White Bay is an area that holds both industrial behemoths and a Hollywood film location, so it stands to reason White Bay Beer Co would capture that blend of character - down to earth, but not without sophistication.
The brewery’s logo shows the twin smokestacks of the abandoned White Bay Power Station, a nearby heritage listed landmark that’s been watching over its surrounds for a century. The history of this rusty chaperone ranges from grimy labour to glitzy glamour, as it was used to film scenes from The Great Gatsby and one of the Matrix movies, putting the Balmain peninsula on the silver screen.
Born in such an area, White Bay Beer Co could hardly help but take on the tagline, "Working Classy".
Housed in an industrial precinct that backs onto White Bay itself, the brewery is inside a 150-year-old steel mill that’s criss-crossed with steel beams like the bones of a giant, and wrapped in corrugated iron walls that show rusty streaks to remind you this building has stood the test of time. But it’s the massive size of the building that caught the attention of the WBBC team, who wanted plenty of space for a lager program.
Right from the beginning, the team - beer industry veterans the lot of them - agreed that a great lager was to be the focal point of their core range. And since lager typically stays in fermenting tanks longer than other beer styles, a brewery planning to pump out excellent lager needs room to store the beer. Thus a 1400m2 warehouse and a hefty amount of stainless (an amount that doubled in the first couple of months) made perfect sense.
“Go big or go home, right?” says head brewer Dennis de Boer.
Like many brewers, Dennis sees a well-made lager as the holy grail of brewing. He pours his mass of brewing experience into Union (since renamed Lager – of which more later), an approachable Euro lager of his own creation that’d sate the thirst of steelworkers of old. Its easy-drinking nature and mesmerising white head of foam belie the amount of effort that goes into creating its stunning simplicity.
The other core range beer, Sunny, is equally sessionable but floods White Bay with flavour. It’s closest in style to a hoppy American blonde, but stuffed with Aussie hops to give it those familiar passionfruity and citrus vibes.
While Lager and Sunny are the cornerstone of White Bay, there’ll always be an IPA (update: multiple) in market as well – a kind of adopted core range beer. Each IPA in the series is made as a one-off designed to capture a moment in time, and the can designs are accordingly unique to showcase the different recipes. In addition to these, a regular rotation of special release beers keeps the brewers and punters alike on their toes. After all, even steelworkers need to change things up every now and then, right?
Right from when they planned their core range beers to suit Balmain, the White Bay team has shown a special love for their locals, and the locals have responded in kind. The brewery isn’t isolated from the pocket of breweries in Sydney’s Inner West, but nor is it pressed up against them, meaning there’s enough home turf for the brewery to have a dedicated following in the area. But, while White Bay belongs to the Balmain peninsula, it isn’t constrained by it. An online store and a string of supportive bars and bottleshops get White Bay’s beers out to drinkers in greater Sydney and beyond.
And, os of 2022, you can call in yourself and enjoy a vast array of their beers at the brewery itself, after they were finally able to open a venue on-site. There's a good chance you'll find rather more lager variants on tap than is typical at such a modern-minded craft brewery as it's become a serious focus of the brew team. It's a focus that's paying off too: while beers like Gantry Crane Czech Pilsner can fire the most excitement among beer fans, their Lager claimed the none-too-shabby title of Champion Independent Beer at the 2022 Indies.
You may not be able to see the smokestacks of the White Bay Power Station from where you are. But you can sit down after a hard day of work, re-watch the Matrix movies and drink a lager with a damn impressive head of foam.