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Crafty Pint

Your Guide to Australian Craft Beer / Friday 18 April 2014

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It was on separate trips along the West Coast of the US that schoolmates Al Carragher and Brendan Varis hatched their plan for a brewery on the West Coast of Australia. It took a number of years for the plan to come together, during which Brendan project managed brewery installations and start-ups across Australia while Al worked in beer sales and identified the future site, but since opening its doors in Swan Valley in October 2002, Feral has gained a reputation for its beers that places it at the very pinnacle of the Australian brewing industry.

Al’s now in Melbourne running the Great Northern Hotel, the pub with the only two permanent Feral taps in the East, while Brendan and fellow brewer Will Irving are intent on taking Aussie-brewed beer to new places. Since buying out his partners a few years back, Brendan’s let his imagination run wild – literally – creating a number of sour beers, including one fermented with wild Swan Valley yeasts. His love of sour, funky styles is such that Feral will soon be home to a shed housing almost 200 barrels dedicated to their development.

He’s anything but a one-trick pony, however. In 2009, Feral was named Champion Exhibitor at the Australian International Beer Awards, also picking up top gongs for its Hop Hog US IPA, Razorback Barleywine and Feral White, a Belgian witbier that was the brewery’s first release and remains its bestseller to this day. The Hop Hog continues to be named Australia’s Champion Ale while in 2012 Feral was named AIBA Champion Large Australian Brewery.

The original brewery’s tucked in the corner of what’s little more than an oversized wooden shed they built themselves. It’s an unprepossessing home for such excellent beers, one that also houses a kitchen and bar pouring 16 Feral beers and local wines. Visit any time of year and you’re likely to find their award-winners lined up alongside anything from Boris, the Russian Imperial Stout, to a Farmhouse Ale, Double Witbier or Black IPA – plus of course the Funky Junky and Dark Funk. As of June 2012, Brendan and fellow brewer Will have been brewing at a new 5,000 litre setup established with another WA brewery, Nail. The original brewery is set to be used for wild, sour and funky beers.

Just a short trip from Perth, it’s a criminal offence for anyone touring the region to miss out. For anyone who can’t make the trip, it’s getting easier to find Feral beers elsewhere. In 2011, they became the first brewery invited to take over all 20 taps at The Local Taphouses while the full awesomeness of their Hop Hog was captured in 330ml bottles after they installed a bottling line onsite. Even UK drinkers are to get a taste after Brendan was invited to brew 100,000 litres of Runt, the 2010 AIBA Champion Ale, for the JD Wetherspoon chain’s nationwide Real Ale Festival. It’s one of many invites to travel overseas for the brewer – and as Australia starts to develop a reputation for craft beer, it couldn’t ask for a better representative.

Regulars

Feral Hop Hog

A beer that needs no introduction to lovers of Aussie craft beer. Champion Ale at the 2009 Australian International Beer Awards, the Hop Hog is a superb recreation of the IPAs that originate in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Massive pine needle and citrus aromas waft from its glowing copper-orange body, with the hops also supplying a seriously impressive bitterness, all kept in check by the perfect malt backbone. Finally put into bottles in 2010, it’s becoming ever more widely available for Aussies in search of a big but balanced hop hit.

Style: US IPA
Strength: 5.8%

Hop-hog_bottle

Feral White

The brewery’s first beer and still its best seller, the Feral White is a beautifully clean and balanced take on the Belgian witbier style. It’s so established in WA that you’re likely to find it on taps in places you’d never dream of finding a microbrewed beer. What’s more, after issues with the brewery that was producing the bottled version of the beer, bottling is being moved in-house onto Feral’s recently installed bottling line. As for the beer itself, it’s made with 50% barley and 50% wheat and an imported Belgian yeast strain. It’s cloudy and unfiltered with coriander and orange peel added during the boil to contribute a spicy citrus flavour.

Style: Belgian witbier
Strength: 4.6%

Feral-white_bottle

Feral's Runt

Taking the mantle of Australia’s Champion Ale from its biggest brother, the Hop Hog, in 2010, this American Pale Ale showcases once more brewer Brendan Varis' skill at balancing big hop flavours with the perfect malt backbone. A more delicate, dry and lightly hopped version of the Hog, it won Brendan an invite to the UK to brew 100,000l of it in cask-conditioned form to be served across the country for the pub chain JP Wetherspoon’s Real Ale Festival. Hopefully, he’ll be bringing some casks back with him…

Style: American Pale Ale
Strength: 4.7%

BFH (Barrel Fermented Hop Hog)

How do you improve on one of the best beers in the land? In the case of the Hop Hog, Brendan Varis stuck his award-winner into new French oak barriques for its primary fermentation before switching it to stainless steel for final processing and carbonation. He says: “Think of all the great pine needle and grapefruit you associate with Hop Hog with an added vanilla aroma and softened mouthfeel.” We say, try it wherever you can find it – it’s marvellous.

