A Fremantle Craft Beer Ramble

Fremantle! Fremantle! For me it’ll forever be the place to be if one has a pressing need to be anywhere near Perth. From childhood memories of the fun and chaos of Freo Market to teenage reminiscences of sipping proper espresso on escapes from boarding school through to more modern flashbacks of flash-visits enjoying great beer and food. Thinking of Fremantle will always make me happy and also a little homesick.

On previous trips home I have frequently enjoyed trips to the Little Creatures brewery, and I’ve popped into the Sail & Anchor and Monk a couple of times too. These three venues have for quite some time been it for good beer in the area I believe. This trip we’d given ourselves half an afternoon and a full evening to enjoy the full set – and thanks to Max Brearley we had two more destinations to add to our list: Clancy’s Fish Pub and the Norfolk Hotel. Making for a fully fledged “pub ramble” (as my local CAMRA branch calls them, to make what is really a “pub crawl” seem more responsible perhaps).

[Update 2014-02-03: Max Brearley is one of the folk behind a new “Freo Craft Beer” video on YouTube, it covers some of the bars on my pub ramble with the chap who started Feral brewery and “Taste Master” Rich Keam. Watch #FREOCRAFTBEER!]

View Fremantle Craft Beer Ramble in a larger map

We started at Clancy’s Fish Pub after dropping our hire car off at the nearby Europcar, but I’ve drawn the map above as a loop starting from the Fremantle train station. Otherwise it is drawn as our feet took us on the day… and what a day of beer it was! I’ll admit to having drunk a little too much by the time I got to the Norfolk Hotel so any attempt at detailed observation & photographic record was out the window – this is a bonus for the reader as I’m unable to report with my usual overt verbosity… you will notice I begin with plenty of photos and end with something more like a couple of fuzzy blurs. Read on for a slightly wobbly tour of Fremantle craft beer venues…

Clancy’s Fish Pub

Clancey's Fish Pub

Clancy’s Fish Pub

Last Drop, Pilsner

Last Drop, Pilsner

I’d spotted this place when picking up our hire car 10 days earlier, we walked past and I exclaimed “hah! Ecokeg stools!” I promptly forgot about it, but it was one of Max Brearley’s suggestions – so became our first stop. On entry, the bar at the right draws my eyes… to the fonts, up further to a massive blackboard littered with beery names and brands. Yup – it looks like we’re in the right sort of place. Fumbling over halves/middys/pints we order our first beers from the fonts closest to the front door – beers we haven’t tried before from a couple of recognisable Perth brewery names. Dollars exchanged for beer and heavy Aussie shrapnel, super cold pints in hand we wander off to find a table.

Beery blackboard @ Clancey's Fish Pub

Beery blackboard @ Clancy’s Fish Pub

OK – not a brilliant start to the day. We’d found a seat at the other side of the bar area and thus spotted more keg fonts sporting an even more crafty line-up of beers, looking good!

Guest taps @ Clancey's Fish Pub

Guest taps @ Clancy’s Fish Pub (note the ice layer forming on the fonts – cold!)

Large seafood platter @ Clancy's Fish Pub

Large seafood platter @ Clancy’s Fish Pub

We went on to try four more beers from this range, probably my second error of the day – too many beers too early. (My first error being to order the “large” seafood platter for lunch – I was told it was good for two, it was excellent but HUGE for two. Good for them as we probably had an extra round of beers as a result. All in all we did enjoy it though.)

Feral, White

Feral, White

Colin with Hughe Dunn Brown & Sly Fox

Colin with Hughe Dunn Brown & Sly Fox

Last Drop, Oktoberfest

Last Drop, Oktoberfest

Full of seafood and a little wobbly from beer already we left Clancy’s behind us and wandered the half mile to central Fremantle’s “cappuccino strip” and our next stop: The Monk Brewery & Kitchen.

Colin chillin'

Colin chillin’ at Clancy’s Fish Pub

As an aside the name of the pub reminds me of one of my favourite Australian poems “Clancy of the Overflow“, here’s the last stanza:

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal —
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of `The Overflow’.

- Banjo Patterson

The Monk Brewery & Kitchen

The Monk Brewery & Kitchen

The Monk Brewery & Kitchen

Monk Beer Menu

Monk Beer Menu

On reaching the top of the steps at Monk we were greeted by a smiling chap who explained that it’s a table-service venue but we don’t need to order food. The latter being a relief since we were still full-to-bursting with our Clancy’s seafood banquet. Although I’m not a great fan of table service when I just want a drink – looking around trying to get attention when you want your next beer… luckily this wasn’t much of a problem at Monk as they had sufficient & efficient staff doing the rounds.

