The timing could have been better, but Sydney’s latest brewery, White Bay Beer Co on the Balmain Peninsula, launched its first beers last week.
The brewery, which was founded by an all-star cast including Adam Trippe-Smith of keg rentals business Konvoy, Tim Fishwick, formerly of Balter, The Rocks Brewing and Little Creatures, as well as publican Tim Condon. They are joined by brewer Dennis de Boer, who is brewing alongside his partner Jess Walker, formerly of 4 Pines.
De Boer spent nearly four years at Modus Operandi in Sydney, has done a stint at Stone & Wood and started his career in his native US at Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado.
He said it had been a tiring few weeks getting the beers out at the new production brewery.
“It’s been good, I’m sleepy! But the reception was awesome,” he said.
The beginnings of White Bay
De Boer explained that the idea for White Bay was formulated last year while he and partner Jess Walker were travelling.
“Jess and I both left our jobs on 1st January 2019, she was a team leader at 4 Pines and I was head brewer at Modus.
“We quit and travelled for about nine months, we did a month in South Australia, in and around Barossa and up to Roxby Downs and spent some time in red dirt Australia.
“After that we went to New Zealand for four months living in a small town called Nelson on the South Islands.
“While we were there I got a random Facebook message from Adam Trippe-Smith asking what we were doing, saying he was putting a bit of a crew together to open a brewery. I said tell me more!
“We flew back for 24 hours from Nelson to check it all out and meet the boys.”
By the time they headed back, plans were in motion. At the time the White Bay team were looking at two sites, but eventually landed on the Balmain Peninsula facility.
“We’re literally on the other side of the Anzac Bridge, so back when the world was normal, you could get to the brewery from the CBD in 10 minutes even in peak hour traffic, it’s a pretty awesome location.
“Balmain and Rozelle are amazing villages to live in as well. We’re all in spitting distance of the brewery, and that does give me a good reason to have more than one beer after work.”
De Boer also explained that the size of the site made in an attractive proposition, allowing White Bay room to grow.
“The site is massive. We have about 1,400 sqm here, which has allowed us to fit in a pretty large brewhouse and cellar,” he said.
“Our Union Lager, which in my mind is our crown jewel, the whole intention with that beer is long tank time, ferment it cold, cold condition it, so having that tank space and availability to handle that beer appropriately has been really important. We needed plenty of space for that.”
De Boer has previously won awards for his beers at Modus, and this time is starting with a relatively small core range including a 4.5% abv American Blonde pale ale and its 4.7% abv European-style Union Lager, which is a pet project of de Boer and the team.
“I’ve always enjoyed a lager, I grew up drinking Coors Banquet. When we first engaged with the guys about the project, one of the first questions we all asked each other was, if we could brew any beer, what would it be? The unanimous answer was a lager.
“We’ve all drunk and worked at brewing and selling hoppy beers for such a long time, so to change direction and go for something perhaps a bit more nuanced was attractive to us.”
He and partner Walker were also inspired by their travels.
“Jess and I spent three months driving coast to coast across America after New Zealand, and the renaissance of lager over there was pretty inspiring. I thought if we can do it over there we can do it here.”
But he’s not ruling out more exotic creations either.
“I’d like to keep two tanks open for experimentation and ideas. We’re still massive fans of hoppy beers so the plan is to kick out some of them.
“As far as the diabetes-inducing imperial stouts there could be a future for that but right now we’re just trying to find our feet – so I won’t say no just yet!
“Right now we’ve committed to Union Lager and Sunny Pale as our initial core range beers, and an IPA which is permanent in the lineup but continually changing.
“We make a small batch of that and when that runs out we make a new one. That one we pretty much have full rein over – though if I went to Tim today and said can we make a 13% abv IPA then he might say dial it down!”
“And what we’re really stoked on is that we have a steam jacketed mash tun so we’re able to do multi-step mashes on all our beers, and Jess and I are obsessed with foam too.
“I do the recipes, I’m trying to get Jess into writing recipes because she has an amazing palate for beer. Currently she is a lot more of the quality side.
“She’s written all the parameters around how we brew the beer, as far as quality goes we’ve got an awesome Anton Paar laboratory, and she governs all of that. I’m a ‘write a recipe and wing it’ kind of guy. She’ll come in and say you can’t do that. It’s a good balance!
“We travelled for nine months together and basically six of those were in a car so if we can survive that a brewery should be a piece of cake.”
Also coming naturally to the experienced team is distribution, and White Bar beers are already out in the world. But that’s not to say that it has been easy especially in this difficult period.
“We’re mostly just in pubs and bottle shops on the Peninsula, Mick at the Royal Alert took a few kegs and cartons from us, and a few pubs under the Riley group too,” explained de Boer.
“But we have found that no matter the size of the operation, logistics is still chaos.”
With such an experienced team in many aspects of the brewing business White Bay has strong foundations, but it hasn’t all been an easy ride.
“We definitely have similar challenges as everyone else, and four very strong opinions, and four experienced opinions as well. There was a lot of good conversation and what came out of it is pretty awesome. We’re all really stoked.”
White Bay’s next major project now that the brewhouse is up and running is to develop a taphouse on site.
“We’re just about to start construction on the venue side of our facility, so hopefully by the time normalcy returns we can have a place for people to come and drink and from there it will be keeping that stopped up with plenty of flavourful creations,” said de Boer.
What the venue will look like though is still a work in progress.
“It depends on who you’re asking and what day it is!
“We will definitely have food options and beer, but we’re still working through some of the nuances of what we can do with our DA.
“Supporting the Peninsula is important to us, already the pubs have given us insane support so looking after them is pretty important and we are not trying to make another place to compete with them,” de Boer explained.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions still in place, it’s been a strange environment to open in, but de Boer has high hopes for the brewing industry as a whole.
“I don’t know, it’s scary to even think how the country is going to start back up, you can’t just stick the key in the ignition.
“But I reckon people always need beer. We’re an essential service!
“The brewing industry will hopefully come stronger from this. People are starting to appreciate locally-produced products more, and beer will hopefully always have a place.”
White Bay Beer Co is located at 26C Mansfield Street, Sydney, 2039.
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.