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. :)