Monk has an al-fresco-dining style of building design that is common back home. The whole front of the building opens out onto outdoor seating – sort of making it one giant deep verandah. The outdoor area makes heavy use of what looks like old pier poles and sleepers, wonderfully weathered and rough. A central bar and food prep area surrounds the shiny beauty of their microbrewery – within which we watched the brewer at work. A brew was in progress and we enjoyed the aroma of hoppy boiling wort whilst examining the beer selection.

In retrospect I note the “tasting tray” on the menu and had I been clear headed this is what I would have ordered, however we started out with a pint each. I chose the Pale ale, which seems to be the best yardstick by which to measure Aussie breweries. A pint… on the second pub in. We can see where this is going.

My description of the Pale there sounds pretty negative – but isn’t really meant to be. This is the brewery’s “basic” beer – it should be clean and easy drinking, which is what it is. It may have lacked a little in the flavour department thus my “uninspiring” – and at 5% I want a bit more bang for buck in the flavour department rather than something more akin to a good sub-4% English bitter. But this is Australia, not the UK, and things are different.

Fairly typical Australian good-beer prices - OUCH!

Fairly typical Australian good-beer prices – OUCH!

Next up our eyes were drawn to some more interesting beers… in my case the stronger IPA-style beer and in Kat’s a kimchi(!) saison.

So, yeah, Monk’s “The Chief” IPA is fantastic. The kimchi thing… bloody disgusting. In fairness to Monk they insisted Kat have a small sample first. Kat did, Kat decided to have a full middy despite me asking if she really wanted one. She couldn’t finish it – that’s not entirely Monk’s fault but I do feel slightly grumpy about paying AU$8.50 (£4.60) for a glass of this awful liquid! However, as I noted, I applaud the insanity & experimentation. There’s some background on the birth of this beastly creation on the Monk blog. (Amusingly I’ve just found out I vaguely inspired Hardknott Dave to put Szechuan pepper into a beer… fingers crossed it is much more successful an experiment!)

The Amuse-ing Monk KimChi Saison

The Amuse-ing Monk KimChi Saison

Monk's "The Chief" IPA

Monk’s “The Chief” IPA – beer of the trip perhaps?










Bacchus Brewing, Hibiscus Saison

Bacchus Brewing, Hibiscus Saison

At this point we really should have moved on, but in front of me I had a dilemma – a special guests beer menu from Queensland’s Bacchus Brewing with something really interesting on it: Hibiscus Saison. Oooeerr. I couldn’t help myself – I ordered a goblet. I didn’t regret it…

A most satisfactory place to finish up… but we had three more venues ahead. We not-quite-stumbled across the road.

The Sail & Anchor

Sail & Anchor's impressive draught beer list

Sail & Anchor’s impressive draught beer list

The Sail & Anchor looks and feels a lot like a “proper pub” in the British sense, albeit with a big double-story-verandah-ed Australian colonial styling. It’s grand architecturally – hugely high ceilings, big corridors, wide staircase to the first floor. I wish I had some photos… but we were in conserve-battery mode now as the phone was a bit poorly in the power department.

After being dazzled by the board displaying a huge list of draught beer and soaking in the scenery the first thing likely to stand out to the beer geek, especially a British one, is that the bar sports two very authentic looking hand-pumps. On reaching the bar this beer geek immediately had to quiz the barman about them. To my delight he was able to tell me exactly what was going on – they’re real functioning beer engines and are hooked up to kegs in their cellar which have very light CO2 top-pressure and things are set up for a serve temperature of 12C. OK, so it’s not “real ale” to the CAMRA pedant, but not far off cask with a breather. Here we have good unfiltered small-brewery craft beer being served in a very British way. Of course we had to try both the beers.

We supped our “ales” upstairs whilst pondering the potential for cask ale in Australia and leeching some electrons from a handy wall socket. This beer wasn’t “cask” per se, and I’m pretty sure it was actually a bit chillier than 12C. Still, it was a hot day and this non-freezing beer hit the spot and tasted excellent. Yet any time I suggest cask might work in Australia I’m met with “nah, too warm”. I remain unconvinced. On another front a pedant might mock this attempt at serving a keg beer “the wrong way” – in this case I have the impression that the Sail & Anchor folk know what they’re doing and select beers appropriate for what they’re doing.

