Five Barrel Brewing

Wollongong is a changing city. Built on the blue collars of smelting and heavy manufacturing, those industries that bought middle class prosperity are in decline, though hardly dead yet; you can still catch a whiff of them each time the open coal carriages roll through town or the smoke stacks of the steelworks begin to wheeze.

But they feel at odds with a newer energy helping power the local economy, one where health is the biggest drawcard and education not far behind – the University is of high repute and it brings youth, vibrancy, multiculturalism and bright minds. If the place is not yet outright progressive, the sensation is bubbling away.

Its attractiveness is not harmed by the region itself being quite beautiful, a thin sliver of civilisation hemmed in by the Tasman Sea to the east and a towering escarpment in the west that contains everything within; golden sand beaches, fertile soil for a small scale agrarian economy, lush bush to wander in and blue sky in which to dive.

Having all this close enough to commute to Sydney means a great many do, lured by the prospect of a life where home ownership and avocado on toast are not mutually exclusive – not yet, at least. With that great southern migration comes the inevitability of gentrification; the cafes, the small bars, the boutiques. Still, things tend to happen at a relatively slower pace here.

By way of example, compare the two cities through the prism of brewing and it’s been the harbour city sprinting away in recent years, with small breweries opening up at a rough rate of one every few weeks. For the best part of a decade Wollongong had a solitary one. But when it got its second, in 2016, it won Best New Brewery at the Sydney Craft Beer Week awards. Yes, amidst all that is good and great in Sydney, they claimed a Wollongong brewery as their favourite. Is that not the ultimate compliment?

You can still see that trophy on display at Five Barrel Brewing today where it stands out because it looks so out of place. Not because it was undeserved in any way, but because the place itself is so utterly unassuming.

At the southern part of Keira Street, the warehouse sits in inauspicious industrial surroundings, with the brewery stretching down one side and the cellar door down a portion of the other. While it lacks the colourful artwork of many of its northern contemporaries it’s not a cold place, just sparse. Mostly it’s crimson brick and various greys, function over form.

The minimalism comes mainly because Five Barrel is, or at least was, for all intents and purposes, a one man show. More accurately, one man and his dad. For years, Phil and Mike O’Shea did everything here: brew beer, clean tanks, fill bottles, make deliveries, pour beer, run the bar, write emails, balance the books. Occasionally, other family members would help out as the brewery grew, the taproom become more venue like and thus embraced by even more locals, and new tanks arrived.

That said, unusually for a society where rapid and perpetual growth is valued above most everything else as a measure of success, Five Barrel has been consciously constrained. It used to be, for example, that you could get their beer at several spots in Sydney. Now, not so much. In the face of a changing industry where global beer giants now compete insidiously at a local level and even small breweries are cutting each other in a race to the bottom, Five Barrel has chosen to change how it plays the game.

Distribution is not high on the agenda. They are content – proud, in fact – to be a local brewery, selling as much as they can within the community that in turn supports them most. The decision to become less visible to the world beyond the Illawarra comes down to a simple reasoning that if their beer is good enough, that should be enough to run a sustainable business. And their beer is certainly good enough.

They make it in small batches, about 600 litres at a time – the name Five Barrel refers to the capacity of their brewhouse as measured in the quaint yet stubborn American way. If there’s a direction to which the brewery is predisposed it is, you could reasonably argue, towards hoppy beers best drunk fresh. A pale ale and their flagship Hoppy Amber, or Navigator Red IPA as it became following a 2020 rebrand, plus subsequently added XPA and NEIPA represent this in the core range but there’s a perpetual cycle of one-offs and experiments; single hop beers, imperial stouts, quirky sours always worthy of attention.

From very early on Phil has been playing around with barrels in limited quantities – a chardonnay barrel aged golden ale here, a Flanders style red ale there and a very fine imperial stout each and every year. None of these register highly on the industry hype-o-meter, but all have been splendid.

Sure, the place has changed over time, as inevitably as the city and the people around it will continue to do. Most notably was the move into cans in late 2020, about the same time Phil admitted it was time to bring in some help from outside the family and hired brewer Brent Edwards, who had been at New Zealand's fast-growing Good George but was moving with his partner and daughter back to her family.

But the more important thing is their roots have been firmly planted and they’re prepared for the long haul. They know that any change will be done on their own terms: slowly and incrementally, with local support and without compromising quality or integrity.

In an industry where authenticity is becoming increasingly important, the Five Barrel way feels increasingly like the right way.

