It was a mix of old and new at the recent Sydney Royal Fine Food Show’s beer competition. The old: Matilda Bay picked up its usual trophy for the Alpha Pale Ale (but will it mean they start pushing their best beer more widely?) and picked up another for the Redback Original. The new: Illawarra Brewing Company picked up a couple of golds of their own – two of only five awarded in what is generally regarded as the toughest judging of any beer comp in Australia.
You could be forgiven for asking: “Who?‘, given it’s not a name that’s bandied about a great deal, but the brewery formerly known as 5 Islands is on a mission to establish a reputation for its own beers, having previously focused more on brewing beers under contract for others.
“After changing the name last year we really ramped up our efforts to push the beer to other bars in Sydney and locally in Wollongong,” says brewer Shaun Blisset (right above). “This was driven by the new owner / operations manager Dave and by us basically wanting to develop our beer and brew more of it than the contract stuff. Anyone trying to sell craft beer in NSW knows it’s a tough gig getting tap space, but we have persisted and become available regularly at some good venues in Sydney and Wollongong. As a result of our wish to expand and make more beer, we soon realised that a move from our old site to a bigger location was needed if we were to become more efficient and productive.”
The Illawarra beers that collected golds were the Nelson Pale and Koelsch, two of 15 beers produced at the brewery either under their own label or for others.
“We’re extremely happy with the results,” says Shaun. “It’s definitely a confidence boost and means that we are doing something right. We brew a lot of beer at Illawarra Brewing Company, more than ever before. We brew six beers plus a seasonal that we always have on tap at the brewery bar in Wollongong but contract brewing still takes up a lot of our time while we build the Illawarra brand. In all, we brew 15 different beers giving us a fair repertoire of styles that we regularly make so we get to work with a wide variety of malts, hops and yeasts. This helps Ashur [Hall] and I develop our brewing skills and methods while we learn more about beer styles and other people’s ideas that we may not have otherwise had access to.
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