Few microbreweries in Australia have enjoyed quite the start experienced by Thirsty Crow. Just three months after opening the doors of its brewery, bar and restaurant in Wagga Wagga, founder and head brewer Craig Wealands found himself called to the stage at the Australian International Beer Awards. One of the first handful of batches he'd put through his brewery, the Vanilla Milk Stout, had just picked up the trophy for Best Hybrid Beer – not bad considering it's the second largest beer awards of its kind on the planet.
That said, Craig was no wet-behind-the-ears brewer enjoying beginner's luck. He was a local boy returning home after honing his brewing skills at Sunshine Coast alongside Ian Watson (who has since brewed at Murray's and a number of breweries in Brisbane) and Hunter Beer Co in the Hunter Valley. Even so, the Vanilla Milk Stout was his first stab at a milk stout, one to which he added vanilla from Madagascar, and has gone on to become something of a cult classic in Aussie craft beer circles.
It's one of a handful of beers that had a permanent home originally at Thirsty Crow's colourful Kincaid Street home before a move to a bigger venue. Among the others you'll find the trophy-winning gateway beer, Sporting Ale, 26-Fifty, a hoppily aromatic summer ale, and River Float, which I'd rate among the best APAs in the country.
For the most part, however, the taps showcase a rotating selection of beers brewed by Craig, brought in from mate's breweries or sometimes brewed by Craig and his mates at various breweries. Depending on when you call in you might find an imperial stout brewed with coffee from a local roaster or beers with local orange peel, chilis and, well, whatever takes his fancy.
It's an eclectic approach that is carried into every aspect of Thirsty Crow. The venue is also home to artisanal wines, craft spirits, amazing coffee from independent roasters, Australian owned soft drinks and regional juices; there's even a kid’s corner. The beer garden is dog-friendly, with water bowls and a dog bed.
As for the food, the kitchen likes to have fun, particularly when it comes to the selection of "craft pizzas" often based on ideas concocted in Craig's kitchen at home. Look out for truffle oil, smoked kransky and tabouleh, a 2am Kebab option or tuck into a full lamb roast (on a pizza). If you're a fan of pineapple on pizza, however, be warned: Craig isn't. So, faced by repeated calls for a Hawaiian on the menu, he created the Hawaiian Lava, complete with message: "ULTRA HOT! Do not order this pizza. It is too hot for you!"
Thirsty Crow hosts regular and lively events, usually featuring a table tennis challenge, and is fully involved in supporting all manner of initiatives in the local community. There might not be a huge amount of craft beer in Wagga, but with the Thirsty Crow to help you murder your thirst, you won't be left wanting.