Wild Hop is the name but wild yeast is the end game.
The latest addition to the brimming band of breweries in WA’s Margaret River region will debut this weekend at the South West Craft Beer Festival with a Czech Pilsener, a NEIPA, a pale ale and an American wheat.
But once owner Matt Scott-Malcolm gets settled into his new Yallingup brewhouse there will be plenty of Gose, Saison, Grisette and Berliner Weisse on tap at his 150-seat hospitality venue.
Wild Hop is the 14th brewery established in what has long been considered the State’s premier wine zone although that label is being challenged by a fast-growing set of beer and food producers.
While the Margaret River region officially stretches about 90km north-south by 30km west-east on the South West corner of WA, it has only 30,000 residents, making it one of the most densely populated zones for breweries per capita in the country.
The area lives off tourism, albeit a WA industry that has struggled greatly during the past three years.
To survive, the food and beverage facilities have had to find points of difference to attract crowds.
So Wild Hop has looked in its own backyard – and to a few kindred businesses down the road – to create its unique brewing identity.
“We have to find our own little niche. It is a crowded market down here but it isn’t like anyone is working against others,” Scott-Malcolm said.
“We could turn this area into a San Diego or Wellington of WA as we’re surrounded by vineyards, food, surf and awesome breweries. Everyone has had to step up and produce good clean beers and the region is benefitting from that approach.
He said his long-term plan is to concentrate on a barrel program.
“We really want to nut that out as our niche,” he said.
“The microbes flying around here with the vineyards on the edge of the property in harvest are just crazy.
“I haven’t had time to catch them now but in the next year we will be doing it for sure. Once we get our house yeast going the world is our oyster down here and we can do something a bit different from our brewing neighbours.”
Wild Hop sits on 50 acres on the edge of dense forest and Scott-Malcolm believes he can follow the lead of Melbourne’s La Sirene, which has developed an outstanding sour beer reputation by harnessing indigenous yeast from the adjacent Darebin Creek and National Park.
“If we could replicate something like La Sirene’s house cultures – or maybe like Jester King in the US – then that would be a dream,” he said.
Wild Hop’s production brewer, American Andrew Caldwell, shares the passion for sour beers and he and Scott-Malcolm have been feverishly seeking any documentation – and a few podcasts – on the respective styles to help in their future endeavours.
Nearby vineyards have also provided great resources for the brewery’s long-term plans.
“Our property is surrounded by wineries and they all have clean barrels with nice French oak,” Scott-Malcolm said.
“Our first ever batch was a Russian Imperial Stout because we wanted to max out the system and then we chucked it into cabernet barrels.
“We have put a Grisette into Rosè barrels and a Berliner Weisse into chardonnay barrels.
“We’ll be making a lot more use of what is around us in terms of local resources.”
In keeping with the theme of the business name, Wild Hop has been growing bines on the property and getting some solid returns of Chinook and Cascade.
However, although there are five acres set aside for the hops there won’t be enough to allow the brewery to be self-sufficient in lupulin.
As with the majority of breweries in the Margaret River region, water has to be sourced from within because of a lack of mains servicing.
“We want to brew 150,000 litres a year and that takes a lot of water,” Scott-Malcolm said. “We have one million litres in rainwater tanks and about 10 million litres in the dam.
“There is the option to truck in water but we don’t want to because the rainwater here has a pretty good profile.”
Scott-Malcolm was an industrial electrician when he and wife Ali, who had a background in business, bought the Yallingup property seven years ago with the help of her parents Noel and Jenny Roots. Matt and Ali were married on site in 2012.
After sitting on the undeveloped land for a couple of years, the Scott-Malcolms eventually decided they wanted to avoid lives as FIFO workers in mining industries and opted to get into brewing on the back of their passion for making beers at home.
Once the call was made to get into brewing a 12hL Premier kit was ordered from the US and Matt Scott-Malcolm, known as Chalky for his unfortunate knack of breaking a few bones during his sporting days, travelled the world to gain brewing knowledge.
He had stints with Garage Project in Wellington, Rocky Ridge at the nearby Jindong operation and made two visits to study brewing at the Seibel Institute of Technology. While at the Chicago facility he met Caldwell, a native of Tennessee with a brewing background, who caught the Wild Hop dream and headed to WA.
The Wild Hop team is working to have the hospitality centre ready for an official brewery launch later this month.
But Scott-Malcolm thought Saturday’s South West Craft Beer Festival in Busselton, which will showcase 20 breweries stretching from Mandurah to Denmark, was the perfect opportunity to announce the Wild Hop operation to the world.