McLaren Vale, VALE/EXP/004

McLaren Vale Beer Company, VALE/EXP/004

Mash, Challenger

Mash Brewing, Challenger British IPA

A feature I loved at the Sail & Anchor was that for every beer they had little printed slips with details and tasting notes.

Sadly with time pressing us on we had to make tracks after this brief encounter, I glanced wistfully at the huge beer list before popping out the door and a block down the street to the Norfolk Hotel.

The Norfolk Hotel

Moylan's IPA @ Norfolk Hotel

Moylan’s IPA @ Norfolk Hotel

By the time we reached the Norfolk Hotel Fremantle was heaving with pre-Christmas summer revellers and we had had quite a bit of beer ourselves. So our plan was a quick visit here and then to Little Creatures before jumping on a train to my sister’s side of Perth. The Norfolk Hotel has what I would call a confusion of bars – I hadn’t a clue where to go, the entire ground floor seemed to be bars! I hunted around and found something I liked the look of.

I enjoyed my beer, not realising until later when I looked back over my checkins that it wasn’t even an Australian brew! Oh well, Aussie purity of the evening broken – but with no regret as the beer was enjoyed. I was beyond the point of trying to describe the flavour usefully as you can see! Beer finished we rolled downhill to…

Little Creatures Brewery

A Western Australian brewing success, and the only West Aussie brewery who’s beer I can regularly find in the UK. Sadly almost every Little Creatures Pale Ale I’ve had in the UK is well past its best. On reaching Australia on this trip and having my first bottle of LCPA I promised myself to never bother buying it in the UK again… my opinion of the beer had been dulled by tired bottles, but my first sip and sniff of a fresh bottle back home undid all the damage done.

Little Creatures is now of course suspect in the eyes of some craft wankers… in 2012 the brewery was bought by Lion with is in turn owned by Kirin (which, amusingly, is in turn owned by Mitsubishi!) Putting them in the same bag as the US’s Goose Island and the UK’s Sharp’s. My opinion is: let the beer do the talking. And LCPA is still good… I hope this stays true, but if not: there’s plenty of competition out there in the Aussie beer scene these days.

I add the above as a bit of filler really, since by the time we got to Little Creatures we were a bit “beered out” and I didn’t really explore the beer range or take any useful photos. The venue is cavernous & industrial, brewing kit clearly visible – and they seem to have expanded to fill three buildings as shown in the Google streetview above. I don’t remember the place being so big! Anyway – I did enormously enjoy one final pint.

This is a recent addition to the Little Creatures line-up and one worthy of my expectations from the Little Creatures brand. My mildly intoxicated notes above are next to useless of course, here’s what I had to say the first time I tried it in bottled form: Aussie US IPA? It’s not bad, good balance of hop zest against the caramel, but more caramel than I like in a beer. “To style” I suppose. Typically critical of me. As US-style IPAs go this was an excellent beer, but to my palate best enjoyed on the cold side to suppress the caramel sweetness that I dislike – drink the beer at the temperature is was designed for!

A high note on which to end an evening of drinking – we made our way to Fremantle station and from there, eventually, our beds.

Little Creatures - packed outside!

Little Creatures – packed outside!

Wrapping Up

Fremantle – it actually manages to get better every time I visit. I can highly recommend retracing our steps to take in these five venues… you could start at luchtime at either end of the path as both Little Creatures and Clancy’s are good for food as well as beer. All five venues are highly worth visiting on their own really. Much like my Swan Valley Breweries trip, I wish I had time to give each destination the attention it is worthy of. I’m particularly dissatisfied with my visit to the Norfolk Hotel – as I’d never been there before and it begs more attention than I gave it. Next time I’m back’ome I think I’ll do my pub ramble again, but in reverse!

Thanks once again to Max for pointing us to Clancy’s Fish Pub and The Norfolk Hotel, as well as suggesting we look out for certain new beers whilst in WA. I think I managed to find them all! I owe him a pint next time I’m in Perth.

