The Margaret River region in Western Australia’s south west is home to hundreds of wine producers, stomping out world class vinos and attracting both local and international visitors. But behind the grape vines beer lovers know they will find more than ten craft breweries and many bars and pubs who are proud to be craft beer friendly.
There was plenty of evidence of this growing beer invasion at the inaugural Margaret River Gourmet Escape last weekend, an “extraordinary festival of food and wine” where the category of “beer” seemingly missed the marketing description. The Gourmet Escape was held over three days across a dozen locations with the heart of the action at the Gourmet Village, hosted by Leeuwin Estate Winery. More than half a dozen breweries slipped into the line-up of celebrity chefs, wineries, restaurants and local produce stalls.
Large wine glasses were on sale at a stall just inside the entrance where I happily handed over five dollars so I’d have a good glass instead of a plastic cup to drink my beers from. Looking around it was a mix of demographics, DINKs, CUBs, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y – they’d all turned out for one of the areas most anticipated events.
Little Creatures Brewing had secured themselves prime positioning, being one of the first and largest tents that punters encountered. The space had been decked out in a combination of funky beanbags, chairs and redesigned pallets painted with the trademark cherub. The Creatures team served up bottles of their core range of beers and Pipsqueak Cider though, assuming there’s any left, it would have been nice to see some of their Single Batch limited release beers available.
Further, in amongst the 120 stalls, you never had to go more than a dozen steps before finding beer. The Eagle Bay Brewing stall had head brewer and co-owner Nick d’Espeissis pouring his Pale Ale and Kolsch with some of their newly bottled 6 packs of Kolsch available for take-away purchase.
The Bootleg Brewery stall was manned by assistant brewer Ryan Nilsson-Linne and bartender Jamie who were later joined by head brewer Michael Brookes, fresh from a gruelling overnight mountain bike competition. The guys had brought along Wils Pils, the most popular beer in their range, Sou’West Wheat and the dark, bitter and delicious Raging Bull.
Duckstein Brewery, sharing a stall with their sister winery Saracen Estate, offered their regular favourite, the Duckstein Pale Ale, and their Maibock seasonal release. The gorgeous bright Maibock with well balanced alcohol sweetness and a bitter peppery finish is currently available from Duckstein Brewery in Margaret River until the tanks run dry. Dabbling in a little beer and food pairing, Duckstein offered their Pale Ale with salmon served on potato and parsnip tosti with beetroot carpaccio and blue cheese.
Cheeky Monkey Brewery and Cidery’s head brewer, Jared Proudfoot, took the weekend out of his brewing schedule to be on hand at the stall. Showcasing the Traveling Monk Red Ale and Hagenbeck Belgian IPA on tap, their newly bottled range of beers were also available to take home and enjoy. Jared, with beer in hand, chatted about their recent win at the AHA-Aon Hotel and Hospitality Awards for Excellence where, together with Colonial Brewing, they took out the award for best boutique brewery in Western Australia. “It was a bit weird putting on a suit,” Jared said but thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was delighted with the win.
In addition to the line-up of local breweries Broome’s own Matso’s Brewery and, from even further afield, Trumer Pils, both had stalls at the festival, further cementing the beery footprint on Margaret River’s largest food and wine festival.
Speaking of food, there wasn’t any sight of your expected festival foods, no curry vans or kebabs here. Fifteen local restaurants offered a variety of beautiful dishes made from local produce, even the paper plates they were served on seemed a little bit fancier for having their food on them. St Margaret River Vineyard & Grass Fed Beef served up one of the highlights of the festival dining experiences with a palm sugar and soy seared beef filet on wild rocket salad. One happy customer claimed to have been back four times and Colonial Brewery’s assistant brewer, Sorcha Gillen, named it as her favourite dish of the event.
The Gourmet Escape attracted a diverse crowd seeking good food, good booze and unique experiences offered across a variety of events. No wonder beer lovers, wine connoisseurs and foodies flocked in their thousands to attend. The major attraction of the weekend was the local and international line-up of celebrity chefs and themes ranged from their signature dishes to panel discussions and exclusive lunch and dinner events. Whilst food and wine matching made a bit of an appearance, perhaps next year as the craft beer market continues to grow, we’ll see beer and food pairing make its way into the arena. After all, with a strong emphasis on fresh local produce combined with the high calibre of the dishes on offer, matching them with craft beer would add another wonderful dimension to the existing food, wine and beer landscape of the south west.