While doing some research, I was surprised to discover that 2013 was the 12th consecutive year that WA Beer Week had been held. Despite the strong brewing history and quality of product that keeps WA in the conversation for the title of Australian beer capital, until recently, WA Beer Week has been something of a non-event.
Breweries and beer venues held a few separate events but the week always lacked a showcase event that put everyone together at the same time and place. The Sail & Anchor pub held ‘Beer Royale’ events for a couple of years which, while being well received, ultimately lacked the floor space needed to showcase WA craft beer on the scale it deserved.
For Beer Week 2011, the first real attempt was made at putting together a proper, all-encompassing craft beer festival. The WA Craft Beer Showcase was held at the Urban Orchard in the Perth CBD, and organised primarily by Steve Brockman, the then co-head brewer at The Monk. Taking on the running of a festival in addition to his brewing responsibilities was a monumental effort, for which Steve deserves much credit. However, despite great beer, warm weather, an idyllic location and advertisement on commercial radio, the public response to the event was underwhelming, with just over 1000 people attending across the two days.
2012 was the biggest Beer Week to date with more events than ever before, but disappointingly, once again, there was no flagship event.
This year, the Western Australian Brewers Association (WABA) decided that holding a beer festival during WA Beer Week should be a priority and, finally, they have delivered the goods.
The inaugural Fremantle BeerFest was held on the Fremantle Esplanade on the first weekend of WA Beer Week and was attended by approximately 8000. Never before has WA craft beer been presented to the masses on such a scale – it was wonderful to see.
The success of outdoor festivals hinge on weather and thankfully the Freo Beerfest was blessed with two picture-perfect days. The Esplanade’s huge trees – Norfolk Island Pines – provided plenty of shade and when it threatened to get a little too warm for comfort; the Freo Doctor (the afternoon sea breeze) cooled everyone down. With the Skyview Ferris Wheel and the iconic Little Creatures Brewery in the backdrop, it was hard to think of a better location to hold a beer festival.
With more than 50 stalls and 200 craft beers and ciders, it was possible to spend all day at the festival and still not visit every brewery. Thankfully, weekend passes were available and well priced at $35 (compared to $25 for a single day entry). Most of Perth and Fremantle’s breweries were there as well as several from the Margaret River region as some from interstate.
Non-beer drinkers weren’t forgotten with other drinking options coming from Geographe Distillery (who produce South Cider), Kimberley Rum Company and Mandoon Estate Winery. Matt Allan from The Brewers Dray was giving out samples of his beer preserves and soaps, while Gerard ‘Mitch’ Mitchell was selling his Beersine products, which include beer cheeses, hop honey, hop olive oil and beer cured meats.
Brewers like to show-off when WA Beer Week comes around, ensuring they have something new and interesting for punters to try. This year was no different, wandering from stall to stall I constantly found myself trying beers I hadn’t had before. Some of the beery highlights included Feral’s Slyfox Summer Ale (perfect for the warm weather), Bootleg Brewery Speakeasy IPA, Nail Imperial Dunn Brown (accurately described by the brewers as liquid biscuits), Bush Shack Brewery’s Chocolate Beer (recently awarded a gold medal and a trophy at the Perth Royal Beer Show), Cheeky Monkey’s latest single batch – a cracking Double IPA, Colonial’s new Project beer (a hopped-up Kolsch called Oskar) and the Eagle Bay/Mane Liquor collaboration brew, ‘Saisonnay’ (a table-strength Saison aged in an unwashed Chardonnay barrel).
The quality and variety of food offered at festivals these days seems to be improving and thankfully, the Freo Beerfest was no exception. Festival goers could choose between fish ‘n’ chips from long-time craft beer supporters Clancy’s Fish Pub, Flying Fish Seafood, Guinness Lamb Shanks, Takoyaki Japanese Pastries and much more. A few breweries served up food as well as beer, with Colonial dishing out fresh oysters with their Kolsch and The Monk cooking up big batches of their superb Paella.
One of the best places to be was the Cryer Malt marquee, which held free master classes on both days of the festival. Beer writer, Pia Poynton, worked with Eagle Bay to host a beer and cheese tasting session while WA’s only certified Ciccerone, Brian Fitzgerald, paired beer with chocolate and Beersine’s Gerard Mitchell talked with punters about cooking with beer. There were also sessions on home brewing, beer ingredients and judging beer in competitions, all run by experienced and knowledgeable beer industry members.
Throughout the weekend there were live music performances on stage, including headline acts The Pigs and The Beards, the latter fitting in well with the copious hirsute beer geeks in attendance. The turnout also included several young families, with children well catered for at the Kids Corner which had a variety of fun focused stalls. It really was a well-run festival.
Given the success of the first Fremantle Beerfest, it’s good to hear that the event’s organisers are currently in the process of securing a three year partnership with the City of Fremantle to make it an iconic event for Fremantle and the WA craft beer industry.
Author Jeremy Sambrooks is too modest to mention that as part of Fremantle BeerFest, the Sail & Anchor Hotel held a Battle of the Brew competition. All beers entered had to be American IPAs and his winning beer, Rapid Fire IPA, will now be brewed at Gage Roads in late January. It will be on tap at Sail & Anchor and bottled, branded and sold at selected BWS stores. Congratulations Jeremy!