The concept of notable brewing towns conjures imagery of moustache wearers with their arms crossed, sipping beer out of ornate glasses atop a penny-farthing bicycle that is, for some reason, being pulled by two draught horses. That's just me? OK, well, let me have this: that would still be a more typical vision of a beer brewing suburb than that of Penrith. Until recently, that is.
Home to almost 200,000 people, Penrith and the Blue Mountains is the region where I grew up. Back then, there certainly weren’t any breweries, although in 2003 we did get Australia’s first Krispy Kreme Donuts outlet and the NRL Premiership. Fast forward to 2021 and we could lay claim to the country's first Five Guys Burgers and the NRL Premiership.
Coincidence? This superstitious sports fan thinks not.
Back in 2003, it would be the job of Tooheys or VB to quench the thirsty Panthers fan, but in 2023 those basking in the back-to-back glory at the foot of the mountains have a much wider selection of refreshment options. Indeed, Penrith and the Blue Mountains form an emerging beer region: home to a growing number of breweries that have made crafty converts of lucky locals who might prefer if these venues were kept a hidden secret.
To those locals I say: too bad.
SQUINTERS BREWING CO
A squinter is someone who commutes via car from Western Sydney into the CBD each day, facing the glare of the sunrise in the morning and the sunset in the evening. Returning home from a canning job in town, co-founder Matt Davey realised it was time his fellow squinters got to enjoy a brewery experience without the need to hit the M4 again. So, along with mates Jarrod Nicholson, Mat Goss and Mitchel Robison, Squinters Brewing Co opened in August 2022, raising a glass to those who burn an eighth of their weekday hours in the infamous traffic.
With a brick bar, chilled out staff, and a bright logo of the sun setting over the Blue Mountains painted on the wall, Squinters has an almost coast like feel to it. Appropriately, the brewery faces west, meaning afternoons are sunny with the wearing of sunglasses inside permissible and the tasting of beers mandatory.
Across Squinters 12 taps you’ll find their best-selling XPA, draught, and a Passiona-reminiscent Mango Fizz, a seltzer worthy of at least a sample. Designated drivers will enjoy the Halfway Haze at 4 percent ABV or the Mid Draught, and on any given day you can expect every type of IPA to be represented including Tha Thicc Ness: an oat cream IPA with a velvety richness you'll want to swirl around your mouth all arvo.
Tasting paddles cost $20 and staff are happy to select the paddle for you based on your personal tastes. Food trucks operate during lunch and dinner times only (best to check in advance) with families and furry friends both welcome.
Don your sunnies at 19 Peachtree Road, Penrith
RUSTY PENNY BREWING CO
Best mates Matt Hewett and Mark Lyons owned Penrith homebrew shop All Things Homebrew with the goal of one day opening their own brewery. In September 2017, they realised their dream with Rusty Penny opening in a Leaky Cauldron-esque little venue in an industrial corner of Penrith, offering a small range of beers.
Five years later, they made a big change and moved the brewery (and their regulars) just a block into a sumptuously large space, patriotically adorned with corrugated iron furnishings, murals of native Australian animals, and free games of almost every variety (pool, Jenga, Sega etc). The new Rusty Penny always feels cosy due to the wood-fired meat smokers next to the specialty BBQ kitchen. All of these details grab your attention as you make the lengthy walk to the bar, where you are inundated by choice from a legacy-creating 24 taps.
Matt and Mark have since admitted the only thing harder than filling 24 taps is picking which one to enjoy first. The indecisive among us may want to go for a tasting paddle ($30 for six tasters) or be a local and grab a schooner of the crushable core range of Penrith Heat-Beaters, which includes The Nepean Pale Ale, Penrith Lager, an XPA and limited edition mid-strength options such as the Sabro Sessions Ale pouring when I visited.
If the day calls for it, check out the Nostalgia Stout: an oh-so-malty affair sure to please flavour-chasers with a recipe that's not changed since 2007, a full ten years before the brewery opened. Matt and Mark are constantly experimenting with limited release beers, which have previously included cherry saisons, double reds and about every type of IPA you could possibly imagine.
Aside from being dog- and family-friendly (there are so many free games for kids), Rusty Penny is also a Texas BBQ destination thanks to Smokin Hot ‘n Saucy Barbecue, who serve a range of in-house smoked ribs, brisket and pulled pork so juicy it doesn’t even need a sauce. The head chef worked at a twice-hatted restaurant and once cooked for the Queen, as evidenced by the fact his brisket will make you feel like royalty.
Line your stomach here, it is the tastiest way to do so.
