It’s been a tough journey for Sutherland Shire based brewery Shark Island. Major setbacks early almost crushed the brewery dream for mates Dion ‘Driza’ Dickinson and James Peebles, yet they’ve somehow managed to soldier on. Thanks to plenty of patience and perseverance, Shark Island has managed to stay afloat until their first birthday – and things are only looking up from here.
“Brewing is in my blood,” says brewery co-founder Driza (pictured above), “my Dad was a brewer in the UK, Mum’s Dad was a maltster and his Dad was a maltster. My father taught me to brew when I was thirteen… I had no choice!”
The idea of opening a brewery lingered in Driza’s mind throughout the twenty years he spent in liquor retail. As craft breweries began to pop up in the CBD and Inner West early in the 2010’s, he and James decided to take action, planning to open a brewery in their hometown.
“I’d worked for other breweries prior to this [including Murrays and 4 Pines] and likely could have built a brewery closer to the city. It would have been a lot simpler, but it was important for me to do it close to home,” says Driza. “Amongst wider circles, the Shire has a bit of a taboo about it, but it’s a lovely place and a big market that’s been crying out for something like this.”
Unfortunately, the construction process didn’t go quite as planned. The brewery’s start-up funds, totalling thousands of dollars, were lost as part of an equipment supply scam as reported on by The Crafty Pint. Although fundraising efforts offered some assistance, the business required a whole new strategy.
Moved by the story, neighbouring Blackrock Brasserie in Sylvania offered to share their brewery equipment in Kirrawee, licenced under the name Blackhorse Brewhouse. By converting part of this warehouse space into a cellar door, Shark Island would sell their beers, both on draught and in bottle, eventually earning enough back to purchase their own equipment.
It was here that the Shark Island core range began to emerge. Their very first brew, El Mono Bolas Kolsch, is an approachable, easy drinking Czech style that remains a best-seller to this day. Joining it were Shark Island Pale Ale, Greenhills Summer Ale and Sandshoes Golden Ale, all named after various landmarks of Cronulla beach.
“Golden ales are a style very dear to me,” says Driza of Sandshoes – his favourite Shark Island brew. “I like the combination of sweet malts and aromatic, fruity hops without it being too heavy.”
Unfortunately, sharing with Blackhorse presented its own problems, with beers coming out of the brewhouse tasting far different than intended – perhaps due to a misunderstanding in the recipe. Blackhorse eventually ceased operations in May, handing over the Kirrawee cellar door in its entirety to Shark Island. As for a brewery – Driza and James quickly entered an agreement to lease a tank at Illawarra Brewing Company in Wollongong, where they were able to produce a beer in time for GABS 2016. Choko Oh No! is single-hopped with Australian Astra and brewed with choko, “the super-villain of the squash family.”
“We’ve recovered well,” says Driza of the problems he’s experienced in the past months. “Financially we’re a bit behind where we wanted to be, but in terms of building the brand and building the destination, we’re extremely happy. The rest will come.” This strong brand image is backed by a crowd of locals who flock to the cellar door each weekend to support the brewery. Celebrating their first birthday in style, Shark Island gifted themselves some new brewing equipment with their well-earned funds.
“There’s a four hectolitre brewhouse arriving from China in the next eight weeks,” says Shark Island travelling salesman Johnny, “although big batches will continue to be brewed at Illawarra.” Together, the two breweries have launched a new collaboration series – Southern Brewers – with a new beer release every two months. The first of these was intended to be a triple IPA, however it fell a bit short of its intended mark. Instead, the beer became a double IPA, aptly named “We Lost An Eye.”
Although their focus will largely remain within the Sutherland Shire, Shark Island are also tapping in to the Inner West market. They’ve secured a permanent position at the Botany View Hotel, as well as appearing at the Union Hotel, Uncle Hops and The Royal Albert Hotel.
However, for an unforgettable experience, we recommend joining the camaraderie at the cellar door in Kirrawee. There’s the opportunity to meet the brewers, taste the beers how they’re meant to taste and enjoy them in the environment they’re meant to be enjoyed.
Shark Island’s cellar door is located at Unit 8, 29-33 Waratah St, Kirawee, open Wednesday through Saturday. Check the Shark Island Facebook page for opening hours and special events.