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Inner West Independent

Trouble brewing in Sydney’s inner west

Patrick and Joel of Willie The Boatman, one of at least 15 breweries in the Inner West severely impacted by Covid-19. Photo: Alec Smart

by ALEC SMART

Brewery tasting tours are one of the popular attractions of Sydney’s Inner West, where a diverse group of microbreweries regularly draw in punters, keen to sample the amber nectar.
The breweries, many of which are within walking distance of each other, range from small niche operators, like Willie the Boatman and Bucket Boys, to larger commercial operations, like Rocks and the Malt Shovel (aka James Squire).

But since the government ordered measures to halt the spread of coronavirus, which began with the closure of large entertainment venues and continues with the conversion of restaurants and bars into take-away or home-delivery only, the breweries, like many manufacturers, are struggling to distribute their wares.

There are at least 15 breweries operating within a five kilometre radius of Marrickville, Sydney’s beating heart of craft breweries, and these include the aforementioned plus Akasha, Balmain, Batch, Blackfont, Grifter, Hopsters, St Peters, Sauce, Staves, Stockade, Wayward, Wildflower, Young Henry’s and Yulli’s. (For brewery addresses and their Facebook profiles, see list below).

In 2018 the Inner West Council and the Inner West Brewery Association lobbied the NSW Govt to allow breweries to operate as small bars with up to 100 patrons, and after a 12-month trial the scheme was rolled out across the state. (Previously, they could only operate bars if they had an on-premises license; otherwise they were limited to small tasting rooms with beer provided in tiny measures to enable a sample before purchase).

At the time Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne said, “This new legislation will give us the tools we need to cement the Inner West as the craft beer capital of Australia. I want the Inner West to be for craft beer what the Hunter Valley and the Barossa are to Australian wine.”

“Breweries are the new community centres,” Patrick McInerney, founder and director of Willie The Boatman Brewery in St Peters, told City Hub in Sept 2018. “Having our own tasting room with a bar is really the only way small independent breweries will survive. The Tasting Room is a vital part of our business… Plus there are community benefits too. The locals get somewhere to hang out and meet their friends and we as a business get to reduce our emissions by not having our cars on the road so much. So it’s a win-win situation.

And yet now, with the virtual lockdown on socialising, this important hub of tourism and community socialising faces financial ruin and closure.

However, the breweries are adapting to take-away and home delivery services amidst the crisis. City Hub spoke to a few to see how they’re coping.

Willie The Boatman Brewery
Impacts?
“Covid 19 has completely decimated our business. We have laid off all our casual staff. Our brewers are only in one or two days a week and our cash flow has completely disappeared.”
Adapting?
“We are hoping that our customers, locals and bottle shops will get behind local products like never before. We are doing everything we can to survive these unprecedented times. But are hoping all of the good will we have built over the last 6 years will carry us through.
Quality beer is the cornerstone of our brand, but if we can’t sell beer before the due date, sadly, it will be dumped.
We are selling beer: cans and long necks from the cellar door. No one can taste or hang out, but 7 days a week I will be at the brewery from midday till 4pm. Or people can text 0413 514 026 to make an appointment to organise a pick up. We are working on a home delivery system which we hope to be up before the end of the week. check our social media sites to find out more.”

Stockade Brewery
Impacts?
“We hope we can sustain ourselves for the next few months. We have had to suspend our Casual bar team, which was horrible as we have a very close knit group here at Stockade.”
Adapting?
“We are trying to sell as much of our draft stock as possible via Growlers and hopefully other methods. We will end up having to tip anything that goes out of date. We are retailing cans and growlers. We are looking into home delivery as we have partnered with a food truck. Uber is a no go at the moment as so many other cafes and restaurants have registered – it has blocked the application process so far.
We have been amazed at the support from customers and staff alike. We will endeavour to safely supply our beers for as long as we possibly can – and hopefully we’ll get through this. We can’t wait for the party on the other side

Batch Brewing
Impacts?
“We’ve lost all our keg business and a significant portion of our retail trade, and have had to stand down most of our casual employees as a result.”
Adapting?
“ We believe we can if we are able to get enough assistance from the government, landlords, and the businesses we buy and sell from.
If this goes on for a long time then unfortunately we’ll have to dump a lot of kegs down the drain.
We are open for take away at our Marrickville brewery. Our Petersham brewery (Small Batch) is temporarily closed, but we will have some packaged product from there available at Marrickvlle.
We have home delivery set up along with curb-side pick-up at the brewery for those that don’t want to come inside. This is a tough time for us all. Support local businesses as much as you can so we can hire everyone back at the end of this!