You'll find Rusty Penny at 5/4 Dean Place, Penrith
Breweries don’t come much more wholesome than Casey’s Beer. The man for which the brewery is named is Pat Casey, owner, head brewer and the person who poured the beer you are enjoying. A quick conversation reveals that he'd done a lot with his life before brewing, and a sip of his beer confirms that brewing was certainly the right choice for him. That’s if you can get a chance to chat with him: he’s a popular guy.
Located in a business complex just off Mulgoa road, there is ample seating in Casey’s among eye-catching brewing equipment, such as the rare copper-plated kettle and mash tun.
Similar to Rusty Penny, Pat started his beer journey selling fresh wort kits to homebrewers, something he is still very passionate about today. And, after several COVID-related setbacks, Casey’s were finally able to open their doors for sit-down beer drinking in October 2021.
At any time, expect there to be five core range beers, plus a couple of limited release as well as wine and cider. Much like Pat, the core range are no-nonsense classics, celebrating simplicity with exceptional balance. I recommend starting with the pilsner-inspired Lounge, a low-bitterness, easygoing ale named for the well-worn homey comfort it inspires. After that, adventurous drinkers might enjoy the single-hopped Mitsu, a 6.9 percent ABV deep copper-coloured IPA packed with Amarillo hops, named after Pat's 94-year-old mother-in-law who loves big American IPAs.
And, if you need to make like Leonardo in dreamland and go even deeper, ask Patrick for some of his First Runnings, a deathly dark black ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast clocking in at a luxurious 10.5 percent ABV. Available only in 750mL bottles, perfect for toasting to special occasions or just because, you know, you’re on a Crafty Crawl and you feel like it. Brett fans should keep an eye out as one day Pat hopes to dedicate a tap exclusively to beers brewed with it.
Current food offerings are chips and whatever is going on delivery apps (which includes most of the major chains and dozens of independents). If you can’t be bothered with the apps (food or otherwise), the next place will have you sorted for food anyway.
Pull up a pew with Pat at 4/53-55 Regentville Rd, Jamisontown
If you are only checking out the Penrith area then Elton Chong is the ideal place to end your visit. It’s open until late, the playlist is metal heavy, the menu is chock-full of delicious treats, and everyone comes here to have a good time. Oh, and there’s also a fridge full of tinnies, a house brew and a rotating tap selection.
The interior is two things: 80s-inspired and divey. Classic video game characters, Mad magazines and crude neon signs cover the walls alongside a collection of limited tap art that displays their history of rotating taps; on my visit they featured Mountain Culture's Scenic Route, Big Shed's Kol Schisel, and Willie the Boatman’s Marrickville Lager.
The tinnie list is extensive, flitting from big West Coast IPAs to sours and stouts – but don’t miss their house brew, The Rusty Chongkins: a crisp, refreshing and intriguing XPA made in collaboration with Rusty Penny and sister business Mr Watkins; a dollar from each sale goes to the Australian Man Cave. Non-beer drinkers are more than catered for with a cheeky cocktail menu where drinks are inspired by 80s iconography.
Perhaps the only thing on the menu that isn’t fried is the paper upon which the menu is printed, which features Korean fried chicken, cheeseburger spring rolls, and a crispy, creamy, decadent cheesy garlic bread that is really hard to write about because I had one previously but now I no longer have one. For $44 per person, the kitchen will send out a range of dishes from across the menu as selected by the chefs each night too (minimum two people).
Take a dive at 388 High Street, Penrith
You may well have heard of this brewery. And even if you hadn't before starting this read, you definitely have as they've already cropped up even though it's mostly been about other venues.
Sure, your designated driver can take you 45 minutes up the road or you can make the one hour train trip to Katoomba and visit the original Mountain Culture (which we wrote about in its earlier days here) – or you can pop to Emu Plains and enjoy the full range while watching the brewing team craft the beer you're enjoying. Well, not the very beer you are enjoying, but you get the point.
Mountain Culture's Emu Plains HQ sits just across the Nepean River, boasting heaps of outdoor seating, a designated takeaway/growler refill area, and a lively loft where there are 20 taps pouring some of the area’s finest.
Although the beer here sells itself, the staff are more than happy to offer you samples to help you with the choice (or, realistically, choices) that will best leave your fancies tickled. Every shade of IPA is represented as well as a selection of limited releases and the GABS Hottest 100-topping Status Quo Pale Ale. The stouts are intriguing and often imperial, while their less-talked-about range of sours and wheat beers are ear-to-ear-grin good.
Paddles are priced depending on what you order and wine, Hillbilly Cider and non alcoholic options will soothe the beer-adverse there to soak in the family- and dog-friendly space at tables that can seat two or twenty. Chow down on some bar snacks such as olives and nuts, or see which food truck is braving the Penrith heat out the front today.
