It is pleasing to see another small brewery open in Western Australia, which otherwise has been notable for a lack of activity in that sphere during the past year or so. I am referring to the Bickley Valley Brewery, which got under way quietly during the latter half of 2013.
Bickley Valley Brewery is the creation of Bradley Harris, whose brewing career began fifteen years ago with, in his own words, ‘a trusty Cooper’s home brew kit, a complete lack of knowledge, and a thirst for real beer.’ Brad was not impressed with his first introduction to beer, which was via the mainstream route, but his epiphany came when a mountain-biking friend offered him a Cooper’s Pale Ale. He was hooked.
In those days, the relatively high price of Cooper’s ales and a scarcity of stockists in the West led Brad to start making his own, initially in his kitchen using pots and pans, and graduating after three or four years onto a 50-litre gravity-fed full-mash kit that he still uses for pilot and experimental batches. In those days he was guided through his many trials and tribulations by Roy Ladhams of TWOC Brewing Supplies in Perth.
Brad’s enthusiasm for brewing was further stimulated ten years ago when he met Jan Bruckner, then and still the brewer at the Last Drop Brewery at Bedfordale, on the southern outskirts of Perth. Jan became Brad’s ‘idol and mentor’, arousing his interest in larger-scale brewing and in the engineering aspects of the business.
When an opportunity arose in 2007 to become the head brewer at Elmar’s in the Valley, Brad jumped at it. He worked there for six years. Elmar’s, a microbrewery and restaurant at Henley Brook in the Swan Valley, had been opened in 2005 by Elmar and Annette Dieren, who were already established and well known around Perth as producers of German smallgoods.
Also in 2007, Brad dreamed up the idea of starting his own wholesale microbrewery when a friend offered him the use of space in a shed on his property in the Bickley Valley, on the eastern edge of the Perth metropolitan area. He gradually gathered together and constructed the required equipment, making good use of the skills developed by taking welding courses after high school. Brad was so confident in his ultimate success that he registered the business name Bickley Valley Brewery in 2007.
The resulting brewery, which Brad refers to as a Frankenstein brewery, consists mostly of used equipment. The various vessels and their related pipework were pieced together over several years at the family workshop in the Perth suburb of Welshpool. The need to do the work when time allowed (after work, and on weekends and holidays) and when funds became available, made it a ‘long hard road’. One of the few new pieces of equipment is a 400kg per hour malt roller mill, which was acquired only after the original used version proved to be too slow.
The brewery, which has a batch volume of 20 hectolitres, was constructed in such a way that it could eventually be transported in pieces to its ultimate home in the Bickley Valley, where it is now. The first batch of beer out of the brewery, a German-style kolsch, won a bronze medal (the highest award given for a kolsch) at the Perth Royal Beer Show in November 2013. The second beer is an American-style pale ale, generously hopped with Cascade hops. Also on the agenda, space permitting, are an English bitter and a German hefeweizen.
The emphasis at Bickley Valley is presently on 50-litre kegs, and there are no plans, due to space limitations, to bottle the beer. There is the possibility, however, that 5-litre party kegs might be produced in the future. Present outlets for the draught product are the Kalamunda Hotel, the Lesmurdie Club (Walliston), Clancy’s Fish Pub (Canning Bridge), Cellarbrations Carlisle, and the High Wycombe Tavern (near the Perth airport), with more in the pipeline.