I should note that we were not as smashed as perhaps I make it sound in my words above – I’m just somewhat conservative about over-doing it (ah, the lessons of experience…) The list of beers may seem formidable, but there were two of us so most of them were shared. But by the time we left the last venue of our “ramble” it was slightly-wobbly-walking and beer-induced-sleepiness o’clock – we made our way back across Fremantle to the station, onto a train, and rendezvoused with my sister at her local station. I believe I had a beer when I got to her house. ;)

Update 2014-02-03: The #FREOCRAFTBEER video below was put up about a month after I did my ramble. In it “Taste Master” Rich Keam and Feral Brewery founder Brendan Varis visit nearly all the above pubs… but in the opposite order. :)

Swan Valley Breweries

My, what a shift – Saturday: hanging out under Perth’s washed-out-blue skies, walking through heat-shimmering orange-dusty car parks, enjoying almost-40°C (104°F) temperatures, and necking cold beers. Today: back in English winter. Not exactly freezing – but a chilly ~10°C (50°F), grey, damp.

Feral Brewery, Swan Valley, Perth, Western Australia

Summer – Feral Brewery, Swan Valley, Perth, Western Australia

Winter - Carpark, Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, England

Winter – Carpark, Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, England

Anyway – on said hot and sunny Saturday I took a beery flash-tour of the Swan Valley, Perth’s doorstep “Wine Region” – which, like my homeland Margaret River Wine Region, has developed a small co-industry of boutique drink-in breweries. In nearly 20 years growing up in Western Australia and then a subsequent 15 years visiting about once a year I have never actually set foot in the Swan Valley. I’ve avoided Perth and surrounds in general to be honest… I prefer it “down home”. However on this trip I decided to explore where beer was at around the capital city, and the Swan Valley is home to a small but varied brewing cluster. If you’re interested in a specific brewery I visited you can jump to: Ironbark Brewery, Elmar’s Brewery, or Feral Brewery – alas we were unable to visit Mash or Duckstein.

View Swan Valley Breweries in a larger map

Ironbark Brewery (sign with Colin)

Ironbark Brewery

Ironbark Brewery
Summary: OK beers, shambolic service

Ironbark is the closest Swan Valley brewery to Perth city – we arrived at the brewery just before midday and wandered into the bar. The place has a cluttered “Heath Robinson” feel, like I was trespassing on some Aussie tinkerers verandah. The midday heat was at its near-40°C full-force – the supposedly cooling mist-spray seemed to vapourise before it could reach you… a cold beer was in order!

Ironbark Brewery - Entrance

Ironbark Brewery entrance

The good news was that being midday it was before Saturday’s 1pm-4pm “beer tasters blackout” – presumably something done to avoid hassle when the place is heaving with tourist-bus crowds. However on asking for one I was initially refused “we don’t do beer tasters on Saturdays”. “But”, said I, “your sign clearly says from 1pm”. I’m met with some consternation – someone got it wrong I’m told. They reluctantly offer me a tasting platter, I accept and make my choices – it take a little time as there are no notes about the beers on offer. I say nothing about the fact that the 1pm being a mere typo is hard to believe given it is displayed in two locations in the bar, is on their website, and also printed on every copy of their menu – none of which seem super-recently printed. (AU$10 for 5x 80ml samples.)

Beer Board

Beer Board

We gathered our beers and retreated to a patio table (it’s all patio here). The good news: the beers were fine. Although not outstanding, I was happy enough drinking them and would certainly enjoy a glass or two more from the selection – my notes, written at time of tasting:

  • Country Wheat – 4.4% – “top fermented ale with estery flavours”
    (right) Loads of orange peel, very nice & refreshing though intense.
  • Aussie Pils – 4.4% – “brewed using Saaz hops”
    (2nd from right) Fruity & a little odd. But quite drinkable.
  • Blokes Brown – 5% – “brown ale”
    (middle) A bit TCPish – handful of smoked malt. Not easy going. Seaweedy.
  • Hannans – 5.5% – “typical Australian style lager”
    (2nd from left) Very light, herbal fruity, sort of fejoa-like. Peppery.
  • Munich Lager – 4.5% – “bottom fermented beer using Munich malt”
    (left) Clean and lightly caramel. Medicinal herby note to finish.
Ironbark Brewery - Beer Tasters

Ironbark Brewery – Beer Tasters

Ironbark Brewery - Beer Board

Beer (and “pear cider”) Board

In retrospect, thinking back to the fruity/estery type flavours, I’m left pondering the possibility of over-warm fermentation temperatures and what yeast(s) they’re using. Not critically mind you, more in the spirit of wanting to know more about things. The Hannans is the beer of the set that I most enjoyed, the Country Wheat just a bit too overdone in the orange-peel department, the Blokes Brown a bit too rough, and the other two exhibiting a little too much medicinal oddness. That said, I’d be happy enough drinking a middy of any of them – none were bad. (It really should be kept in mind that when I write my beer descriptions I’m looking at the edges: the “hints”, “zests”, and “notes” that make a beer different – often potential flaws – if I think a beer is bad or good I’ll say so, if I don’t say it is either then it is OK.)

