In October 2016, we published a Crafty Crawl guide to the breweries of Sydney's Inner West. Such has been the continued growth since then, we're having to revisit the area already, narrowing the guide down to one focused more hyper-locally on Marrickville then following up with another sweeping up those outside the 'burb – a Crafty Sprawl, if you will.
We've left the original up for posterity but of rather more use to you today is this, the latest inimitable piece of wordsmithery from Judd "I Won Pointless" Owen (in conjunction with the free Crafty Pint app, of course).
Of the many heinous things colonial Britain did in the early days of Australian settlement, their crimes against toponymy may go down as some of the worst. Naming your estate after whatever old country backwater swamp you managed to shamble out of is the epitome of unoriginality and the most surefire way of letting everyone know you are a dud of the highest order.
Marrickville, named for a Yorkshire village whose only claim to fame is the birthplace of a racehorse breeder no one even gave a shit about 150 years ago, now holds more breweries than any other suburb in Australia, thanks in no small part to a large industrial zone and a community of relatively wealthy 24 to 35-year-olds who think nothing of spending 45 percent of their income on rent and all of their disposable income on craft beer, orange wine and artisanal flour to feed their sourdough starters.
While we’ve labelled these venues breweries, they aren’t all breweries in the traditional sense. In the mix we’ve got a semi-gypsy brewing bottleshop with an upstairs bar, the barrel room outpost of an offshoot of a far larger operation that also brews dozens of brands for other businesses and, finally, an operation best described as some sort of fermentation witchcraft that’s indistinguishable from magic. Regardless, this crawl will involve some of the best beers Sydney and even Australia has ever produced, so buckle up, sunshine, you’re in for a treat.
STOP ONE: WILLIE THE BOATMAN
A brewery located in an old paint factory between a coffee roaster, an urban winery and an axe throwing range might actually be the best thing anyone has ever heard of, potentially topping Moon Dog’s defining location between CUB and a Richmond brothel. And said brewery, Willie the Boatman, is the perfect place to start an introduction to the beer of the inner west.
This ramshackle brewery in Tempe, scraped together from a handful of dairy tanks and some bits and pieces from an old Holden factory, is arguably the most quintessential local brewery on this crawl. However, if you’d like to catch Willie in its original form you’d best be quick-sticks; they’ve got a renovation/expansion and a brand new brewhouse on the way.
If you’re only allowing time for one beer, the Black Bunny dark ale is a corker, while the most famous of their core range – and a suitably gentle way to kick off a day of brewery visits – is the Albo Corn Ale: an American style lager brewed with corn and Galaxy hops and named after the local Member for Grayndler. Otherwise, take some time, grab a tasting paddle and say: “Hi” to founders Nick and Pat – they’ll often be the ones pouring you beers.
Willie The Boatman is, for now, found at 202/75 Mary Street, St Peters.
STOP TWO: BUCKET BOYS
NB Following Bucket Boys' acquisition by Batch and the subsequent formation of the Local Drinks Collective, this is now the Local Drinks Collective bottleshop downstairs and the Wayward Speakeasy upstairs.
Either jump on the train or walk the 25 minutes to the next stop on our Marrickville odyssey, Bucket Boys.
“Wait a friggen' second here, Crafty! This is a bottleshop! What? You want me to go bloody, you know, necking this bottle of Jester King out in the street like some bloody homeless bloke with impeccable taste and a curiously large discretionary spending budget?”
Well, you can do that, we’re neither cops nor your mum so what do we care? But, if you just let us get a word in we’d be able to tell you that from 5pm weekdays and midday on weekends, Bucket Boys open their upstairs bar with ten taps and the ability to take anything from the fridges in the bottle-o, bring it up and crack it right then and there.
Not only is the upstairs bar the only place you’re likely to find the usually tiny special batches of Bucket Boys beer, but The Boys manage to get their resourceful little hands on the most sought after international and local beers. And we’re not talking about seven-month-old bottles of stale NEIPA here; how’s some 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, New Belgium Citradelic or some Bruny Island Beautiful Ugly sound?
You’d better be excited about all of this because The Boys are extremely into beer and they will silently judge you. They’ll be very nice about it but you can see the disdain in their eyes.
They sell a bit of tucker on the weekends too, otherwise feel free to grab some Vietnamese from one of the 19 Vietnamese restaurants on the street and mung into it at the bar.
Get excited (upstairs or down) at 300 Illawarra Road, Marrickville.
STOP THREE: BATCH BREWING CO
Batch has been around in Marrickville so long that it's now just part of the furniture. Over the years, Andrew, Chris and the team have built a reputation for a dizzying array of beer varieties while somehow maintaining exceptionally high standards. Among the ten taps, you’ll generally always find Elsie the Milk Stout and a West Coast IPA but the other eight could be anything from coconut wheat ale, pickle sour or the infamous Marrickville Pork Roll, a wheat beer brewed with Vietnamese veggies, chilli and pork broth.
Working your way through the range at the tasting bar puts you in sniffing distance of the working brewery, meaning you’re right in the middle of the beer’s journey from tank to tap – in fact, so entwined are you in the process that walking to the loo takes you close enough to the brewhouse to high five the brewers (be wary however as brewers are notoriously filthy and malformed wretches).
Considering almost every drop of Batch beer is sold within Sydney, it’s almost certain to be fresh wherever you find it around town, but for the freshest – and the most variety – their Marrickville home can’t be beat.