Style: Barrel Fermented IPA
Strength: 5.8%

Feral Dark Funk 2.0

Part of Feral’s mission to introduce Aussie beer drinkers to the wonders of sour beer styles, the Dark Funk is a no-holds-barred mother that incorporates into its blend 20% of Feral’s high alcohol Boris Imperial Stout that had spent 18 months being worked over by dediococus.

Style: Dark Sour
Strength: 5.3%

Feral Funky Junkie

A first in Australian commercial brewing, this beer uses as part of its blend a beer that was allowed to spontaneously ferment with microflora from the Swan Valley region. The resulting beer was rather too funky to be sold untouched, but blended with other Feral beers, it’s helped create an intensely sour beer unlike any other.

Style: Australian Sour
Strength: 4.7%

Feral Smoked Porter

Feral has had its Smoked Porter around for a while, a brewed-occasionally number you’d regularly find at the brewery in the Swan Valley and occasionally further afield. With the large new brewery now up to speed and plenty more beer to offer up to eager mouths, it’s the beer that’s been chosen as the fourth member of their permanent range. It’s a beer in which the smoke is rather subtle, coming from the use of German malts smoked over Birchwood chips, for those who care for such details. It adds decoration to the well balanced coffee and chocolate flavours rather than overpowering them and results in a remarkably quaffable take on the style. Or, as we said to someone at the brewery, it’s “so bloody smashable”. “Smashable is what we want,” came the reply. “Well, as smashable as a smokey porter can be.” UPDATE This original write up was based on a tasting of the draught beer on tap just prior to the packaged beer’s release. Having sampled the packaged beer since then, the smoked element is more prominent, distinct even, and lingers long on the palate.

Feral-smoked-porter_bottle

Feral Sly Fox

It’s the year of 4.7 per cent summer ales! OK, perhaps that’s a little strong an assertion, but hot on the heels of Mountain Goat’s 4.7 per cent Summer-in-a-can comes a Summer Ale from WA champs Feral. A year in development, it’s going to be the latest addition to their permanent range (making it summer all year round) and is the first release to feature the new branding that will soon appear across all their beers. It’s a golden, lightly filtered ale that has a low bitterness but retains the brewery’s signature floral American hop aroma. They won’t tell us what hops are in there, but whatever they are they’re responsible for tropical fruit and citrus aromatics in a beer designed with lazy, hazy days in mind.

Available: On draught in WA end of Sept Draught nationwide from mid-October Bottles following in November

Style: Summer Ale
Strength: 4.7%

Feral-sly-fox_bottle

Specials

Feral Brewpub Series: Barrique O'Karma

Fresh kegs of the latest batch of Feral’s Barrique O'Karma have been hitting taps around Australia for a couple of weeks now. However, with one of the brewery’s staff telling us the bottled version – the latest beer in their occasional Brewpub Series – is the best beer they had ever put into a bottle, we thought we should wait until we could get our hands on a stubby. Well, now we have, and… First, a recap of the beer. Initially brewed for last year’s Great Australian Beer SpecTAPular, Barrique O'Karma is based on Feral’s Karma Citra India Black Ale (or black IPA if you prefer) but, like the Barrel Fermented Hog (BFH) version of Hop Hog, it undergoes its primary fermentation in oak, giving the end beer significantly different characteristics. So what does that mean in the new bottled product currently winging its way to specialist bottleshops across Australia? It means it is one complex mofo. The citrus hop aromas familiar from the straight Karma Citra still waft from its dense black body, but come with distinct vanilla and soft oak too, not to mention a touch of chocolate and cocoa. That interplay between the hops, malt and the effects of the oak continues in the mouth, with the beer also possessing the most ridiculously velvety, creamy mouthfeel too. It’s quite remarkable how much the beer has to offer as it warms, making it not only unique but intriguing as well.