Having enjoyed my tasting selection I returned to the bar to fill in a couple of gaps and to see if I could get a bottle of their stronger “IPA” to take away with me. For good reason the girl at the bar is reluctant: I’m not going straight home, the car is going to be a hot place to keep a beer, the beer will be unhappy (I’ve already mentioned the near-40°C heat). Good advice, sensible service. So I ask for a “middy” to enjoy now. I’m charged $7.50 – and note that their sign advertising the beer says it is $6.50. Another woman at the bar, the “1pm is midday” one from earlier chimes in with “that’s the bottle price”. Well, it says “middy” on the board against the price…. more bullshit service. I question how long they’ve been doing this beer thing… 17 years I’m told. Amazing that they’ve been in business that long and still can’t get their shit together on the service front. Anyway, I did enjoy my final two beers despite the hassle, finishing on the Warrior Ale IPA-type-thing-with-honey-in was certainly ending on a high-note:

  • Colin with Rousies & Warrior Ale (right)

    Colin with Rousies & Warrior Ale (right)

    Rousies – 4.4% – “German style lager”
    (left) Light malt blast, Kat says “Green King Twang”, I think a bit Burton-y. Good though, IMO.

  • Warrior Ale – 7% – “40 IBU beer, made with local banksia honey”
    (right) Yum. Rich dark honey comes through, finishing with a beaut hop resin from the Galaxy.

We were going to eat at Ironbark – the idea of wood fired pizza was appetizing. But having seen the pizza being constructed on pre-made cardboard-stiff bases, and in light of the general service level experienced, we decided to move on to the next brewery instead.

I would recommend visiting Ironback Brewery to try out the beers, but probably do your best to to avoid the busyness of Saturday… and the pizza (if you have “standards” for “woodfired pizza”).

Ironbark Brewery - Patio

Ironbark Patio

Elmar’s in the Valley
Summary: slick, good service, clean beers

A German-esque brewery with a “glass kettle” – the theme here is “purity”. “A key feature of Elmar’s in the Valley is a giant glass kettle, used to enhance the flavours and purity of the beers.” They tag themselves as a “micro glass brewery”, which to me just sounds a bit odd – an attempt at humour perhaps.

Elmar's - Outside

Elmar’s – Outside

We stepped from the heat into the cool air-conditioned building with relief… short-lived since, understandably, they were busy and we had to take a table outside on the somewhat greenhouse-like open verandah. Once again cold beer beckoned!

Emar's - Beer List (1)

Emar’s – Beer List (1)

Elmar's - Beer List (2)

Elmar’s – Beer List (2)

Elmar's - Marzen

Elmar’s – Marzen (Lack of “ä” true to their list!)

Our table was next to the outside bar where we discovered that only a handful of the beers on the list were available. Thus my order for the Cloudy Pils and my brother’s for the Schwarzbier were met with a sad shaking of the head. So I grabbed a mug of the 4.8% Marzen – which was an acceptable “beery” beer but not quite reminiscent of märzens as I’ve experienced them, it didn’t quite have enough “oom pah”.

  • Marzen – 4.8%
    A beery beer.

We had ourselves a quick lunch at Elmar’s – a simple plate of cold bits and pieces and some breads and dip. Not a bad selection and amount as a light lunch for five. Although not particularly outstanding – like the beer a certain something was lacking, no real flavour excitement.

Elmar's - Beer Tasters

Elmar’s – Beer Tasters

After eating I wandered into the inside bar – and discovered that the beers we had originally wanted were available in there. (My sister had been told the inside selection was the same as the outside selection – perhaps we had just come at a bad between-keg moment.) So I was able to try a selection of three more beer samples. (AU$5 for 3x 80ml samples.)

