Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Perth & WA Beer and Brewing Updates

Well, where do I start, it's been a while since i've given a general update on what's happening in and around Perth, so with WA Beer Week coming up next month, what better time. Palmyra brewer Gage Roads, who recently ended their Australia wide distribution deal with VOK, are set to welcome supermarket giant Woolworths into their business. Subject to terms and shareholder approval in late June, Woolworths will acquire a 25% stake in the brewing business that started up in 2005, through a subscription agreement of upto $1.9million. Gage Roads have been trying on all angles to build sales and brand presence with a core range (Lager, IPA, Pils) being recently supplemented by low carb 'Kutt'; premium Ale 'Wahoo'; a cider 'Blue Angel' and seasonal beers such as 'London Best'. But they just don't quite seem to be hitting the mark. The beers are fine, at times really good, but taps on bars arent as widespread as perhaps they could be (especially in the brewers home town), and pricing in bottleshops is at a premium. For consumers in WA it is sometimes hard to figure why an imported carton of a respectable international brand can be purchased cheaper than something brewed 2 kms away.
Well that could be set to change too. As part of the deal, Woolworths will undertake to purchase 350,000 cases of 'own label' beer annually. It seems that the recent rise of 'own label' supermarket brands isnt just restricted to beans and tomato sauce, so expect to see a six pack of 'Woolies Wheat Beer' on the shelf of your local BWS or Dan Murphy's in the not too distant future.
Salt on the Beach, formerly known as the Oyster Bar, down at Port Beach in North Freo now have a 'nano' brewery up and running in the courtyard. Black Salt Brewery, intend to have upto four in house brews available at any one time. I managed to get down there yesterday arvo, unfortunately the only in house brew available was the Kolsch, supplemented by James Squire Golden. Must have been a busy weekend. The Kolsch was enjoyable, but to my mind, an overly bitter finish for the style - even quite spicy, but not at all unpleasant for a huge hop head. I look forward to heading there in the future to have a wider sample of the range. Out in the Swan Valley, Mash are currently serving a Jailhouse Chilli alongside a new seasonal 'Chocolate Ale' as their beer and food match for May. Adding to the seasonal selection is the 'Celebration Ale' a spiced golden ale, brewed in celebration of a new arrival for one of the brewing team. All conquering Feral are serving up a real gem with their 11.5% Russian Imperial Stout, aptly monikered 'Boris' and the AIBA 2009 Champion Ale, Hop Hog, once again proved to be a firm favourite with the punters on a recent beer tour. As too was the days closing beer, Ironbark's 'Debilitator' - now available to take away in 500ml bottles. In the south west Cowaramup Brewing are getting set to hold their 3rd annual beer dinner on Saturday 20th June. Jeremy Good will be assisted by Feral's Brendan Varis and master brewer Hugh Dunn, who will entertain and inform on beers matched to a sumptuous 3 course menu. Tickets are very limited, costing $90pp and include your drinks for the evening - give them a call on 08 9755 5822 to book. A little further down the road, Margaret River's Bootleg Brewery are giving everyone good reason to drop in during the upcoming long weekend with a new winter menu and at least one new seasonal brew set to be pouring. A 5.8% Double West-Indian Pale Ale, known as Epic Ale brewed with Australian Galaxy hops. You may also be able to grab a taste of 'The Grandfather Part II', which they state is "going to be bigger and better" than the original incarnation from a couple of years back. "Fermented in cabernet barrels from Moss Brothers Winery, the beer will be dry-hopped with freshly picked New Zealand Hop flowers. The Grandfather Part II will, once again, be higher than 9%." Back in Perth, I'm still none the wiser on the rumoured location of a James Squire Brewhouse - Shafto Lane is still out there, and the location would be good for the suits and for those wishing to crawl around from the Belgian Beer Cafe. 8th June sees the national launch of seasonal ale, Hop Thief - now in its third year.
Tony Jones, Chief Brewer reveals: “The hops we are using to create the latest version of Hop Thief are a combination of the well established Australian variety Pride of Ringwood, which is known primarily as a bittering hop, and the locally-bred aroma variety known as Southern Hallertau.
“We have used hop flowers secured fresh from the 2009 Tasmanian harvest rather than using the commonly available pellet form and add them late in the fermentation process so we capture the floral flavours otherwise lost during boiling.”
Jones explains the fermentation process: “Instead of using a hop back which runs hot wort over the hop flowers, the team at the Malt Shovel Brewery will be using an original process to infuse the hops by circulating beer late in the fermentation, over the hops and back into the vessel. The piece of equipment they will be using to carry out the process has been affectionately dubbed the ‘Hopperator’”.
James Squire’s Hop Thief Ale is best enjoyed with spicy and flavoursome meat dishes or strong cheeses to balance out the bitterness of the beer – making it perfect for savouring on a cold winter’s night.

The beer will be available at a rrp of $57.99 per carton & $18.99 per 6 pack .

Further afield, Little Creatures Victorian cousin, White Rabbit, Healesville has now opened its doors and should now be well on their way to trial brew #4. West Aussie Head Brewer, Dean Mcleod (formerly Colonial Brewing & Little Creatures) is working with open fermenters in the brewhouse, english ale yeast strains and all australian hops in a quest to perfect a 5.2%abv "nut brown dark ale" where "the beer delivers mouth filling malt characters, lively fruit driven complexity, a reassuring bitterness, all of which congregates into a delightful balance of flavour". Expect to see it as a guest beer at either Fremantle or Melbourne venues soon - likewise beers from Byron Bay's relatively new brewer Stone & Wood (part owned by former Matilda Bay brewer, Brad Rogers) may make an appearance, as Little World Beverages, parent company to Little Creatures, recently acquired a 20% stake in the new venture. Tasmania's Moorilla Brewery are due to launch their 2009 Imperial Stout, with a limited availability of just 1515 bottles. The 330ml bottles are $25 each or $600 for the 24pk - so I might have to give this one a miss!!
In the Hunter Valley, NSW, Bluetongue Brewery have announced the construction of a new $120 million brewery, with building to begin next month - hoping to be done and dusted by March 2010. Bluetongue (who only started in 2003) are of course now owned by Coca Cola Amital, who are causing further speculation on greater consolidation in the industry by being linked to a possible merger with #1 brewer, Fosters. CCA who distribute the SABMiller portfolio in Australia (Castle, MGD, Pilsner Urquell etc) were mooted to be a takeover target for #2 brewer, Lion Nathan not too long back - before they themselves were approached for a buyout from Japan's Kirin Holdings. That looks set to be finalised soon. The other twist in the plot is that Kirin's main rival back home, Asahi, last month completed the purchase of Schweppes Australia from Cadbury (after CCA declined the option) - don't be surprised if we see them take a dip into the Aussie beer market sooner rather than later.

WA Beer Week 2009 : List of events later this week and keep an eye out for our beer recipe a day throughout the celebration of Western Australian brewing, June 6th-14th.

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