Nick Oscilowski

Name
Five Barrel Brewing
Address

318 Keira Street
Wollongong
NSW 2500

Phone
(02) 4200 8881
Regular events

Food truck on site every Thursday to Sunday

Open Hours

Sun to Wed: midday to 6pm
Thurs to Sat: midday to 9pm


This is a directory listing. To find out more, head here

Five Barrel Brewing Regulars

Five Barrel Night Cap Milk Stout

The black mark in the Five Barrel range is also the sweet spot, represented with distinction by the milk stout. This rich dark beer is notable for the addition of lactose which adds a degree of sweetness as well as a smooth and creamy character that serves to shave off the jagged edges of roasted bitterness you might expect from a straighter stout. From end to end it’s full of chocolate and coffee character, making it the kind of beer you could happily push in front of someone who says they don’t… Read more
Style
Milk Stout
ABV
6.0%

Five Barrel Navigator Red IPA (formerly Hoppy Amber)

There was a reason Five Barrel had no IPA in their regular range for years: they don’t need one. They had the Hoppy Amber. Of all the beers sampled when The Crafty Pint team first called into Five Barrel in the brewery’s early days and lined up some tasting paddles to sip on, this one was fully gulped down. In the intervening time it has gone on to become the brewery’s surprise hit – certainly the most popular amongst the beer cognoscenti – and flagship; you only need to try it once to… Read more
Style
Amber Ale
ABV
6.5%

Five Barrel Freefall Pale Ale

Inspired by America and built on Australian ingredients, Five Barrel’s pale ale finds a place of balance between the two influences to deliver a full serve of deliciousness. Flush with Cascade and Galaxy hops it’s indisputably fruity through a show of passionfruit and citrus characters, followed with a lick of pine. But it’s also a touch darker and a lot maltier than many New World pale ales, awash with luscious biscuit and caramel flavours that build with every mouthful and ends up leaving… Read more
Style
Pale Ale
ABV
5.3%

Five Barrel Brewing Pacific Peak XPA

I’ve drank beer up a water tower. I’ve drank beer in a bell tower. But I’ve never drank a beer in a lighthouse. When I spent a week in Wollongong, I took daily walks up to Flagstaff Point Lighthouse and down to the Breakwater Lighthouse… but I never got the chance to climb one and crack a tinnie. Since Breakwater Lighthouse features on the Pacific Peak XPA can, I like to think someone at some point has taken this beer and made my dream a reality. Looking over the fishing boats with the citrus… Read more
Style
XPA
ABV
4.5%

Five Barrel Brewing Lunchbox Lager

Wollongong is known for its sunny skies and sandy beaches, but somehow this beer gives vibes of a crisp and cold mountain stream birthed from melting snow. Ultra pale and clear as a well-made cider, Lunchbox Lager is clean, clean, clean. There’s a hint of grain on the nose alongside some citrusy notes from the Eclipse hops, but don’t come here for the flavour; drinking this beer is more akin to inhaling a huge lungful of fresh air. The head dissipates quickly, but interestingly the entire beer… Read more
Style
Lager
ABV
4.0%

Five Barrel Brewing Little Nipper Hazy IPA

Beer lovers have debated over the years how to pronounce the acronym "NEIPA", but Five Barrel have found a way to play off the word without turning mate against mate by calling theirs Little Nipper Hazy IPA. Calling it hazy is an understatement – it’s almost murky enough that the crab on the label could hide in your beer and you wouldn’t know it til it nipped your lip.† Between the blend of hops and the English yeast strain, aromas of tropical fruits and mango chutney fill the nose,… Read more
Style
NEIPA
ABV
5.8%

Five Barrel Brewing Specials

Five Barrel Brewing High Water & Big Picture

Tapped October 13, 2021
So often when we’re talking about lagers in Australia, we’re thinking mid-strength Aussie lagers designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. But there are plenty of German-inspired lagers that are more of an experience in themselves, and High Water Helles fits this latter category. Hallertau Blanc hops bring a lemonade-y tang that reaches from first sniff to last sip. Munich malt shows off with a silky body and big grain flavours, letting a little syrupy sweetness and a sliver of herbal spice… Read more
Style
Helles Lager & Hazy IPA
ABV
5.8% & 6.8%
Bitterness
21 & 22 IBU

Five Barrel Brewing Hero Of The People 2021

Tapped October 10, 2021
No, you didn't have a stroke – this is a Soviet medal, and the name of the brewery and the names of the beer on these cans are written in Russian. Thus it seemed to me advisable to translate this review into Russian and back using Google Translate. Five Barrel Brewing are the heroes we need to produce four – no more, no less – imperial stouts by the end of winter. They sell them as a mixed pack of four-packs containing one original imperial stout and three with other ingredients added. First… Read more
Style
Imperial Stouts
ABV
10.0%
Bitterness
60 IBU

