It wasn’t too long ago that the Margaret River region was only known for wine and surfing. Go back 18 years and among the scores of winery cellar doors, Bootleg was the only full-mash brewery, and is the only brewery that survives to this day.
Fast forward another ten years and, while the beer scene had improved with the opening of the Wicked Ale (now Bush Shack) and Colonial breweries, no one would have suggested that the region was ready for its own beer festival.
Now it is 2012. Australia is in the middle of a craft brewing revolution and the south west has not been left behind. There are currently nine breweries operating in the Margaret Rive region (Cheeky Monkey will be the tenth) and nearly as many again in surrounding areas. Therefore, it was no great surprise when late last year, the inaugural South West Craft Beer Festival was announced.
While it was a surprise to discover that the festival would be held at a winery, it takes a lot of great beer to make good wine and the 3 Oceans Palandri Estate in Metricup makes for a perfect neutral venue for the region’s breweries to come together. Venue manager, Craig Cumming was thrilled to host the beer festival in its debut year.
“We’ve been committed to serving WA craft beer at our venue for a number of years now and we’re relishing the opportunity to be part of what will undoubtedly become a showcase annual event,” he said.
The South West Craft Beer Festival was held over the weekend of February 25th-26th. Over the two days, more than 2000 happy punters passed through the entry arch and into the festival grounds. Breweries in attendance were Bootleg, Brew 42, Bush Shack, Cape Bouvard, Colonial, Cowaramup, Duckstein, Eagle Bay, Margaret River Ale Co., Moody Cow, Occy’s and Old Coast Road. Also present – and very popular judging by the crowd at the front of their stall – was Donnybrook’s Real River Company, with their Custard Scrumpy and sparkling cider.
Festival goers were entertained with live music played throughout the weekend, including performances from Triple J unearthed winners, Split Seconds and local favourite, Cowtown. Several brewers also took the stage for interviews and a chance to speak to the crowd about their products.
The Saturday session was strictly 18-plus and attracted a boisterous yet well-behaved crowd. Despite some inclement weather, numbers never seemed to diminish, with most braving it and a few clever punters disappearing from view to enjoy their beers underneath the Oktoberfest-style tables. If anything, the occasional shower only added to the atmosphere, which reached its liveliest near closing time as the crowd jigged to Cowtown and howled at a couple of revellers who unwisely decided to try break dancing on the wet grass!
Sunday was very much a family day, which made for an entirely different, yet equally fun vibe. Many children could be seen running around in the sun, eating ice creams and enjoying the music while parents responsibly sampled the region’s finest brews.
In the only (literally) sour note of the weekend, I was disappointed to find a number of clearly flawed and/or infected beers. I realise that many breweries cannot afford to dump an entire batch of bad beer, but to serve it on the biggest stage of the year is surely a poor decision. Bad beer is bad for business – just one negative experience can be enough to cause a new drinker to swear off a brewery for good.
Thankfully, the quality brews outnumbered the questionable. The ever-reliable Colonial Brewing Company delivered the goods with their classy German style ales; Kolsch and Pale Ale (which is actually a malty, peppery Altbier in the Dusseldorf style). Cowaramup’s Jeremy Good was pouring his award-winning Pilsener, which never fails to delight with its noble hop aroma, assertive bitterness and elegant dry finish. When the sky turned grey and the breeze chill, it was time for a Raging Bull from Bootleg Brewery. At 7.1% this is a strong, dark beer that everyone can enjoy, with its caramel and chocolate notes and warming alcohol. Equally impressive was the sweet, rich and spicy St Nick’s Christmas Ale from Bush Shack Brewery.
One of the biggest surprises and my personal ‘beer-of-the-event’ was the unfiltered and dry-hopped Wolf Pale Ale – a seasonal release from Duckstein Brewery. Pouring a cloudy amber-orange, the Wolf delights with its pungent hop-driven aroma of tropical and citrus fruits and a moderate bitterness that suggests of great sessionability. Other highlights included the crisp Kolsch from Eagle Bay Brewing Co., a velvety Stout from Occy’s and a hoppy American Pale Ale from newcomers, Margaret River Ale Co., whose beer is available exclusively at Settler’s Tavern.
Anyone who has been to the Munich Oktoberfest knows that a truly great beer festival must also have great food and the more hearty and substantial, the better! Thankfully, punters were spoiled for choice, with food vendors selling dishes that ranged from rich Wagyu beef burgers to aromatic and slightly smoky Paella.
Before returning to Perth, I had the opportunity to speak with Chloe Krushka from event organizers, Buzz Marketing. When asked of the likelihood of another festival, Chloe responded enthusiastically.
“Yes, you will definitely see the South West Craft Beer Festival back again in 2013. All the brewers, along with event management are excited to make it bigger and better than ever.”