Breweries that start out with three blokes brewing beer in a garage isn’t exactly unheard of – far from it; however, with the launch of Whale Rock Brewing, we do have ourselves a new sub-genre of the three-mates-start-a-brewing-company category. Paul Irving, Chris Mumford and Damien Neilan not only form the founding trio of one of Sydney’s newest contract breweries but also the first with the three-dads-escape-lockdown-boredom-by-homebrewing origin story.
For Paul, the seed was planted after heading along to a mate’s place for a brew day.
"Rob had a three-vessel setup and was all-grain brewing and it just blew me away," he recalls. "The process was interesting, everything smells great and he handed me a beer that was as good as anything I was buying at the time."
Not long after that, during the various COVID lockdowns in Sydney and with his three kids at school and some time off work, Paul found himself with a surplus of spare time and a desire to brew something for himself.
So, with a gravity-fed, three-vessel system set up in his garage and people basically standing sentry at their windows looking for any excuse to have some human contact, it wasn’t long before Paul attracted the attention of his neighbours.
"I was brewing in my garage and I don’t even know how it happened but a couple of neighbours just sort of wandered in," he says, "and all of a sudden there’s the three of us brewing together as often as we could."
Paul, Chris and Damien are dads and professionals of various stripes but the lure of supplying beer to their community soon proved irresistible. As is often the case, while enjoying several too many homebrews, the three got to talking seriously about giving brewing commercially a go. Within 24 hours, Paul’s professional experience as a financial regulator had kicked in and he had them licensed as a corporation and had started the liquor licensing process.
In coming up with a name for themselves, they wanted something that was going to showcase their love for the local area and the community. Starting with a shortlist of 14 different names, eventually it was clear that Whale Rock was exactly how they wanted to represent themselves. The actual Whale Rock sits within the nearby Lane Cove National Park and is a prominent landmark for the locals who walk the trails regularly. In fact, the design on their packaging prominently features an engraving Paul took of the rock with paper and charcoal.
Although the area is relatively affluent, there’s been little penetration when compared to the beer frenzy seen in the Inner West and Northern Beaches. However, Paul had a hunch there were a lot of locals who, like him, started off living in the inner-city suburbs with a plethora of bars and pubs and progressively moved further west with the birth of each new child into areas where choices are much more limited. So, by offering something made by locals, specifically for the local population, Whale Rock are not only tapping into the ample community-minded sentiment of the Beecroft/Cheltenham/Epping area, but providing something that many have never experienced before.
In launching Whale Rock, the trio has connected with vast swathes of pale lager-drinking locals who dismissed craft beer as a strange fad and, by presenting their pale ale as just a beer made by three dads down the road, they’ve given the doubters licence to try something new.
"Everyone has just been so overwhelmingly supportive," Paul says.
With a second batch of Whale Rock Pale Ale released and plans for new beers the pipeline, we ventured into the heart of Lane Cove National Park to find out just Who Brews Whale Rock Beers?
WHALE ROCK BREWING
Who are you?
Paul, Chris and Damien: friends and neighbours based in the leafy suburb of Cheltenham, NSW. Paul started homebrewing in his garage during the first Sydney lockdown and Chris and Damien just sort of wandered in and started to help. Whale Rock Brewing was born.
We come from diverse backgrounds: financial regulation, digital marketing and information technology. We all have families and could not have gotten this far without the incredible support from our partners: Alex, Kate and Anne.
Where do you brew?
Paul’s garage is where we test out recipes. Our first contract brew was done with Frenchies Bistro and Brewery in The Cannery, Roseberry. Head brewer Evan did a great job with our beer and was extremely patient answering all our stupid questions. We couldn’t recommend Frenchies enough to any prospective contract brewers. Great guys brewing great beer. Patient and helpful throughout.
Why do you brew?
I don’t think we’ve given much thought to why. We all like beer so it’s cool being able to make great beer in a garage. Over time it morphed into a social activity that brings us together.
We also get a buzz sharing beers with locals. People are often surprised and comment: "That’s actually pretty good!"
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
A random brew day at a friend's place in Dulwich Hill. It was so much fun, learning about the process, the science, the smells, music, talking crap, everything. Loved it.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
We had a mini competition to come up with a name. Loads of great ideas came up but Whale Rock Brewing was a clear winner.
We wanted to be a local business and nothing is more local to our area than Whale Rock. It’s a large rock in Lane Cove National Park that looks like a whale. It’s known to many hikers of the Great North Walk, and is close to North Epping and Chelthenham.
It’s about a ten minute walk from our houses and we often walk there with our kids to escape the house.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
I have to say our Pale Ale as it’s our only commercially available beer… so far. We want to brew beers we like to drink and our Pale Ale fits the bill perfectly. Uncomplicated, fresh and great for a party, a BBQ, or to complement to a spicy takeout.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
90s rock and 90s Brit pop mostly.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Young Henrys Newtowner, Batch Big Kahuna Coconut Brown Ale and Mountain Culture Cult IPA.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Big fan of Ekim After Battle Pale Ale and Bloodshot Red IPA. All their beers are excellent.
Where can people find your beers?
Today, we are on tap at Hannah’s in Beecroft and Molly’s Pavillion in Cheltenham. Our cans are available at Positano's and Porters Liquor in Beecroft and Roma Vino bottleshop in North Epping.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
A great outcome would be a viable business with people living around Whale Rock feeling connected to our brewery.
You can find other entries in our Who Brews...? series here.