Available:

At good bottleshops and craft beer bars nationwide

Style: Oaked India Black Ale
Strength: 6.5%

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Feral Beral

The current craze for craft brewers to put their product into cans continues unabated. Latest to get involved is the reigning Champion Medium Brewery of Australia, Feral. The arrival of their first can has come almost unheralded and, most surprising of all, it is also their first cider. Feral Beral is launched following extensive research by the Swan Valley brewer which showed that, while Feral’s core beer products appealed to discerning drinkers of both genders, they where missing out on a significant market of “18-40 Mainstream Bingers”. They believe this more scientific approach to creating new products will stand them in good stead for future growth. As well as carrying out extensive research, Feral has been lobbying the Australian Cider Society to recognise “Olde Englishish” as an official style.

The brewery’s Steve Finney explains: “As the cider market becomes flooded with brands, the ACS has recognised the need to create categories that allow manufacturers to take full advantage of cheap constituted apple juices. Obviously ‘Chinese Cider’ isn’t as desirable to our target audience as something that is reminiscent of the traditional home of cider.”

Head brewer Brendan Varis adds: “By reconstituting these juices and adding sweeteners, we were able to create a very cost effective product and a taste profile that appeals to those that are interested in consuming their alcoholic beverages in bulk. It’s not something that I would choose to drink, but it makes economic sense and it is an approach that I am excited to pursue on the beer side of the business if this proves successful, which all our data suggests it will. The reality is that creating fresh, local products will only take you so far and my ambitions for Feral are global.”

Available:

Nationwide at good bottleshops

Style: Extra Sweet Cider
Strength: 5.0%

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Feral Brewing Nan's Driving

It’s all go out Feral at the moment, it seems. No sooner had a fresh batch of Watermelon Warhead made its way from the Swan Valley brewery than the German IPA Hopfen Fahrt followed, and now this limited release too. Nan’s Driving is a tea-infused Amber Ale that we are told has “a slightly sweet malt body and an easy going bitter finish.” The tea comes into play at the end of fermentation when the brewers add jasmine and green tea leaves to the fermenter, leaving the beer with an earthiness from the green tea and an aroma that “may just remind you of your grandmother”. The combination of tea and beer has worked wonders for the Yeastie Boys and there’s a whole Good Beer Week event based around beer and tea, so why not, hey? And if that’s still not enough Feral for you, bottles of Barrique O'Karma will be heading across the country any day now as well.

Available:

Feral
The Wheaty
Others TBC

Style: Amber Ale
Strength: 3.2%
Bitterness: 26IBU

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Feral Brewing Hopfen Fahrt

As the popularity of New World hop varieties has grown, there has been less love around for the Old World. But, just as Australia’s main grower, Hop Products Australia, has changed direction in recent years to wind down production of Pride of Ringwood and its ilk in favour of new stars such as Galaxy, Ella and Vic Secret, so have breeders in Europe. Recent times have seen the traditional hop growing regions of Germany endeavouring to create flamboyant and expressive aroma and flavour hops to rival the varieties offered by the US, New Zealand and Australia. So the team at Feral figured they should find out what these new German varieties were all about. They laid their hands on high oil varieties of Polaris, Mandarina Bavaria, Saphire and Herkules and use them to create this German IPA, a beer they say is bursting with fresh stone fruit, mandarin and grassy aromas, is chock-full of spicy, resinous hops, and rounded out by a solid whack of bitterness. As for the name, it brings back childhood trips around Germany giggling every time we’d pass a turn off on the autobahn and spy the words “Ausfahrt”. But just as that only meant “Exit”, Hopfen Fahrt means little more than “Hop Trip”. Still, drink enough of it and who knows what other meanings might present themselves…

Available:

Feral
The Alehouse Project
The Wheaty
Sail & Anchor
Others TBC

Style: German IPA
Strength: 6.4%
Bitterness: 52 IBU

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Feral Brewing Watermelon Warhead

The rise of sour beers in Australia hasn’t been as rapid as many might have expected. It is understandable; when you’re playing with bugs and barrels and wild beasties – and something that, like love for Phil Collins, can’t be hurried – you’re in a different ballpark than the relatively simple water, hops, malt and yeast scenario. However, the sour that has caused most excitement over the past couple of years is back. Watermelon Warhead made its bow at the 2012 Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, where the Chardonnay barrel-aged sour beer inspired by the popular kid’s lolly wowed people with its uniqueness and intensity of flavour. There is talk that one day it will be bottled as part of the Swan Valley’s Brewery’s Brewpub series, but for now it remains a draught only release. Based on the Berliner-Weisse style, it is a light sour German wheat beer brewed with an addition of half a ton of Swan Valley watermelons (yes, you read that right: half a ton). The beer spends 12 weeks in Chardonnay barrels before being blended to the desired taste and sourness.