Sauce Brewery
Impacts?
“It’s been a pretty difficult couple of weeks for sure. Our own taproom is shut down, as are all our on-premise customers (pubs, bars, restaurants, etc). We’re facing a quadruple whammy: No taproom revenue; No keg sales; Wholesale customers in financial stress; And high fixed monthly costs (rent, equipment finance, wages, utilities etc) that don’t really reduce in line with revenue.
All our taproom staff have been stood down, sadly – no taproom means no taproom staff. We’re doing our best to find some other work for them around the place, for example one of our people is out doing deliveries as I type this. We’ll need to defer a lot of our liabilities to make it through (tax, loans, rent etc) – even so we will still be losing money every month, and I’ll need to use my own savings to prop it up. Of course all those liabilities deferred still need to be paid back later so we’re building up some nice debts!
So yeah we’ll make it through, but it will take years to get ahead again…”
Adapting?
“We’ve been doing half price growlers this week to finish off the kegs already on tap, then we’ll switch to cans only. We’ve done a reasonable trade this week in takeaways and it’s really heartening to see our local community getting behind us and supporting local now more than ever. We are eternally grateful.
We’re trialling a home delivery service today and tomorrow, using one of our taproom staff for deliveries. Hopefully it takes off and we can keep doing it!

Wayward Brewery
Impacts?
“With our Taproom and other pubs closed due to the recent lockdown, we’ve lost a vital stream of income. It’s tough for independents at the moment, I think we are all looking for new initiatives to help keep sales up.
We’ve been setting up a few new initiatives to help keep us afloat through the lockdown, including a kerbside takeaway pop-up and free home delivery. Almost every day is spent thinking of new ways to bring in some extra income – it’s an uncertain time.
We’re trying to think of ways to avoid having to dump beer, and are offering growlers to takeaway. Only time will tell on that one unfortunately.”
Adapting?
Yes, we’ve set up a Kerbside Pop-up at the brewery. It’s open 12-6pm on weekdays, and 12-4pm on weekends. We have beer available to buy online and are offering free shipping. We are also offering free next-day delivery to local postcodes.
We’re launching a new range of beers called the “Wayward Brewing Co. Taproom Series”, bringing our Taproom to your Living Room. We’re also really trying to spread the word to Keep Local Alive.”

Inner West Breweries where you can collect take-away (drop in when returning from essential shopping trips during Covid-19 restrictions) with Facebook links for opening hours

Akasha – 10-12 Spencer St, Five Dock ~ https://www.facebook.com/akashabrew/
Batch – 44 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville ~ https://www.facebook.com/BatchBrewingCo/
Blackfont – 92 Meeks Rd, Marrickville ~ https://www.facebook.com/BlackFontBrewhouse/
Bucket Boys – Level 1, 300 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville ~ https://www.facebook.com/bucketboysbeer/
Grifter – 1/391 Enmore Rd, Marrickville ~ https://www.facebook.com/TheGrifterBrewingCompany/
Hopsters – 198 Enmore Rd, Enmore ~ https://www.facebook.com/HopstersAU/
Malt Shovel – 99 Pyrmont Bride Rd, Annandale ~ https://www.facebook.com/maltshovelaus/
Rocks – 160 Bourke Rd, Alexandria ~ https://www.facebook.com/rocksbrewingco/
Sauce – 1a Mitchell St, Marrickville ~ https://www.facebook.com/saucebrewing/
Staves – 4-8 Grose St, Glebe ~ https://www.facebook.com/StavesBrewery/?ref=br_rs
Stockade – 25 Cadogan St, Marrickville ~ https://www.facebook.com/stockadebrewco/
Wayward – 1-3 Gehrig Lne, Camperdown ~ https://www.facebook.com/WaywardBrewing/
Wildflower – 11-13 Brompton St, Marrickville ~ https://www.facebook.com/wildflowerbeer/
Willie The Boatman – Suite 601, 75 Mary St, St Peters ~ https://www.facebook.com/willietheboatman/
Young Henrys – 76 Wilford St, Newtown ~ https://www.facebook.com/younghenrysbrewing/
Yulli’s – 75a Burrows Rd, Alexandria ~ https://www.facebook.com/yullisbrews/