so does Woopi.
Ryan and Sarah Poole moved to Woopi in 2019, although not to work remotely. They moved there to start a brewery. They’d fallen in love with Australia’s growing craft beer scene and knew a number of supportive people in the industry, including Matt Bebe, whom Sarah had worked for during his time running Mornington Peninsula Brewery. So when they needed a sea change, they scoured the map and found Woolgoolga.
“It ticked all the boxes for us, being beautiful and coastal in that area with an amazing all round temperature…” says Sarah. “But it also felt like there was good opportunity here with the region –how it was growing, with new and different businesses coming into the area – and we felt it was an untapped place for a great little craft coastal brewery.”
Once they landed in Woopi, they spent the next two years finding the right location for a brewery and taproom while gathering together a supportive team. They partnered with Aaron and Jacqui Dobner, another couple who had moved to the area with the thought of starting a brewery, as well as a handful of local families who came on as shareholders and Matt Bebe (now owner of Tar Barrel Brewery & Distillery), whose industry expertise and strategic input was key in getting Woopi Brewing off the ground.
That said, when Woopi Brewing opened in September 2021, it wasn’t all blue skies; COVID difficulties and months of rain made for a bumpy first year in operation. But these challenges didn’t stop the brewery from being well received, both by the local community and as a destination for those from further afield.
The venue itself is a welcoming place: a big shed on a hill that rolls out the green carpet for punters. Out front, the sprawling lawn is covered in shaded picnic tables, dogs aplenty, and even an old surf boat for kids to play in. (“We’re a town proud of our surf lifesaving history,” says Sarah.)
Inside, the green continues in the shape of lush hanging plants that highlight the shininess of the stainless steel tanks. Between inside and outside, there’s capacity for up to 200 people, which comes in handy with some of the bigger musical acts that come to Woopi; the brewery puts on free live music every weekend as well as ticketed gigs by major artists.
On top of this, they play host to all kinds of events, from markets and art shows to gatherings of the local mountain bike club, from drag queen trivia to a puppy lawn party.
“We’re open to doing anything and everything… We want all parts of our community to feel comfortable coming into our space.”
Woopi Brewing’s kitchen serves simple but varied lunch and dinner offerings that include wings, grazing boards, burgers and tacos. They smoke their own meats, source their food from local producers and suppliers where they can, and reckon they serve up the best woodfired pizza on the coast – complete with their Mr Miyagi rice lager featuring in the pizza dough.
Of course, all of this is best enjoyed with a schooner of beer made onsite. Head brewer Charlie Hodgson joined the Woopi team in late 2022 and didn’t waste any time making the beers the people of Woolgoolga were crying out for as well as the beers they didn’t even know they wanted. The core range features five beers (and a ginger beer) that take you on a journey: the mid-strength American blonde, Between The Flags; the infinitely crushable Mr Miyagi rice lager; Wedding Bells, a classic West Coast pale ale; Rebel Red, a malt-driven red ale with a light hoppy bitterness; and Road Trip’n IPA, the heavy hitter of the core lineup.
(If you’re after something other than beer, the taproom also has a range of wine and a small selection of craft spirits available.)
Meanwhile, Charlie’s always putting limited releases through the taps as well, pushing boundaries with new styles and ingredients and inviting friends from near and far to come and collaborate on brews. He also runs a series of beers called Altered State, which involves tweaking ingredients in his core beer recipes in order to turn the flavour dials; try tasting the original beer side by side with the new creation to see what’s familiar and what’s different.
For the full brewery experience, jump onto one of the tours that runs every weekend to level up your beer knowledge and taste your way through the Woopi range.
At the end of the day, whether you’re after an easy-drinker to cool you down after a surf or a flavour explosion to rouse you after a long drive, or whether you’re there to try something new or to work through all the styles on offer… this is a brewery dedicated to being whatever you need it to be.
It’s the perfect local’s haunt. It’s the ideal rest stop on your road trip. It’s the home to all kinds of events to invite in all kinds of people. Woolgoolga Brewing is all about helping put Woopi on the map – even if the word “Woopi” is nowhere to be found on a map.