When you’re a travel beer writer you haven’t been to everywhere and Wollongong, you’ve been to everywhere especially Wollongong. And if you're thinking I’ve opened my Crafty Crawl of Wollongong with a joke about the place, you've got me wrong: I genuinely mean it as there's so much to love.
There’s a footy stadium by a lovely big beach. It’s not expensive. A lot of food is grown and made locally. It’s easy to find your way around. The bush walks are superb. It rocks its original name and there are presently at least seven breweries in which you can drink local beer. What you see is what you get. Nothing is forced in The Gong.
So then: why the hell in the world of Australian location-based punchlines is Wollongong tantamount to a delicacy? From cedar cutters to steelworkers to BBQ-loving rugby league players, those that call The Gong home seem to love the lifestyle while somehow accepting the shade thrown their way.
The first people of Wollongong were the Dharawal people, whose name for the area has various translations including "seas of the South", "great feast of fish" and "song of the sea". To my knowledge, there’s no record of the adjacent Darug and Gundungurra mobs mocking the Dharawal for where they live, so we can assume picking on The Gong is a modern tradition. But many towns have steel mills, decaying industry and footy players who start shit on a night out. So why does Wollongong cop it so much?
I’ll tell you why, because they’re next to Sydney!
Just as mainland Australia may poke fun at Tassie, which in turn will sometimes join in on the collective shit-hanging on NZ, human nature involves picking on people who are next to you. However, Sydney craft beer lovers need to abandon their Gong prejudice, no matter how clever or derivative, and spend a day/weekend/lifetime exploring the amazing places serving local craft beer, served by kind and considerate locals who are increasingly aware they live in a close community with great beer.
STOP ONE: SEEKER BREWING
Start seeking your Wollongong beer fortune at Seeker Brewing in Unanderra, an industrial area in south Wollongong. Walking into the Gameboy green brewhouse with its basketball hoop, leather couches and shipping containers, you might find yourself thinking the Seeker space was always meant to be a brewery. That’s because it kind of was.
Formerly the site of Bulli Brewing, brewer Jeff Argent took over the space with his twin and their mate after initially brewing his cult Grassy Knoll beers at the venue. Taking the name from his attitude to seeking kicks out of the great nature and music around The Gong, Seeker is a mishmash of experience, experiences and destiny with the end result being a refreshing range of beers.
Seeker boasts 14 taps and their range of beer really is a range, from the AF red Maxi Smalls all the way up to limited double NEIIPAs. The core range includes a fruity and fun Daydream XPA, local legend-inspired Rad Pale Ale and the big, bold and juicy Mystic NEIPA. Limited releases are always on and have featured a cherry cola sour, a wet hop hazy and a DDH Hefeweizen brewed with Slow Lane.
Live music is almost constant at Seeker where concerts and festivals are common (well, they are musicians too). If you’re hoping to catch some live music you may want to do this Crawl in reverse as they usually kick off in the evening. And before you ask: you didn’t see double, Jeff’s twin brother Curtis works here and is just as ready with a beer and smile.
Find Seeker at unit 4/1 Industrial Road, Unanderra. Once done, walk up to the highway and get either the bus or train into Wollongong and stroll over to our next stop…
STOP TWO: FIVE BARREL BREWING
After many years spent gaining a following selling their beers at farmers markets, Five Barrel Brewing opened their brewery in December 2015, which makes them bonafide elders of the Wollongong brewing scene. That’s not an insult though, as Five Barrel are only old in the way that Tony Hawk is in his 50s; not yet grey, widely respected, and still very cool.
The inside of the brewery is relaxed, airy and packed with shiny tanks of the good stuff. However, on a warm day the outside courtyard is where it’s at, just ask the locals – of which every generation with working legs is represented. This is also where you’ll find the Five Barrel food truck that sends out an irresistible waft of hot chips and makes a mean spicy prawn burger with apple slaw that is a friend to any beer.
