It seems that, a little like an episode of Sesame Street, Wollongong breweries are brought to you by the number five.
For more than a decade, the only brewery to call the coastal city home was the Illawarra Brewing Company, which, in a previous incarnation, was called the Five Islands Brewery where the likes of HopDog's Tim Thomas and Mornington Peninsula Brewery's "AG" Gow once plied their trade.
Now there’s a new brewery setting up and its founder, home brewer Phil O’Shea, has chosen to call his latest beer venture – located just south of Wollongong CBD – Five Barrel Brewing. It was originally to be called Stack Brewing but a name clash with another brewery prompted a rethink.
He originally hoped to be serving beer at the brewery’s site in Keira Street by September but delays with the liquor licence pushed those plans back, as did a need to wait for that approval before ordering fermenters and other equipment.
Now, however, the man who also runs mail order beer company Crafty Brew plans to be pouring the first Five Barrel beers by the end of November.
‘‘We’re hoping to have our first beer ready in about a month,’’ said Phil when we caught up with him.
‘‘We’ll probably swing the doors open in about a month for a soft launch and then we’ll do another couple of batches and get a few more beers ready before we have a big launch.’’
It's not uncommon for prospective brewers to find the move from dream to reality takes a lot longer than expected. But, while Phil admits finding a suitable location was difficult, he says the Five Barrel Brewing process has otherwise gone ahead of schedule.
‘‘I did a fair bit of research prior to doing this and talked to a lot of breweries domestically and overseas,’’ he says.
‘‘I went in with open eyes knowing how long the whole process would take and it’s actually taken a little less than we anticipated. So far it’s been nine months since we found the premises and got everything under way.’’
As the name may indicate, Five Barrel Brewing’s capacity isn’t huge. With four 600 litre fermenters and a single bright tank, the intention is to make small batches which will be sold in either keg or bottle in the tasting room attached to the brewery.
The aim, ultimately, is to offer eight taps, all boasting a different Five Barrel beer – a necessity as the liquor licence precludes any guest taps.
‘‘There’s four core beers and we will always have a dark beer and we’ll rotate that through a range of different dark beers – like dark stout and a milk stout for instance – and we plan on having a nitro tap as well,’’ he says, before adding a teaser for fans of traditional British beers: ‘‘We’d also like to get into some cask ale as well.’’
What's more, befitting his home brewing background, Phil says he’s keen to tinker with things and brew up some adventurous, "experimental stuff".
‘‘We’ll be running our 30 litre system and pushing out some small kegs that will just be sold through the tap room. It’s just to test different things and give people a bit more of an experience when they come to the tap room so they get things that are a bit different than what might be sold elsewhere.’’
He says he has had some interest from Wollongong bars interested in putting on Five Barrel kegs and plans to focus on the local market before looking further afield to Sydney and beyond.
He's certain that Wollongong is big enough for both Illawarra Brewing Company and Five Barrel too, while near neighbour Tim Thomas of HopDog has been advising in the setup of his brewery.
‘‘I’ve not specifically spoken to the guys at Illawarra Brewing but we don’t anticipate too many issues,’’ says Phil. ‘‘They’re much bigger than us and they have a different sort of model to us as well.
‘‘I think the brewing industry in general is a pretty friendly bunch of blokes. Through my work with Crafty Brew, I speak with a lot of brewery owners and they’re all pretty keen and supportive of what we’re doing."
If you'd like to see what Phil's doing for yourself, you'll find Five Barrel at 318 Keira Street. Keep an eye on the brewery's Facebook page for launch details.
About the author: Glen is a full-time journalist who also writes about beer at the blog Beer Is Your Friend. He is also totally crap at writing short biographies that appear at the end of stories.