Five Barrel Brewing is a family-run business that has been changing how the people of Wollongong drink beer.
When brewery owner Phil O’Shea was at university in Wollongong, he found the culture of drinking pretty rough. Drunken fights were common in what he described as “a VB and Tooheys New kind of town”.
After uni, he spent a few years in Sydney and then went travelling.
“I absolutely fell in love with the beer culture overseas,” Phil told Region.
“When I came back to Wollongong, it was about creating a safe space for the community … The taproom was always supposed to be a meeting space and [somewhere for people to] entertain themselves. No screens, no poker machines.”
It took time to build the trust of the community and the local council. Initially, they were only allowed to be a tasting room that sold takeaway beers. Then, they were allowed a tiny bar space before finally opening up their taproom in their warehouse brewery space, with a food truck out the front.
To appeal to the VB and Tooheys New crowd, Phil started out with approachable beers. A menu of golden ales and pale ales has slowly transformed into hazy IPAs, sour beers, stouts and more adventurous brews.
“A big part of what we did was to educate people. It was always about trying to lead people towards where we wanted to end up,” he said.
The brewery has been collaborating with other local businesses to bring new ideas to the brewery. They’ve recently worked with four local florists to create beautiful images for their cans.
“If your beer can is a canvas, you want some expression on there that represents the beer you’re making.”
One of these beers is the Deep Breath Botanical IPA, which features ginger, basil, chilli and yuzu. This label features a flower arrangement by East Woonona florist Twig&Bo. Even just a small amount of basil in the beer transforms the flavour in a big way. It’s a great, inventive beer, and it’s nice to see a range of ingredients being embraced by beer lovers.
“There’s no way that beer would have sold back in the day! But people are getting used to seeing different flavours in their beers,” Phil said.
“I love any opportunity to execute a weird and wacky idea, and when it works you just cheer.”
The next beer that Phil is excited about is about two weeks away from being ready to drink. His sister drove down to Griffith to pick a kilo of freshly bloomed orange blossoms to create a citrusy, floral beer.
The taproom also has a food truck that serves up a range of delicious burgers: try the spicy, double-crunch prawn.
Phil says that he’s thrilled to see that these days, the drinking culture in Wollongong is more about craft beer and less about Tooheys New. More and more small-scale breweries are proliferating, and he says there’s a great community between all the local brewers.
And the taproom at Five Barrel Brewing is a place where people come to meet up and chat, have a Friday lunch or weekend session with families, dogs, mates and colleagues.
It may have taken a few years, but Five Barrel Brewing is well and truly the ‘third space’ Phil always hoped it would be.
Five Barrel Brewing is located at 318 Keira St, Wollongong.
The taproom is open from 12 to 6 pm Sunday to Wednesday, and from 12 to 9 pm Thursday to Saturday.
The kitchen is open from 12 to 8 pm Thursday to Saturday, and from 12 to 5 pm on Sunday.
Visit their website or follow Five Barrel Brewing on Facebook or Instagram.