Five Barrel Brewing London Calling

Tapped October 1, 2021
A 440ml can of Five Barrel’s London Calling isn’t quite a pint of bitter, but it’s close enough. Bring together the malt sweetness, the hop spice and the yeast esters, and you’ve got a complex aroma – one that made me think of banana oat cookies fresh from the oven. But the big and bold aroma quietens down in the mouth to make this a supremely drinkable drop, with a pleasant dryness and a hint of bitter cocoa creeping in once you’ve patiently allowed the beer to warm up. Drink with fish… Read more
Style
ESB
ABV
4.3%

Five Barrel Brewing Finger Trap Hazy Pale

Tapped September 15, 2021
Serendipitous (adjective): occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way. Example sentence: It was serendipitous that I was tasting Finger Trap Hazy Pale Ale on the same evening we were having Vietnamese vermicelli bowls for dinner, as the flavours complemented each other wonderfully. The smell of orange juice and sweet mango tied in with the aromatic chopped mint; the less sweet – but no less juicy – tropical flavours balanced out the vinegary dressing; the citrusy tang cut… Read more
Style
Hazy Pale
ABV
4.3%

Five Barrel Brewing Puddle Jumper & Always Greener

Tapped August 25, 2021
When brewer Brent Edwards moved from New Zealand to Wollongong in 2020 and joined the Five Barrel team, he was bound to bring some of his homeland with him. And now Puddle Jumper NZ Pilsner gives Brent the opportunity to share one of his favourite styles with us. In a previous feature, Brent told us how Emerson’s Organic Pilsner was his epiphany beer, and in Puddle Jumper he takes the fresh crispness of a pilsner and injects Riwaka, Nelson Sauvin and Motueka hops to bring a vibrant zing to the… Read more
Style
NZ Pilsner & NZ Hazy DIPA
ABV
5.0% & 8.0%

Five Barrel Brewing Ghost Creek Collection

Tapped August 29, 2019
Five Barrel founder Phil O’Shea comes from a homebrewing background and hasn't forgotten his roots, as made abundantly apparent by this quartet of releases. Created in partnership with Marcus, a Wollongong homebrewer and friend of Five Barrel, it features the homebrewer’s sour culture in combination with an English ale yeast. The sat in a 500-litre barrel for about a year and, upon leaving the barrel, was split four ways; there’s a straight version, one that was dry-hopped, another that made… Read more
Style
Barrel-Aged Sour Ales
ABV
6.0%
Stockists

Launching at the brewery on August 30, 2019

Five Barrel Brewing Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts 2019

Tapped August 13, 2019
Over the past few years, when the weather gets colder it’s time for Five Barrel to roll out the big, dark imperial stout Phil O’Shea has been hiding away in barrels for months. Each year the beer is made in the old school high gravity style, with two mashes going into making the one brew. In 2017 and 2018 it was stored in shiraz wine barrels and came out measuring 9.6 percent ABV. For 2019, Phil opted for something a little different: the shiraz barrel version is back, albeit bigger at 10.5… Read more
Style
Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts
ABV
10.5%

Five Barrel Brewing Spiced Ginger Sour

Tapped May 30, 2019
A food processor was the quiet hero behind this beer. Brewer Phil O’Shea put 20kg into the 350 litre batch - all of which had to be chopped up by the food processor first. But, says Phil, he’s had to tackle more difficult ingredients before. “The ginger wasn’t too bad,” he says. “It was easier than some of the other things we’ve done. Shucking oysters was worse and zesting lemons was worse again." Cardamom and tea leaves (for some earthiness) were also chucked into the beer, which… Read more
Style
Spiced Ginger Sour
ABV
4.5%

Five Barrel Brewing Pastry Stout

Tapped May 30, 2019
The pastry stout is a style more popular in the United States than Australia, where it started out as a bit of a derogatory term for sweeter dark beers. For Five Barrel, where they have a fondness for stouts, having a crack at a pastry stout was only a matter of time. They just needed to wait for the cooler weather to arrive. For this beer, Phil O'Shea uses the base of the milk stout from his core range, adding more lactose, more malt and throwing in some vanilla to come up with some “super chocolaty,… Read more
Style
Pastry Stout
ABV
7.5%

Five Barrel Brewing Raspberry Pastry Stout

Tapped May 30, 2019
Phil O’Shea brewed a big (for his Wollongong operation) 700 litre batch of his supercharged milk stout then left half as is for his straight Pastry Stout. With the other half, he went and threw in a load of raspberry purée. “Raspberry and chocolate always work well together,” he says. “We really like the raspberry sour that we do so it was a no-brainer to jump to this to start with.” The key phrase there is “to start with”; Phil has plans for a few other pastry stout flavours before… Read more
Style
Raspberry Pastry Stout
ABV
7.5%

