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How Yulli's Came to Brew Their Own Craft Beer

The Surry Hills restaurant is a dream for vegetarian beer lovers.
By Marissa Ciampi
April 26, 2016
By Marissa Ciampi
April 26, 2016

Yulli's is a legend in Sydney's vego scene; the Surry Hills restaurant's inventive dishes make it a spot that's frequented by vegetarians and carnivores alike. But meat-free food isn't the only thing on the menu at this beloved Crown Street staple, which actually has roots as a craft beer bar.

When owner Karl Cooney first opened Yulli's back in 2008, he sought to make it into a craft beer pub, however the vegetarian food, being as popular as it was, quickly took centre stage. But when Head Brewer James Harvey came on board six years ago, he started slowly turning the focus back onto craft — much to Cooney's delight. He started brewing with the The Grifter guys and creating his own beers for the restaurant. "I went to every one of their brew days for about a year, was home brewing a lot and learning intensely," says Harvey.

When the restaurant's flagship brew Norman Australian Ale won first prize in the The Vic's 2014 Home Brew Competition, Yulli's Brews was born. Harvey has since contract brewed at big names like Young Henrys, Happy Goblin, HopDog, Australian Brewery  and Wayward Brewing Co.

The new brand came with little fanfare — and even now, two years later, many patrons are still unaware that the beers they're sipping are the restaurant's own brews. "We're still defining who we want to be as a craft beer business," says Cooney. "What we do want is to make the best possible beer without taking ourselves too seriously."

The beers themselves pack big personalities without the pretension, and each one comes with a cheeky poem and a goofy cartoon to describe who — rather than what — it is.  The flagship Norm is in good company with a core range including the malty Bruce Malone English IPA, the hoppy Slick Rick's Rampaging red ale, the creamy Fat Nerd vanilla porter and the crisp Seabass Mediterranean lager.

Harvey still runs test batches for any new brews from home before taking it in for contract brewing. His most impressive experimental beer is hands-down the Sheila Von Trapp lemon myrtle witbier. The Belgian-style beer has notes of coriander, cloves and star anise, with lemon myrtle both on the nose and palate; it's an intricate but accessible beer that well defines Harvey's brewing style.

Yulli's Brews hopes to get their own brewery open sometime next year — but for now, apart from at Yulli's, you can get their beers in bottleshops and pubs across Sydney, including the The Paddo and Lord Dudley to name a few.

Images: Hannah Scott-Stevenson.

Published on April 26, 2016 by Marissa Ciampi
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