Available:

Feral
Then select venues nationwide – we’ll update as soon as we have them confirmed.

Style: Berliner-Weisse
Strength: 2.9%

Watermelon-warhead_bottle

Feral Brewpub Series: Boris

It seems the brewing maestros at Feral are genre-benders. Hop Hog IPA has made a habit of winning the Pale Ale trophy at the Australian International Beer Awards and now Boris has picked up the trophy for Best Porter despite being tagged as a Russian Imperial Stout. If anything, it shows that the brewers there know their beers inside out and just where they’re going to fit within judging style guides. Semantics aside, any beer that wins a trophy is likely to be a cracker. And, as anyone who’s come across Boris before will know, this Russian Imperial Stout is indeed just that.

It’s also the second release in Feral’s occasional Brewpub Series, meaning you can take Boris home with you. If you do, you’ll find that beneath his iron jaw lurks a beer of lush complexity. Here at Crafty Towers, were we only allowed to drink one beer style for eternity it would be Imperial Stouts, which means there’s little that excites us more than pouring a thick, oily, black beer into a glass and watching a deeply dark brown head forming. That this one follows up with all manner of roast, mocha, chocolate and molasses flavours – not to mention plenty of hops to balance the dark malts – and perhaps even a hint of leather to remind us of our beloved Rasputin, means we’ll be making this a Russian winter.

Available:

Feral
Australia wide at good bottleshops such as these

Awards: Best Porter at the 2013 Australian International Beer Awards

Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Strength: 9.1%

Feral-boris-bottle_bottle

Feral Tusk

When The Crafty Pint was over in the US in March, there was plenty of hype around Stone Brewing’s Enjoy By Double IPA, a new release from the Californians that is sent out as fresh as possible with the date before which it must be drunk emblazoned across it. The result is an impeccably fresh hop bomb of a beer in which the hop characteristics don’t have time to taper off. The day before returning, we had another IPA – Maine’s Lunch – recommended to us that, again, comes with a tight best before date for the same reasons (we managed to drink ours 13 days after it was released in a different hemisphere from where it was released which must be some sort of record).

The point of this preamble isn’t to gloat (much) but to make the point that there’s a rising tide of awareness that some beers – particularly massively hopped IPAs – really are drunk best fresh. Yes, they might take on different characteristics later on, but not the ones the brewers want you to experience. Hence the latest venture from Feral for this new batch of their Imperial IPA Tusk. It’s the first time it’s been brewed in a few years and is the biggest brother of their line of US-inspired hoppy pales. The few kegs that have been brewed have only been granted to venues who have guaranteed that there will be cold refrigerated transport from brewery to bar and that it will be tapped the instant it arrives. As the brewery’s Steve Finney told us: “Northwest USA style IPAs need to be fresh to taste best.” FInd out for yourself when the Tusk lands near you soon…

Available:

September 2013 release venues
Five Bar
Sail & Anchor
Clancy’s City Beach
Norfolk Hotel
SA
The Wheaty

Style: Imperial IPA
Strength: 9.8%

Feral_tusk_logo_a4_bottle

Feral Brewpub Series: Raging Flem

In their 10-plus years of brewing, Feral has accumulated such a long and wildly varied list of beers on its roster that you rarely see one-off, limited releases from them. Instead, it’s more a case of waiting until the next batch of Boris/Fantapants/Watermelon Warhead/Razorback (delete as appropriate) appears on tap or travelling to the brewery’s home venue in the Swan Valley to sample them year round. In fact, whenever a new release does appear, chances are it’s going to become a permanent fixture in one way or another anyway. But, with only four of their beers currently available in packaged form, it means you can’t stock your fridge with Feral specials without nicking a keg. That’s all set to change though with the launch of the Brewpub Series, which will see them release some of their less widely available beers every three or four months. First to set sail is the Raging Flem, a hopped up Belgian IPA that first appeared a few years back and gained its name from a competition run amongst the Local Taphouse’s Ale Stars. Professor Pilsner came up with the name – drawn from the raging seas that the original IPAs used to have to cross to reach India and the Flemish region of Belgium – for a beer that is a big, US hop influenced 7.6 per cent Belgian IPA. It combines the yeast-driven Belgian beer characteristics with floral American hops, including Amarillo, Cascade and Chinook, with a special addition of Belgium candy sugar to round things off.

