NICE DROP: John Hoedemaker hopes Gage Roads’ Little Dove will be a permanent fixture in craft beer drinkers’ rotations. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Little Dove win a gauge of local craft brewers’ art

Friday, 23 September, 2016 - 14:40

Western Australian breweries’ continued success is building on a rich brewing pedigree.

It should come as no surprise that the best craft beer in Australia is being brewed where it all began.

After all, Fremantle’s Sail & Anchor can lay claim to being the nation’s first brewpub, as well as the genesis of a rapidly growing and diversifying industry.

The Sail & Anchor was transformed into Matilda Bay Brewing Company after it had started brewing beer in the mid-1980s, introducing new styles of beer (such as the famous Redback Wheat Beer) to punters across the nation.

The establishment of Little Creatures in 2002 built on that success, not only creating a tourist attraction at Fremantle’s Fishing Boat Harbour, but also introducing an entirely new flavour profile to beer drinkers with its Pale Ale.

However, the local craft beer market of really started to take shape in 2007, according to Nail Brewing’s John Stallwood, with Western Australian brewers at the forefront of a sector that’s growing by 16.4 per cent each year, according to research by Aztec Australia.

“We have a rich history, even though it’s a short history,” Mr Stallwood, who established Nail in 2000, said.

“It’s kind of the founding history of craft beer in Australia.”

Earlier this year, Gage Roads Brewing Company added to the tradition of WA-based brewing excellence with its newly released Little Dove being named the champion Australian beer at the Australian International Beer Awards.

That marked the second time in three years a WA brewer has taken the top prize at the AIBA awards, following Mash Brewing’s victory in 2014 with its Copycat AIPA.

Swan Valley-based Feral Brewing Company has also had a charmed run at the AIBAs, having been named champion exhibitor in 2009 and winning one of the top gongs – champion large Australian brewery – in 2012, while its Hop Hog is continually ranked among Australia’s best beers.

Other WA brewers consistently winning accolades interstate include Mr Stallwood’s Nail Brewing, Bootleg Brewery, and The Monk Brewery & Kitchen.

Feral Brewing founder and head brewer Brendan Varis said the fact that most brewing competitions were blind tastings proved the quality of WA beer.

“Clearly the breweries in WA are making good beer, it’s as simple as that,” Mr Varis told Business News.

“While we may not have had the explosion in number of craft breweries that some other states have had in the last dozen or so years, we’re actually a bit more of a mature market.”

Gage Roads Brewing Company chief executive John Hoedemaker said the brewery’s AIBA win showed the company was on the right track following its recently announced strategy to return to its roots.

The Palmyra-based brewer announced last month that it was scaling back the amount of beer it brews on behalf of Woolworths’ Pinnacle Liquor Group, with that production capacity to be re-routed to Gage Roads’ own brands.

Importantly, Gage Roads’ distribution agreement with Pinnacle will remain in place, with Gage Roads-branded beers to replace Sail & Anchor and Dry Dock beers as production is scaled back.

Mr Hoedemaker said while the strategy, and an agreement to buy back a 23.5 per cent shareholding in the ASX-listed brewery owned by Woolworths, were in place before Little Dove made its splash, it was nonetheless vindication for the shift in strategy.

“Winning that award was a fantastic confirmation for us and our shareholders that we’re at the top of our game at the moment and we’re making quality craft beer,” Mr Hoedemaker said.

Special Report

Something brewing

23 September 2016

Western Australian brewers work together to build on rich beer pedigree