Across the 16 taps, you are spoilt for burger-pairing options. At 4 percent ABV, the Lunchbox Lager has a cider like crispness with a light citrus tickle, while the full-bodied Little Nipper Hazy IPA serves up a succulent body and aromas reminiscent of an expensive lemon myrtle candle. The Night Cap Milk Stout makes a creamy friend on a cold day and there are plenty of limited releases to surprise and delight you no matter your mood. If ordering food, ask the staff to recommend a beer pairing, or order a tasting paddle of four for $15.
Enter prawn paradise at 318 Keira Street, then walk up the road into the CBD to…
STOP THREE: HIS BOY ELROY
Hopefully, you saved some room for burgers because His Boy Elroy is a Wollongong institution twice over, serving tasty burgers and a crawlable range of craft beer. The venue wears its love for sport proudly with a rough basketball and beer theme painted onto the coarse stone walls and TVs showing local and international games. You might not expect to find such a locally-focused, independent and lived-in venue on the outside street of a shopping centre down from a Schnitz and Bavarian but it seems anything is possible in Wollongong.
There are just eight taps at His Boy Elroy but they feature a rainbow of independent beers of which there is often only a single keg. The kegs focus on the best of NSW and include the likes of Dangerous Ales, Akasha and some of the oh-so-weird ones from One Drop. The only constant is Snakepit Lager, the house brew produced in tandem with Five Barrel that is a drinkable tribute to the basketball team, the Illawarra Hawks. I don’t quite get the tie-in but I get the beer which is tangy, citrusy, a little funky and extremely sessionable.
His Boy Elroy is family-friendly – dog friendly if you sit outside – and is first and foremost a burger bar so make sure you reserve that room in your tummy. There are monthly specials, which included a fiery, crispy and exceedingly fresh fried chicken burger when I visited. The classic Fat Boy burger with special sauce and a smashed patty is so good it will start an argument with your beer over who the real star is. It’s burger simplicity with attention to detail, as can be said for the brown and crispy fries which may just be the best in The Gong (email us at email@example.com if you know a better one, I need to try them).
His Boy Elroy is on the outside dining area at the shopping centre on Keira Street. From there it is only a short walk out of town to reach…
STOP FOUR: DUSTY LIZARD BREWING
December 2020 was not a great time to open a brewery, but Dusty Lizard owner Nathan Harris didn’t know the lockdown he went through earlier in the year would later be known as "first lockdown". He also didn’t know that during "second lockdown" he would receive overwhelming local support for takehome beers, selling 600 cans in 40 minutes. As a former plumber, what he did know was a thing or two about liquids, and you can marvel at his handiwork as all the small-batch beers are brewed in metal micro-tanks behind the bar. Most importantly, you can drink the handiwork too.
Nathan, or Nath as he introduces himself, made Dusty Lizard's home in an old red brick lawnmower repair shop. With an outdoor courtyard and nostalgic indoor seating it is the sort of place that feels destined to become a community meeting spot. Not only is it dog-friendly, it might be the most kid-friendly stop on the Crawl (NOT that you’re making kids walk an entire crawl) with colouring-in stencils for the little ones based on the bearded dragon Dustin who lives in the brewery. Well, in an enclosure from which he's let out frequently after hours. There are rotating food tents, wine and cider for non-beer drinkers... yada yada yada let’s get to the beers!
Sample the Nothing Fancy, a lager drier than the desert with steely, hoppy, green bottle freshness, dip into the intriguing Biscuit Ale, a reddish ale with tea and jam drop flavours that you could sit on all afternoon, or try the enticingly dark Milk Stout with notes of liquorice you can’t really prepare for adequately. My top pick for most unskippable beer, however, is the Vanilla Yogurt Stout and, yes, it really does taste how it sounds. Combining a love for Nath’s two favourite styles, sours and stouts, this beer may come with a warning but, for me, it is a sacred middle ground between two polarising styles. You won’t have anything else like it on the rest of this Crawl and potentially ever again.