  • Schwarzbier – 5%
    (left) Oo, roasty toasty, good stuff.
  • Over Draught – 4.8%
    (right) Malty sweet but very pleasant ice cold on a hot day. Estery and quite complex.
  • Cloudy Pils – 4.8%
    (middle) Smooth & slips down easy. Excellent finishing bite. Lemon pithy hop zest.

Overall the beers here hit a little above what I was expecting for the Aussie take on German-esque beers. Past experience has led me to expect a suffusion of blandosity. Nothing here really made me tingle… but the variation was good and the beers rather clean & crisp flavoured compared to Ironbark. The Schwarzbier and Cloudy Pils were both very more-ish – though they need to put more “schwarz” in their schwarzbier in my opinion, as more evident in the photo below!

Colin With Elmar's Beers

Colin With Elmar’s Beers – Schwarzbier on left.


Mash Brewing - Not Open

Mash Brewing – Not Open

Mash Brewing
Summary: not open

We rocked up at Mash and things immediately didn’t look quite right. A large group of vaguely bored and perturbed looking blokes were milling about under a tree and the carpark was virtually empty. Closer inspection revealed that the brewery was:


Bummer! I hope the tour-group didn’t have to wait long for their pick-up.

Duckstein Brewery
Summary: not open

We’d decided to skip Duckstein as it was immediately after the similarly Germanic Elma’s. I’d also already been to Duckstein’s place down Margaret River way on a previous visit home – albeit not reviewed the experience (I think “typically bland” comes to mind). I also can’t help but think of Duckburg every time I hear or see the word “Duckstein” – so I have trouble taking them seriously in my head! But given the Mash situation we backtracked to try Duckstein out instead. Alas! Alack! Duckstein had a sign out “Closed for Function”. Ho hum… there was nothing for it but to trek off to the other side of the valley to…

Feral Brewing - Kat & Sign

Feral Brewing – Kat & Sign

Feral Brewing Company
Summary: AWESOME!

Feral can be found all alone on the east side of the Swan Valley (every other Swan Valley brewery being on the west). Feral is probably the only name in this list a British beer drinker is likely to have heard of – and that’s mainly thanks to Wetherspoon’s. Feral is one of the breweries they collaborate with for the “international” selection in the festival beer list, twice now in fact. They’re also the only brewery in this visit that I’ve tried beer from before – as bottled Feral White, Porter, and Hop Hog are readily available in bottle shops and also quite a few pubs.

Feral - Plentiful Bar Staff

Plentiful Feral Bar Staff

As with Elmar’s the place was heaving when we got there – we were glad they had a table available, also outside. Thankfully the mist-spray was effective and a light breeze had come up so it was pleasant sitting out on the deep shady verandah. I popped inside to grab a selection of beers – a set-menu style tasting tray was advertised so I went for that, also noting that all the beers were offered in an 80ml tasting size as well as “regular” and “large” glasses. The pre-selected tasting tray was a delight of variety! (AU$16.50 for 6x 80ml samples.)

  • Sly Fox – 4.7% – “Summer Ale”
    (left) Beaut light little hop gremlin. Light fizzy passionfruit juice.
  • White – 4.6% – “White Beer (Witbier)”
    (2nd from left) Vanilla-sweet coriander cream soda. Lemony.
  • Amber – 3.6% – “Australian Amber Ale”
    (3rd from left) Peachy resin pepper melon.
  • Hop Hog – 5.8% – “American IPA”
    (3rd from right) Super sweet lychee juice. Quite different to the bottle.
  • Smoked Porter – 4.7% – “Porter”
    (2nd from right) Cabanossi on the nose, less so in the mouth, rich sweet shlenkerla-like body but less intense. Herbal cough syrup end.
  • Karma Citra – 5.9% – “Black IPA”
    (right) Wow. It’s warmed up a bit by now and comes across just like a very good cask BIPA. Or maybe BD EFP’11.
Feral - Tasting Tray

Feral – Tasting Tray

A hard-hitting lineup of flavoursome enjoyment. I wanted more of everything really, but there were beers untried so I grabbed a few more samples.