Five Barrel Brewing Black IPA

Tapped May 30, 2019
There are typically three sorts of black IPA. One sees the roasty, coffee flavours of the “black” side of the equation take centre stage. Another sees the reverse, where the hops are king. Then there’s the third version, where the beer combines the best bits of both sides of the fence. That’s where the Five Barrel black IPA sits; the citrus notes and flavours meld in with the coffee notes, with neither overpowering things here. That’s just the way Phil O’Shea wants it. “I always really… Read more
Style
Black IPA
ABV
6.0%

Five Barrel Brewing New England IPA

Tapped April 14, 2019
This is either the third or fourth iteration of the New England IPA from Five Barrel Brewing - brewer Phil O’Shea has kind of lost count. This time around it features El Dorado and Galaxy hops. And plenty them; Phil decided that two bouts of dry-hopping weren’t enough so he held the release date back a few days to get an extra load into the tank. Holding the release back a few days is no small thing. The New England IPA is a big performer for Five Barrels. The last three (or four) times it was… Read more
Style
New England IPA
ABV
5.3%

Five Barrel Brewing Brut Rosé IPA

Tapped March 31, 2019
Sometimes inspiration can strike from the most unusual places. For a while, Five Barrel founder Phil O'Shea had been trying to get a change approves at the brewery bar to allow him to serve proper glasses of beer rather than “tasters”, and start selling wine as well. He finally got his wish not long before the brewery’s third birthday. One of the wines he chose to stock was a rosé from a Canberra area winery, which he thought was exceptional and inspired him to make a beer version as a birthday… Read more
Style
Brut IPA with Hibuscus
ABV
6.0%

Five Barrel Brewing Barrel Aged Sours 2018

Tapped August 31, 2018
It’s difficult to say this without sounding ungracious, so let’s just get it said: these are not the kinds of beers you expect to be coming out of Wollongong. They scream a sense of place, just not this one. A barn in a field in Flanders, perhaps? Definitely somewhere foreign. Somewhere more exotic. That's one of the quirks, though, of the modern beer world. Ideas travel fast and boundaries constraining styles have been obliterated. What was pale is now black. What was clear is now hazy. A farmhouse… Read more
Style
Barrel Aged Sour Ales
ABV
5.0% to 6.0%

Five Barrel Brewing Sour Ale Variety Pack

Tapped August 20, 2018
There are four-in-one additional reasons to poke your head into the Five Barrel tap room as the Wollongong brewery has ventured for the first time into the world of exploratory variety packs. And, as far as experiments go, it’s an interesting one as they’ve essentially taken one sour style ale and presenting it four different ways: unbastardised, hopped, berried and fruited. The logical starting point on the tasting trip is the unadulterated Berliner Weisse, which dishes up lots of lemon character… Read more
Style
Sour Ale Series
ABV
3.5% to 4.5%

Five Barrel Brewing Milkshake IPA

Tapped June 29, 2018
Five Barrel has toyed with New England style IPAs occasionally over the last year or so, but they’ve never muddied the metaphorical waters quite like this. Milkshake IPA is hazy and hoppy but also creamy and smooth – a NEIPA made with lactose. The aroma here is pungent with pineapple, mango and other punchy fruits of the tropical variety, which combine in a manner reminiscent of some forgotten fruity soft drink from your childhood. On the palate it’s just as full on the fruit front, lots of… Read more
Style
Lactose IPA
ABV
6.0%

Five Barrel Brewing Imperial Stout 2018

Tapped June 29, 2018
Winter. Some shiver and swear at the mere mention of the word. Others take a more holistic view of the year’s natural divisions and just get on with making the most of whatever weather gets served up. As if you don’t enjoy hunkering down beneath a blanket, rain on the roof, eyes on a film, one hand resting on your lover’s thigh and the other cupping a goblet of some rich, dark beer. Magic. Those that choose to embrace snuggle season in Wollongong will be pleased to know that Five Barrel has… Read more
Style
Imperial Stout
ABV
9.6%

Five Barrel Golden Ale – RETIRED

In the relatively restrained craft beer market of Wollongong, if you want to encourage the bulk of locals to ditch the mainstream brands and give your local drop a go, you want to help them make that first step. You want to give them something they can relate to and the golden ale is that beer. It’s an inherently simple but well balanced drop, made with just pale malt and Galaxy hops to render it lightly fruity with a gentle bitterness. While it’s approachable enough to appeal to the everyman,… Read more
Style
Golden Ale
ABV
4.5%