The inner-west of Sydney is producing more beer than ever following Willie the Boatman’s recent expansion in St Peters.
Co-founders Pat McInerney and Nick Newey launched Willie the Boatman as a gypsy beer brand back in 2014. While the duo was gypsy brewing, construction began on their own premises at 202/75 Mary Street, St Peters.
What McInerney describes as a corrugated-iron 240-square-metre shed became the brewery’s first home. And because they didn’t have any money, Newey, an engineer by trade, was able to repurpose much of the brewery – mostly made up of old dairy equipment.
McInerney did the selling, Newey did the brewing and the pair worked in the bar-come-tasting room at the weekend.
Both former homebrewers, the 600-litre batches they were producing at first seemed huge. However, they were very quickly running out of beer and room.
“We got to the point where we physically could not make any more beer than what we could at that site,” McInerney said.
“We used to sell out of beer on a Monday afternoon.
“Nick ran a pretty tight schedule, everything got to age properly but we were really restricted to brewing core range, just to stay on top of our weekly orders.”
Back then Willie the Boatman were producing about 60 kegs per week and only distributed to venues within five kilometres of the brewery.
Not wanting to leave St Peters, McInerney said that they had to make a decision whether or not to invest more money in the business. To some extent, he told Brews News, the decision was made easier because the inner-west had become such a popular craft beer destination.
“We’re all pretty good mates and there’s a lot of encouragement between all the breweries,” he explained.
“Sure, we hate it when we lose taps to one of them and things like that but we’re all pretty good friends and if anyone needs anything we all reach out and help.
“Not only that but the solidarity amongst the owners, we all encourage each other to get bigger and better.”
Having secured funds from family and friends, Willie the Boatman was able to move into a larger 600-square-metre premise just down the road at 601/75 Mary Street, St Peters.
The old kit went on sale in January this year just as the new kit arrived. Since then, Willie the Boatman beers have been brewed on the new 12hL four-vessel Chinese manufactured brewhouse, which McInerney said has saved the team a lot of time and effort.
“We’ve gone from a very un-automated brewery where the boys had to hand mill all the grain to a very automated brewery,” he explained.
“In the old brewery, the milk pasteuriser, which is the electric kettle would take an hour and a half to get on the boil and in the new brewery it takes 10 minutes so the boys have gained an hour and 20 minutes.”
Accompanying the brewhouse are four 12hL fermenters and thirteen 24hL fermenters.
The Willie the Boatman team has expanded since the gypsy days and now boasts head brewer Joel Cook and brewer Simon Maxwell.
McInerney told Brews News that while they have been brewing at the new site, they weren’t able to open the new taproom until six weeks ago, having had to wait on licencing approval.
“It’s a very different Willie the Boatman that we were even three months ago,” he said.
“We’ve imported a bar from Pennsylvania, which was built in the 1800s and is carved American oak.
“I just wanted to have one feature, something nice in the bar.”
The new venue has 12 taps currently operational with lines into four more. There are two private rooms for hire as well as the bar.
Willie the Boatman has gone from producing approximately 100,000-litres per year to being able to produce up to 500,000-litres per year.
Willie the Boatman core range beers are now available in cans thanks to East Coast Canning, with seasonal- and limited-release beers still being produced in its historic 750ml bottles. To put the old bottling line in perspective, it can do one long neck every 32 seconds.