Get up close and personal at 44 Sydenham Road, Marrickville.
STOP FOUR: STOCKADE BARREL ROOM
NB After parent company Tribe Brewing went into administration, the Stockade Barrel Room has closed.
Opened in mid 2018, the Stockade Barrel Room is the public-facing home of the Stockade Brew Co brand that sprung out of the contract brewing powerhouse formerly known as Brewpack and now calls the likes of Mornington Peninsula Brewery and Wilde Gluten Free Beer siblings under the Tribe banner. And, for a brewery that’s probably best known for one or other of their barrel aged imperial stouts, it’s a very fitting venue.
Slowly bubbling away inside most of the Forester’s bourbon barrels that fill the space is imperial stout destined to be Old Money and the 2017 GABS People’s Choice winner, The Mountie. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to emit a delightful maple syrup odour for roughly 48 hours, you’d best get yourself a schooner of The Mountie and probably somewhere to have a quick nap.
Always pouring is the rest of the Stockade core range, including the 8-bit IPA, Mr Fruju NEIPA, Duel Hoppy Lager and a few special batches you won’t find anywhere else. The space is large, bright and very well appointed. They’ve also got a food truck in residence to ready and willing to provide plenty of Mountie spongeing sustenance.
Roll out the barrels at 25 Cadogan Street, Marrickville.
STOP FIVE: SAUCE BREWING CO
One of the newer kids on the brewing block, Sauce Brewing Co opened its large warehouse brewpub in late 2017 and has been ramming it full of happy punters since. Being one of a few Inner West breweries that manages to regularly get packaged product out of the NSW capital, they’ve managed to foment themselves a legion of dedicated local and national fans. Focusing predominantly on highly hopped American styles, their Bubble and Squeak NEIPA is routinely mentioned in discussions of Australia’s best. Incidentally, you should do everything you can to avoid these discussions because it means you’re probably talking to giant nerds and that’s definitely going to ruin your reputation with Nath, the cool dreamboat in Marketing.
However, the main drawcard for Sauce is the giant and unexpected beer garden that’s practically unique among Sydney brewpubs. Having a few IPAs in a dank room that reeks of buffalo sauce is fine and all, but have you tried a couple of saisons in the shade of an umbrella on a Sydney spring day? "Mwah!" *kisses fingers*
There’s 12 taps of Sauce beers and, once again, food trucks over the weekend. This one is going to be hard to leave but we promise, it’s worth it.
Get on the Sauce at 1A Mitchell Street, Marrickville.
STOP SIX: WILDFLOWER BREWING AND BLENDING
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t even have to write a description of Wildflower because every person who has ever lived on every possible timeline is already there with a glass of Table Beer.
While there’s no shortage of breweries trying their hand at mixed fermentation and barrel ageing, at Wildflower that is their primary focus. While most breweries focus most of their energy on recipe creation and brewing the wort, for Chris, Topher and the team, the wort is barely even the start of the process. The real sorcery comes from the house yeast blend (a mix of wild yeasts collected from native flowers and a saison yeast), ageing in ex-wine barrels and, finally, the blending process that gives every new batch of Gold or Amber its own characteristics while still being recognisable if you’ve had one before.
Now that they’ve really started perfecting their process, there’s an increasing number of single batch brews featuring fruit, different grains and varying fermentation methods on offer too. While you may be lucky enough to snag a few bottles from the online store, there’s really no substitute for drinking a glass with friends among the barrels in this converted iron foundry.
Obviously, the Crafty Pint is a bastion of objectivity and not prone to hyperbole so while we aren’t saying that Wildflower is the best thing that has ever happened in the Australian brewing industry, this particular writer just isn’t sure how to finish that sentence.
Fall under Wildflower's spell at 11-13 Brompton Street, Marrickville.
STOP SEVEN: GRIFTER BREWING COMPANY
The Grifter guys opened the doors to their very own brewery in late 2015 after spending a few years gypsy brewing at Young Henrys. And, with so many breweries finding themselves unable to meet demand soon after opening, it’s somewhat novel to see a brewery being established in a location in which they've allowed themselves plenty of room to grow. In fact – and this is despite recently adding more tanks – the building is so cavernous that the tasting bar almost looks like the set of a movie in a sound stage. The polished decor and incredibly slick branding only serve to heighten that impression.
But it’s all very real and the 12 taps rotate steadily through the core range like The Omen oatmeal stout, fan favourites like The Serpent’s Kiss watermelon pilsner and cheeky one-offs like The Pink Galah pink lemonade sour. To top it all off, Grifter have some of the best beer merch available and probably the best tinnie of Pale Ale you’re likely to find anywhere.
When the food trucks roll in on the weekends it gets really packed, really quick, so don’t bloody dawdle!
The Grifter crew can be found in the belly of the beast at 1/391 Enmore Road, Marrickville.
Now, before you go calling us out on it, we're fully aware there's another trophy-winning brewery in Marrickville that makes cool beers and opens a few hours every whenever-they-feel-like-it. A quick search online will unearth it, but the owner has repeatedly asked us not to write about his brewery so we haven't.
As for the remainder of the Inner West's breweries, keep an eye for that Sprawl in the coming weeks. And download the Crafty app for free here if you want to find hundreds of other good beer operators all over the country.
About the author: Judd Owen is a two-time gameshow winner, homebrewing tragic and the only person to have successfully mentioned the Oriental Rat Flea in an article about craft beer. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter.