Willie vs The Daleks

Slowly but surely, the dots on the map of Sydney’s Inner West are joining up. In the past couple of years Newtown, Marrickville and Alexandria have all fallen under the spell of the small brewery. Now it’s Tempe’s turn as, set inside a rustic industrial warehouse, Pat McInerney and Nick Newey have cobbled together a ramshackle melange of stainless steel and transformed it into the Willie The Boatman brewery.

“It’s not the prettiest brewhouse but it’s ours and it does the job”, says Pat.

“We’ve tasted the beer from it. We know the heating element works and the mash tun... well, there’s not much to the mash tun - as long as you don’t get a stuck mash then you should be alright. We bought milk tanks and the chiller off eBay and our glycol system is actually from the Holden factory in Adelaide. Nick’s designed and built our own keg filler and cleaner.”

Adding extra uniqueness [Is that actually possible? - Ed] to the setup is a row of some of the more interesting looking tanks you’d hope to find. To give you some idea, they’ve been nicknamed The Daleks.

Says Pat: “They were built in 1987 by a company specialising in oil equipment who’d designed them but never worked with beer. So they built conical tanks and wrapped stainless around them.

“They’re very retro and quite unique, which is why we call them the Daleks. They weigh an absolute ton! We’ve built a gantry on top because we need a block and tackle just to lift the lids - they weigh about 50kg. But we know they work".

And in the end that's what really matters, particularly as it will give them more than 6,000 litres of brewing capacity to play with and help the boat gather steam, something they've already been doing to great effect.

Willie the Boatman's army of Daleks

Up until this point they’d been brewing their beer at The Australian Brewery, which gave them the opportunity to start getting their name – and the beer – out venues. The response in getting venues to take a chance on them has been very encouraging.

“No one’s said no”, says Pat, “but it’s the brewer’s lament in that we could always sell more beer but didn’t have the capacity”.

Adds Nick: “It’s been a bit of a juggle having to fit in with other people’s brewing schedules and we underestimated how much beer we’d sell and also underestimated the fermentation time on a batch and got caught out.”

“Big time!” says Pat. “We had no kegs and a number of sleepless nights! It’s difficult and stressful having to ask venues to wait, but they’ve been very supportive.”

Now that they have their own brewery, they’ll doubtless have different problems to deal with. Fortunately, in Nick they have someone ably equipped to sort them out. A Technical Director by trade who’s been responsible for such minor global occasions as making Olympic cauldrons light, Pat reckons Nick’s tinkering has saved the business a small fortune already and uses the bottling line as an example of the value of a bit of industrial know-how.

“The guy we brought the bottling line off couldn’t get it to work so we thought we’d give it a go and Nick has been able to get it to running and fully automated,” he says. “He’d just had a few of the sensors in the wrong place so they were reading the wrong movement. Nick just fiddled with it.”

Coming from a different angle, Pat’s pre-brewing background is 15 years in Television Production but here he provides the real drive when it comes to the recipe development.

“I’ve been brewing about seven or eight years and always with Nick. When I first met him, he was the worst homebrewer I’ve ever met. His beers were disgusting! So I said, ‘Come on, mate, you can do better than this’ and it was a natural progression: kits, then mini mashes then all grain. And once we got into all grain, because you get so much control over the recipe, the beer just tasted that much better,” he says.

“It was awesome – we went nuts all grain brewing. We loved it that much we were brewing once or twice a week just to do it. And Nick was always faffing about making different gadgets and stuff to make our jobs easier out the back. He enjoyed that part and I enjoyed coming up with recipes and what we eventually ended up with were five beers we absolutely loved. That’s all we brewed for a whole year and those are now the core range of our beers.”

Boatman Pat

That range consists of a golden ale named Foo Brew which has been pouring around Sydney in recent months, a pale ale, an IPA and a smoked dark ale. On top of that there’ll be a constantly changing range of small batches such as the salty German-style Gose they’ve brewed for Sydney Craft Beer Week.

All things going to plan, you’ll be able to try all the beers at the brewery’s tasting bar that should be up and running by November and which will offer something unique for the area. When asked about the potential for the Boatman bar, Pat replies: “There are a couple of pubs nearby where high-vis is high fashion, but there’s nothing else around really. It’s a big residential area and both Nick and I live locally. But 10,000 cars go down this street every day and we’ve got 150 car parks around back. We've thought of having a five minute growler fill car park out front."

It’s been two years since Pat and Nick decided to go all in and build their own brewery, so the next few weeks represent a real watershed moment as dream becomes reality.

“We’re probably only two weeks away," says Pat, "and that’s really just waiting for grain which is the only thing stopping us. Now I’m just ready for it to turn on!”.

You’ll find Willie the Boatman at 202/75 Mary St, Tempe.

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