Mountain Culture's second home is at 35 David Road, Emu Plains
Their OG brewpub is at 23-25 Parke Street, Katoomba
Let’s say that you forgot to bring a growler and you want some take-home beers to remember your Penrith trip by. Crawl on up the mountain to Glenbrook and stop at Murray’s, where you'll find fridges upon fridges dedicated to craft beer.
Located just down the road from Mountain Culture, Murray’s always has an up-to-date range of their limited releases but, seeing as you just coae from there, be sure to check out the stunning range of cans from the likes of Hope, One Drop, Black Hops, Bacchus, Hop Nation, fabled internationals and much, much more besides.
Murray’s is the sort of bottleshop that gives you an understanding of the bigger picture of craft beer, with an existence that justifies spending up to $55 on a single 500mL can as shoppers witness the effort that's not just gone into way the beers are brewed but how they are curated and sold as fresh as possible.
It's a great place to pick up a mixed six or a couple of fouries of that rare beer you couldn’t find anywhere else. And if your designated driver has taken you this far, tell them to leave their wallet in the car – you’ve got this one.
NOTE: Murray’s also operate stores in East Blaxland and Warrimoo, but this one has the biggest range at the time of writing.
Stock up at 39b Park Street, Glenbrook
Just half an hour west of Penrith in the Blue Mountains (30 minutes on the train, which leave on the hour on weekends) you’ll find Valley Heights, a town with a little over 1000 residents that could easily be mistaken for a town that offers nothing more than a Bunnings, a BP, and a leafy stretch of highway (update: the BP is now gone •[In the time you typed that sentence, Benny? Impressive – Editor]*). That is until 2020 when Brew Mountains opened their brewery to the public.
After years of brewing Brew Mountains for retail, Mountains locals Craig Talbot opened up his brewery venue in a weird sort of sandstone block of sheds behind a bus depot and a Bunnings, which despite the description still appears very leafy like almost every corner of the Blue Mountains.
Make no mistake: you will get refreshed just walking past this place.
Craig and his team have had years to perfect their core range, which includes the mid-strength Last Man Standing Golden Ale, Black Stuff Porter and the Outrageously Good IPA. Their cloudy XPA is a must-try for lovers of juicy, nectar flavours that are as fresh as an egg. Unpretentiously written on their blackboard, these bevies vary in price a little but a tasting paddle won’t set you back more than $20.
Craig clearly has a lot of fun filling his 12 taps, half of which are set aside for limited release beers that push the envelope and change far too often for me to name them.
With the exception of a kombucha, all beers and one crushable apple cider are brewed in-house and are available for takeaway in squealers and growlers. There’s even house-distilled Not Whisky that, despite the name, tastes like the real deal. There’s no kitchen in this breezy little brewery but expect to see a revolving selection of food trucks parked out the front.
Only downside is Brew Mountains is only open for 16 glorious (and rather fleeting) hours per week. As a result, it is dominated by locals during that time, particularly during Friday knock-off when seats are scarce, kids wear school uniforms, gossip is ripe, Craig is everyone’s mate, and I can spot at least two of my cousins.
Brew Mountains is at Unit 3/2-4 Tayler Road, Valley Heights
- High Street Social – Good hangout spot with arcade games and a few independent beers on tap. 562 High Street, Penrith
- Mr Watkins – The aforementioned sister venue to Elton Chong. 467 High Street, Penrith
- Bramble Bar – Small bar in Blaxland celebrating all things Blue Mountains, with a few local crafties like Mountain Culture and Brew Mountains on offer. Shop 3-4/17 Great Western Highway, Blaxland
- Leura Cellars – a longstanding supporter of the country's craft brewers, located on the drive up to Katoomba. 169-171 The Mall, Leura
- Aunty Ed's – Katoomba burger bar where you can pair your food with a beer from locals like Brew Mountains or tinnies from further afield. 12/122 Katoomba Street, Katoomba
- Bootlegger Bar – Live music, Southern BBQ, liquor and cocktails aplenty, plus tinnies of a crafty nature. 92 Bathurst Road, Katoomba
- Benny’s In-Laws – They alway put on a BBQ for Katie and I when we’re in the area, at least. Worth asking.
You'll find all of the breweries, venues and bottleshops above in the free Crafty Pint app alongside hundreds of others across Australia. It's your best guide to finding good beer wherever you are in the country.
NB our Crafty Crawls are typically centred on one or two walkable suburbs, whereas this is more of a guided tour. But we like the name, so we're sticking with it!
Photo at top of article by Marie Claire Jarratt; others, unless indicated otherwise, by Katie Morfoot.