Western Australia Brew Tour

Famous names flash past - Evans & Tate, Vasse Felix, Amberley Estate - whetting our appetites for the cellar-door experience to come.

Famous names flash past - Evans & Tate, Vasse Felix, Amberley Estate - whetting our appetites for the cellar-door experience to come.

Finally, we turn into the long driveway that will deliver us to our taste adventure. We’re greeted by the artisan, who has handcrafted these delights in one of Australia’s premier wine regions. As he pours, we begin tasting.

The first brew is rust-coloured and sits under a cover of perfectly formed foam. As I lift the glass to my mouth, I detect aromas of pine cones. Then the flavour hits - a perfect balance of biscuity malt and long, lingering bitterness. Now that’s what I call a beer.

Welcome to one of the newest stops on Western Australia’s gourmet food and wine trail - the craft brewery.

For years, holiday-makers in Australia have been spoiled by scenic wineries offering tours, tastings and restaurants. But thanks to the country’s ever-growing number of craft breweries, more are broadening their taste horizons and exploring the boutique beers now on offer. Taking their lead from wineries, brewmasters are offering experiences, rather than just beer. Australia-wide, the number of craft breweries has doubled in five years with many boasting fine restaurants and brews that are redefining the concept of beer.

WA is one of the prime players at the centre of this movement. Small breweries crafting flavoursome, quality beers are springing up along the wine trails of the Margaret River and Swan valleys - the latter only 25 minutes’ drive from Perth. Both regions offer terrific cellar door-style experiences for those who love beer (or need palate revivers post wine-tasting). Don’t expect blokey pub crawls here. Full-bodied beers, great food and spectacular environs are the order of the day for everyone.

Margaret River

The Margaret River region now boasts half a dozen craft breweries - and you’ll pass several more on the 275-kilometre drive south from Perth. Here are some of our standouts to drop into on the way down.

Old Coast Road Brewery

Halfway between Perth and the Margaret River region, you’ll reach the town of Myalup - population 140. Here, you’ll find the newest brewery in WA - the Old Coast Road Brewery. Opened in March this year, it represents a beer-change for pharmacist-turned-brewer Andrew Harris.

The brewery boasts an expansive lawn, a cafe, an olive grove and lakeside walkways, and is a great place to relax and sup a few quiet ones. You have the option of trying Andrew’s pilsener, wheat beer, bitter ale and a porter – a silver medal winner at this year’s Western Australian Beer Awards.

Bush Shack Brewery

This beer lovers’ haven certainly boasts some interesting brews. With no prior background in brewing, and not shackled by the need to be conventional, brewer Danial Wind creates truly distinctive drops. His Chocolate Beer tastes like liquid Chicos and his Chilli Beer will warm your belly.

The cheery welcome and unusual beers offered by Danial and his wife, Coralie, make this a worthwhile stop on the trail. The grounds include a grassed area with barbecues and picnic tables where you can enjoy an alfresco lunch, or choose from the light snack menu, featuring pies made with the brewery’s own stout.

Bootleg Brewery

This self-proclaimed ‘oasis of beer in a desert of wine’ opened in 1994, making Bootleg Brewery the most established of the Margaret River breweries. The brewery and restaurant are set on 30 hectares beside a lake, giving the beer garden an idyllic quality that’s perfect for savouring Bootleg’s multi-award-winning brews. From the lighter-flavoured Sou’West Wheat through to a hop-bittered, Czech-style Wils Pils and a 7.1 per cent dark ale with chocolate and caramel notes, called Raging Bull, there’s plenty here to please beer-lovers’ palates.

Colonial Brewing Co.

Australasian Champion Small Brewery at the 2006 and 2007 Australian International Beer Awards, Colonial offers a wide selection of beers including a German-style kolsch, a witbier and an India Pale Ale. Like most of the region’s breweries, Colonial offers taste paddles  110ml samples of its award-winning beers  to allow you to try its complete range and still walk a straight line.

The brewery’s restaurant offers tantalising dishes such as kolsch beer-battered fish and chips or the Colonial Ale mushroom tart, while kids can go wild in the largest playground in the South West.