Visit Dustin at shop 2/102 Smith Street. You’re at the halfway point! Unless you fancy a half-hour walk it is just a 12-minute bus ride to our next stop…
STOP FIVE: PRINCIPLE BREWING
If you haven’t heard of Principle Brewing before your visit, you will end your visit by asking yourself: "How have I not heard of Principle Brewing?"
The space is industrial and expansive, with their house food truck sending sizzling meat fumes out across the courtyard both enticing you in and masking the smog of the busy street. There’s fun outside and fun inside with a brick bar boasting 14 taps that include cider and seltzer alongside their core range beers and revolving favourites.
Principle was started by three mates from various parts of the hospo industry, uniting over their love for drinking good beer. The motto (or principle) of Principle is "Make Good Choices, Drink Good Beer" which is evidenced by the crowds of friends and the good beer choices you soon will make.
Core range highlights include a copper and wattle IPA which at 6.3 percent ABV is a tongue puncher that will put hairs on your chest. The hazy is a crushable orange, grapefruit and sherbert juice-fest that at first seems generic but goes on to demonstrate a balance that is nearly unrivalled in such a saturated style. If you don’t like this, there's every chance you don’t like hazies - it’s perfection.
Don’t miss something limited which during my visit was a cherry sour that managed to pack festive spices along with being puckeringly sour. I had to fight the fruit flies for it and it was worth it. Explore a few options with a $20 tasting paddle featuring four beers. Alternatively, get a wings and a core range schooner combo for an extra $10 with any burger from Winnies food truck.
Principle is right by the bus stop at 103 Princes Highway, Fairy Meadow. There is a bus stop out the front of Principle which provides a few walk/bus options that will take you around 15 minutes to get to…
STOP SIX: REUB GOLDBERG BREWING MACHINE
“What the hell, Crafty? This is a small residential shopping area! Why did you send me here?”
Well, listen here you made-up brewery crawler, because the North Gong suburb of Tarrawanna is home to a true gem in the world of Australian craft brewing: the Reub Goldberg Brewing Machine. Named for the creator of those kooky yet satisfying chain reactions that make for great TikToks, RGBM chose their name as their brewing methods utilise gravity in an overly-complicated but ultimately rewarding and environmentally-friendly way to brew beer.
Contained in the aforementioned Tarrawanna shopping area, Reub Goldberg is one venue that has contributed to the local buzz that somehow radiates through this small shopping strip. The buzz follows you into the brewery with raw-edged wooden tables, a spooky holographic portrait of the brewing team, and a mural of the bike trip that inspired the beer complete with the actual bike. What’s on offer on the ten taps is written in chalk above a bar that never quite seems to be free of someone choosing their tipple.
The beers on offer are always rotating with no true core range but a stream of beers predominantly brewed in old world styles with löts öf these little ö’s. On the day of my visit, there was a Cologne-invoking Kölsch, a tangy wild ale brewed from wattle flower culture, and a Rauch Maibock that would cuddle well with a Christmas ham. A few more new world styles such as WCIPA are available, after all, RGBM is "built by beer nerds for beer nerds".
The RGBM ethos states: "beer should be drunk in the shadow of the brewery in which it was made" which means Tarrawanna is the only place you can savour their brews. Worth the trip even if you’ll spend half of it being jealous of the locals.
Reub Goldberg Brewing machine is in a leafy shopping area on 81 Meadow Street, Tarrawanna. Take either the bus or train for a 20ish minute trip North to Bellambi, the home of…
STOP SEVEN: THE BARREL SHEPHERD
The term "hidden gem" is overused but when you enter an unassuming Bellambi warehouse and find the magical world of warm fairy lights amongst the towering walls of wooden barrels bulging with a wealth of sours and wild ales, you’ll be hard pushed finding another term to describe The Barrel Shepherd. Perhaps "gem" might do, however, as The Barrel Shepherd is only open ten hours a week, most of which it spends packed to the gills with barrel chasers and grateful locals alike.
