When you can include wild fermentation, trophy winning beers, a bottleshop that brews and a brewery that distills, there’s merit to the argument that Sydney’s Inner West is home to the most interesting concentration of beer businesses in Australia. Yet, as recently as 2012 there was just one independent brewery in the area – and it wasn't open to the public. It’s more than a little remarkable how quickly things have changed.
Amongst the first to see this new wave coming was a pair of American ex-pats, Chris Sidwa and Andrew Fineran. In 2013 they took a chance on a warehouse in Marrickville, rolled in a small brewing kit and launched the Batch Brewing Company.
The choice of brewery name reflected their concept, one that would eschew a broad range of core beers in favour of just a couple of regulars and a rapidly changing array of single batches. There was no grand plan as to what styles these would be. Instead, they were happy to take a lead from the seasons, unexpected opportunities and whatever else they felt people in a then nascent beer scene might be willing to try. Then they banked everything on how well the ‘drink local’ concept would resonate; as a small business, from day one they were cognisant that any future success would depend on people in their own community supporting what they were doing. They came up with a line that summed up this inclusive ethos, painted it on the wall and stamped it on their labels: ‘We Brew For You’.
More than many others, Batch has always felt like a working brewery rather than just a place to go for a beer. At times the separation between brewery and bar was as thin as a painted line on the floor. In the beginning, when there was still space, it was almost wholly industrial with sprawling stainless steel, piles of ingredients, kegs being cleaned and bottles filled and capped by hand. Between the thrum of traffic outside on Sydenham Road and regular roars from planes descending on the nearby Sydney airport, quiet moments were rare. In summer the place was stifling. But as the business grew the place warmed in a different way.
More tanks came in, as did a more efficient bottling machine and, later, a canning line. They had to fit all this into the same space, of course, but they figured out how to fit it in better and the front third of the warehouse was reconfigured to make things more comfortable for guests. Where once your only option was perching at a high table surrounded by racks of malt while drinking out of hipster-era mason jars, now you could sit on a proper couch below a wall of locally made art and sip fresh beer from tulip glasses. Batch has always been popular but here was a brewery maturing, displaying more heart and soul to match the toil.
Out back, the brewers stayed true to the original plan. After a few years they settled on four core beers; a lager called Just Beer; an American pale ale (the only beer to have been there from the beginning), a West Coast IPA and Elsie, the nitro milk stout. When it came to one-off beers they were almost impossibly prolific; at its peak the brewery was releasing something new on average every ten days. Things have slowed a bit - if you call a new beer about every two weeks a slowdown – but the ideas remain as expansive as ever.
But perhaps the defining thing about Batch’s beer is that they’ve always tried to do right by it. They were one of the first local breweries to make date stamping a feature of their packaged product, letting customers know exactly when a beer was made and when to drink it. They kept distribution tight, believing that beer made in Marrickville should be consumed as close to Marrickville as possible; to this day they still sell the vast majority of their beer in Sydney, and much of that remains in suburbs close to the brewery.
They nurtured relationships with businesses in the community, brewing porter for pies and using honey from the neighbourhood’s rooftop hives. Their pursuance of all things local led them to form a close bond with Voyager, the burgeoning New South Wales craft malt grower, to the extent that the maltster now has a dedicated block whose bounty goes directly to Batch. Look behind the bar at the brewery today and you’ll see the weather and rain reports for the town of Barellan, where their de facto allotment is located. It could be easily missed but this simple chalkboard is a reminder, for those who care, that there is a genuine link between the land and the beer in your hand.
And one of the things about Batch is they make you care. You can't visit the bar without noticing what’s happening in the brewery, so you can't help asking a question of a brewer. Suddenly you're interested. Then you're invested and want to be more involved. Multiply that effect over a number of years and it would be hard to measure just how many people in the area will have found their way to better beer by virtue of Batch simply doing what it does in the place it does it. And that’s just people coming through their door. The brewery has also been a veritable breeding ground for the wider industry, with Batch alumni having gone on to launch other pioneering local businesses and work behind the scenes to further change the face of the Sydney beer scene.
If you were to claim the Inner West truly is the most interesting place for beer in Australia, you could equally claim that the Batch Brewing Company is right at the heart of it.