North West Brewing Co is set to launch in Karratha in the Pilbara before the end of the year, and the founders hope it will help activate a ‘beer trail’ down the west coast.
The 300-capacity shed-style venue is located in Karratha, an isolated town just off the North West Coastal Highway.
Planning and approvals have been secured, and the brewery is set to open before Christmas once full liquor licences have been agreed – it’s the locals that North West co-founder Daniel Scott will have to convince.
“I think Karatha as a demographic might not be ready for craft beer, we’ll have to tailor our beers to not be too ‘crafty’ to begin with,” he admitted, saying they had a “build it and they will come” mentality.
“Everyone drinks Great Northern up here so it will be interesting! We’ll start with lagers, pale ales and a kolsch. The fanciest beers I’ll brew to develop palates are amber ales or IPAs.
“People will have samples and they’ll notice is how fresh it is – no matter if it’s a similar style [to the mainstream beers].”
Scott said that freshness would be the differentiating factor for North West, that having a brewery on the doorstep means the beer that ‘Karrathians’ drink will not have to be shipped across the Nullarbor and up.
“It’s going to be difficult though, I’ve had a lot of guys drop in and they ask what sort of beer we’ll do. I say ‘what do you want?’ You can create a niche in Perth or somewhere like that, but I want to brew beer for the market.
“Over time, we’ll start introducing seasonal beers and the expectation is that customers will try something different.”
The beginnings of North West Brewing are much like those of other breweries.
A Coca-Cola Amatil distributor for Neverfail Springwater, Scott knows the drinks trade, whilst his business partner Jack Heales owns a rigging, construction support and maintenance business in Karratha.
Over two years ago, when Heales started homebrewing after buying some equipment from a Facebook post, Scott and Heales teamed up and the seeds of North West Brewing Co were planted.
“We started brewing some beer and after many a session when the beer actually tasted good, we realised we wanted to do this for a living and setting up a brewery seemed like a great idea.”
Once the idea occurred, it was full steam ahead for the North West team.
Like another WA brewery, Exmouth-based Whalebone Brewing Co, the brewery received a grant as part of WA’s regional development fund, receiving $185,000 towards the construction of their microbrewery.
Regional development minister Alannah MacTiernan (pictured below with the North West team) said that the Pilbara was in a “unique position” to diversify economically and develop into a recognised tourism destination in WA.
“The RED Grants provide the opportunity to focus on community-led projects which will boost our regional economy, create jobs and add vibrancy to towns,” she said in a media release upon the allocation of the grants earlier this year.
“We’ve got a fairly large shed but we’ve only got a small space because I wanted to have the brewery on show,” Scott explained.
“We did a lot of research into different brewing equipment suppliers, and the majority we found were in Canada or America, but regardless of where they were designed they were all manufactured in China. That’s why we decided to go with Spark.”
The North West team took the leap and invested in a 10hL system, instead of a 5hL.
“The more we thought about it and the more market research we did, we realised it wasn’t going to be big enough – the K10 system is more suitable to purchase now. That’s so we don’t have to replace the brewhouse for a number of years.”
The kit they have invested in should last then five to seven years, futureproofing the brewery, said Scott.
“I thought so far ahead it scared my business partner! I want to get into Asia eventually, and where we are in Karratha, we’re in a better position than most places to get access to Asian markets. Shipping container runs to Singapore for example take 30 days from Melbourne or Perth, but only a week from here.”
Scott’s position on the Karratha council, and his background in drinks distribution, means he’s uniquely well-placed to understand the specific issues of the town.
“We’ve been working with state and local government to try and get our port expanded, because there’s a lot of potential for a general port which will bring the cost of trade here down,” he explained.
Karrutha and beer tourism
As one of Australia’s most remote breweries, North West will get its trade from the local population of under 20,000 people, as well as visitors in the form of tourists and those from the mining and shipping industries which are prevalent in the Pilbara.
“We’re fairly isolated up here and you need a variety of things to do. It’s a very young town. We’re one of the ‘youngest’ places in Australia with a median age around 32.”
“So we thought it was about time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Port Headland [240 kilometres up the road] got a brewery – then you’d get a trail coming up from Perth,” said Scott.
With the likes of Matso’s in Broome to the north, Whalebone and Froth in Exmouth to the south, down to Perth and through to places like Shelter Brewing Co in Busselton, there could be a trail of breweries developing to attract tourists, he said.
This is what encouraged the state government enough to back the business, and also the local council to agree to North West’s development application.
“It’s a tough industry and we’re first in the market up here. We had to go through the planning team and come up with ideas for the scheme to get it zoned correctly because they didn’t know how to deal with a brewery, they’ve never had one before.”
But he said the support they’d received at a local level had been helpful in getting the brewery across the line.
“There’s a push for growth, and any new business that comes into the town will be a benefit to the community so they’re 100 per cent behind it – somewhere else in the country might not be as forthcoming.”
North West Brewing will give tourists a reason to get off the highway and visit Karratha, Scott said, as well as providing a place for locals where they can get beer in their own town.
“I’m biased but it’s the best coastline in the world. We’ve got some beautiful spots along the way and there’s a lot of potential for the brewery.”
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.