  • Barrique O’Karma – 6.6% – “Barrique Fermented Black IPA”
    (primary fermentation new French oak!)
    (left) Tastes like BIPA that’s been in a barrel. Hops slightly muted, and a great sandalwoody spice picked up. Beaut beer.
  • Boris – 11.5% – “Russian Imperial Stout”
    (2nd from left) Pow – alcoholic licorice rod. “liquid vegimite” says one of the party. Wish I could have more.
  • Fantapants – 8.5% – “Imperial Red IPA”
    (2nd from left) Toasted rye, light antiseptic, zesty. Big hop resin.
  • Raging Flem – 7.6% – “Belgian Style IPA”
    (right) Iffy. Sort of melony overripe fruit. A bit nasty.
Feral - Tasters

Colin’s struggling now…

Score so far: 10 beers, 9 lovely, 1 rather horrid. That’s pretty damn good going. The Raging Flem just didn’t taste right or good to me – this often happens when I see the words “Belgian” and “IPA” near each other. The name may not be helping with the perception here… on the other hand I just love the catchy name “Fantapants”, no idea why. The Barrique O’Karma – barrel-fermented version of Karma Citra I presume – is outstanding, phenomenal, memorable…. barrel-fermenting beer in new oak! Not sure if I’ve had a beer made this way before… I guess this is something that neatly comes out of brewing beer in a wine producing part of the world. I wonder what they do with the used oak. I’ve had “barrel aged” IPAs, which are generally so-so on the “IPA” front, hops subdued – but this is punchy, fresh, zesty, but also… barrely.

Feeling mildly-drunkenly gung-ho and on-a-roll, I pop back to the bar inside to mop up whatever I haven’t tried yet… just a couple more beers (a few from the list were unavailable).

  • Feral - Final Beers

    Feral – Final Beers

    The Runt – 4.7% – “APA”
    (left) Smells like Oakham Citra, tastes like Japanese green pepper.

  • B.F.H. – 5.8% – “Barrel Fermented Hog”
    (another barrel-fermented offering, the equivalent of Hop Hog)
    (middle) Yep, barrelled Ipa. Sandalwoody zest and a vivid memory of hops. Another stunner if you like wood.

When I wrote the above “vivid memory of hops” I’d not realised the B.F.H. was primary fermented in new oak and then dry-hopped as per usual. Again, like Barrique O’Karma, quite unlike the usual “barrel” + “IPA” experience. Another stunner – as I noted at the time. I bought a large glass of The Runt (which I had previously sampled) as a cleanser… and it is a good’un for the job. This little pair were a most excellent finish to a grand day out drinking. Sadly none of the really exciting beers were available to take away in bottles – maybe they are never offered in bottle?

It was time to head, somewhat reluctantly, home… I’d certainly had my fill of beer for the trip, and my family companions were probably a bit tired of my beer nerdery, plus my poor sister was our “skipper” and we needed to get her home so she could enjoy a beer herself!

Feral Brewery

Feral Brewery

Do It…
Do visit the Swan Valley breweries and do give the full set a chance, they all have something to offer (I expect Duckstein and Mash are worthy as well, and hope to fill them in on some future trip home).

For the “craft beer” drinker & nerd Feral is certainly and clearly where the elusive and ill-defined “it” is “at”. There’s really no comparing Feral to the other two breweries I visited. Feral is the seriously-“craft”, flavour-driven, experience-delivering *KAPOW* rockstar here. If there’s a flaw it’s that there was too much to take in during my single all-too-short visit! I wanted more of nearly everything… unless you really must go on a mad ticker-frenzy tour of the Swan Valley then I recommend making Feral a solid day-trip destination, work slowly and appreciatively through the beers over 3 or 4 hours on one day, then do all the breweries on the west side of the valley on another day. If you don’t have time for two days – just stick with Feral.

Ironbark is charmingly rustic, and like dogs and dog owners the Ironbark beers have their own rustic similarity to the venue. On a cooler & quieter day I can imagine myself enjoying a few proper glasses of their beer, but none of them felt like several-glasses-of beers. Elmar’s – slick is the word – clean venue, clean beers, but not boring. I could happily enjoy a hot summer’s day at Elmar’s just downing cold glasses of that Cloudy Pils punctuated with one or two of the others. Where Ironbark has a DIY-family-business shorts-n-tshirt feel Elmar’s presents as professional and business-suited.

If I lived in Perth I’d be happy to return and give each brewery a proper lunchtime session – although in all cases I think a weekday visit would be recommended. Saturday, in summer, close to the “festive season”… they were all about as packed as you can imagine (no doubt there’ll be total chaos and hell once the summer holiday break hits).

The beer is well and truly worth seeking in the Swan Valley.