Named for founder Georg Bobbert’s biodynamic sheep-farming dad, The Barrel Shepherd is a sippable celebration of the local produce, culture and the way nature shapes the flavours we enjoy. Over a paddle, Georg explained how most of their small-batch beers, sometimes just two kegs of each, are created from their barrel-fermented Table Beer, a Belgian-style saison aged in French oak barrels. Beer additions are based purely on what’s in season and available locally, sometimes it’s crab apples, plums or grapes. Georg loads them in and lets the ingredients chuck their car keys in a communal bowl.
Despite it seeming like there are a lot of fingers being crossed and hoping for the best, the beer comes out with a balance of sweet and tart with wine-like complexities and nuances. During my visit, I enjoyed a fun and funky Brett Saison and the 22-month-aged After Life Pinot which tasted like the Switzerland between red wine and beer.
My favourite fruity beers included a tart sweet and quaffable Sakura Plum Sour and Forest Fruits, a barrel-aged sour with whole wild peaches that even after lengthy ageing was so fresh you could taste the fuzz. Comparisons to a certain Marrickville brending joint are inevitable but after a tasting paddle at The Barrel Shepherd, you’ll find they are optional.
Enter the fairy tale land of The Barrel Shepherd at 16a Bellambi Lane, Bellambi. Get on a train at Bellambi station and make the short eight minute trip to Bulli at our equally train station adjacent last stop…
STOP EIGHT: RESIN BREWING
Few breweries feel as effortless as Resin Brewing. Mates Brendan Dowd and Stephen House converted the old Bulli railway guesthouse into this laid-back venue where beers are both brewed and enjoyed. Some tables are long and full of locals toasting milestones while pairs of hop hunters sit at barrels pushing up their Untappd numbers. Local, visitor or Crafty Crawler (that’s you!) they all line up in front of the bar, look up at the beer menu drawn in marker on white tiles, and hope their choice isn’t erased before they order.
A wise person once said Resin beers are “like you are drinking in high definition” and it is. Their flagship Sandon lager is smooth, sophisticated and cool, perfectly brewed for seaside drinking. Drinking their Refraction Hazy Pale might remind you of drinking a whole bushel of fruit in one go, and their Montage XPA has a slight rice tickle that makes it insanely drinkable and so much fun. Other concoctions during my visit included the Space Cowboy Double Oat Cream IPA, Dubbel Trubbel Belgian Dubbel and the daring Mavericks WCIPA with Chinook, El Dorado, Cashmere and Centennial hops.
Non-beer drinkers are catered for by the vast wine selection while the in-house kitchen serves a menu featuring mains for adults and kids, although it’s the share plates of dips, nuts, olives and wings that are the star.
Resin is a great day drinking spot so, as I suggested all the way back at Stop One, you may want to try this Crawl in reverse sometime. Either way, a repeat visit will be needed to give Resin the time it deserves.
And with that: well done! You’ve completed your Crafty Crawl of Wollongong and will never use the city’s name in vain ever again!
Resin Brewing is right by Bulli train station at 8 Station Street, Bulli. From the station you can go anywhere, such as home.
Looking for more beery stops?
- The Illawara Brewery – Illawarra Brewing Co was a founder of Wollongong's craft scene and has undergone a few guises over the years. These days you can visit the bar at the WIN Entertainment Centre, which pours some Illawarra beers alongside other beers both indie and mainstream.
- Howlin' Wolf Bar – It might have a spirit in its name but it always has a good selection of craft beer to choose from too. Pop in by heading to 103/53-61 Crown Street, Wollongong.
- Black Cockatoo – A tiny CBD bar specialising in cocktails but where the beers are of the crafty variety. Take flight at 88 Kembla Street.
- The Prince Wollongong – Again, cocktails are to the fore at The Prince, but the beers are typically indie and have included collabs with local brewers in the past. Find it in Globe Lane.
The photo at the top of this article, of Five Barrels and of His Boy El Roy are by Benedict Kennedy-Cox and Katie Anne Morfoot.
You'll find all of the above venues alongside more than 1,300 other good beer operators in the Crafty Pint app, designed to help you find the nearest local beer wherever you are in Australia.