Cowaramup Brewing Company

Another happy beer-changer, brewer Jeremy Good developed a fascination with home brewing after he moved to Australia from England as a 21-year-old, back in the early 1980s. While he worked in IT as a systems engineer, his dream to make a business out of his passion fermented (along with his home-brewed beers) for over a decade.

Finally, in December 2006, Jeremy and his wife, Claire, made that dream a reality. The resulting brewery, Cowaramup, produces a solid range of beers including a pilsener, Cowaramup Pale Ale (an English special bitter and Jeremy’s favourite) and an India Pale Ale. Try Cowaramup’s $25.50 taste flight – a tasting plate matching five beers to a selection of tapas. Sample spicy chorizo, olives and romesco (a roast capsicum dip), matched with the brewery’s pilsener, or lightly spiced goat’s cheese, matched with its hefeweizen.

Swan Valley

An easy 25-minute drive north-east of Perth lies the Swan Valley - WA’s oldest wine-growing region. These days, it might be the Margaret River region that’s better known for wine, but the Swan Valley is home to more than 40 wineries, including Sandalford and Houghton. But that’s not stopping craft breweries from emerging and some of these hop-happy new arrivals even threaten to outshine their wine-focused neighbours.

Feral Brewery

He might have called his brewery Feral, but brewer Brendan Varis’ beers are anything but. Brendan’s Feral White, for which he is best known, is a Belgian witbier that’s available Australia-wide. Others include Pale Ale and Rust - a strong Belgian Abbey-style ale. Brendan also offers a limited-edition beer he calls his ‘Brewers Handle’, which he changes every two months. It takes many forms, including a twist on his classic White that sees him up the alcohol content to seven per cent and add cardamom pods to the traditional orange peel and coriander.

For another intriguing brew, Brendan blended one of his beers with juice from the Malbec grapes that grow in the fields around the pub. The resulting hybrid, called Hogwash, is surprisingly good.

Mash Brewing

Award-winning Mash Brewing only opened in 2006 but offers up to eight naturally brewed and easy-drinking beers. There’s a brasserie on-site that serves great food, made with locally sourced ingredients. Brewer Dan Turley serves up everything from a light, Mexican-style lager, known as Mex, through to the aptly-named Black, a dark lager with delectable coffee and chocolate notes. Black won its class at this year’s Australian International Beer Awards.

You can also sample Mash’s Swan Valley-brewed beers in Bunbury, on the road south from Perth to Margaret River, at the newly opened brew-brasserie. Here, they also brew and serve a couple of small-batch beers, including the Bunbury Blonde - a fruity easy-drinking ale.

Beer Style Guide

If your previous experience of beer consists of swilling commercially brewed lager, the range of styles and flavours offered by boutique breweries can be overwhelming. When trying new styles, put your taste expectations aside, sit back and savour the new flavours. Some styles you might encounter on your travels include:

Porter
A dark, almost black ale with hints of coffee and chocolate derived from the roasted malts used in the brewing.

Pilsner/Pilsener
Thanks to the malting techniques used in the days before the Industrial Revolution, all beers were dark. Then, in 1842, a brewery in Pilsen, Bohemia, within the Czech Republic, found a way to make beers that were golden and clear. The light lagers we know today trace their ancestry to this beer, but the true style has a floral, hop aroma.

Wheat beer/Weizen beers
These traditional German-style brews, made from at least 50 per cent wheat, have a tangy taste. They can be served unfiltered and cloudy, with yeast (hefeweizen), or filtered and clear (kristallweizen).

Belgian Witbier
Belgian white beer (witbier) is a wheat beer made with additional spices, such as bitter orange peel and coriander seed, to turn the tartness up a notch.

Pale Ale
Pale ale can take many forms, but craft breweries tend to be influenced by English pale ale or American styles. English pale ales have a malt profile, with caramelised and biscuity flavours, while American pale ales are far more aromatic, with citrus and pine notes.

India Pale Ale
Originally brewed in England in the 18th century for shipping to troops in India, this stronger beer ups the hops to produce an unmistakable flavour experience.

Words by Matt Kirkegaard - Published in Voyeur October 2008
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