Available:

Feral
Australia wide at good bottleshops such as these

Style: Belgian IPA
Strength: 7.4%

Feral-raging-flem_bottle

Feral White Hog

The most successful brewery in recent Aussie history turned ten this year and decided to mark the occasion with a new beer. How to mark the occasion appropriately? Why not combine their first and historically best-selling beer – the White Ale – with their most successful – the Hop Hog. The result is the White Hog (well, they did tell us recently they don’t put much thought into their beer names!). According to the brewers, the beer displays “all the bitter hoppiness of the Hog and the smooth mouthfeel of the White.” To be more explicit: “It’s like there is a party in your mouth and these two beers where the only ones to show up.” Still, it’s a high quality guest list.

Available:

Feral
The Alehouse Project
Other good beer bars tbc

Style: Belgian White IPA?
Strength: 5.8%
Bitterness: 52 IBU

Feral-special-logo_bottle

Feral Watermelon Warhead

Named after the sour kids' lollies, this was originally the Swan Valley brewery’s entry for the 2012 Great Australasian Beer Spectapular. When asked to nominate a style, Feral said it was along the lines of a Berliner Weisse, although that their main aim was to create something akin to said kids' lollies. The beer itself went down so well at the Spectapular and then everywhere else that it appeared, both in Australia and overseas at Beervana NZ, that it’s now being brewed regularly. It’s a fine, tart, aromatically fruity addition to Feral’s funky / sour / wild ale program, brewed with a heap of local watermelons added late in the ferment before spending time in Chardonnay barrels with some lactobacillus yeast. Remarkably full flavoured for a beer of such low ABV (the GABS batch turned out to be less than two per cent – now it sits just under three) and zesty and refreshing as hell, it’s a beer to get anyone excited about Feral’s barrel-aging plan extremely hot under the collar. Hot enough to need another Warhead, perhaps.

Available:

Feral

Style: Berliner Weisse
Strength: 2.9%

Feral-special-logo_bottle

Feral King Brown

Of all the beers that were put on the lineup for the Festival of the Frothy, few had people more excited than this, a cognac barrel-aged Imperial Brown from Feral. Perhaps it was because it was a new beer from Feral, perhaps it was because the brewer Brendan Varis had called it the “most luscious” beer they’d ever created which, given the output from their Swan Valley base, is quite a claim. The result is a deeply dark brown beer and one that lives very much in the darker realms of flavour when it comes to its malt character, bordering on roasty with lots of rich, dark cocoa characters. At least that’s how it starts, before unravelling a big wave of smoky, woody goodness, like taking a drag on a Cuban with one hand while lazing back in a leather armchair and brandishing your cognac balloon with your other. A multi-layered beast to be savoured.

Available:

Feral
Beer DeLuxe

Style: Barrel-Aged Imperial Brown

Feral-special-logo_bottle

Feral Boris (2011)

One of the first Aussie beers to go really big when it was first brewed, Feral’s Russian Imperial Stout weighs in at nigh on 12%. A big, bold, jet black, take-no-prisoners kind of a beer, a new batch has just been unleased by the Swan Valley brewers and started appearing on a handful of taps around the country. We’ve yet to get our smackers around the latest incarnation so are handing over tasting note duties to Al, who runs the Great Northern Hotel and has just taken delivery of a couple of kegs. “You wouldn’t pick it as 11.5%,” he says. “Very smooth, lots of chocolate and a hints of port.” He even wonders if it’s seen the inside of a barrel as he’s picking up a little oak. Only one way to find out if he’s right… EDIT: Having tasted it, we’d say it’s the most highly hopped Imperial Stout to pass our lips. And yes, you wouldn’t pick it as that big; very smooth.

Available:

The Local Taphouse St Kilda
Great Northern
The Wheaty
Feral

Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Strength: 11.5%

Feral-special-logo_bottle

Feral Golden Ace

In the ongoing quest to create new beers and serve up new flavours, brewers are often on the lookout for an ingredient that can add something different. Late last year, a new hop variety arrived in Australia – the Sorachi Ace developed by Japanese brewery Sapporo. A couple of Victorian brewers played with it – each thinking they’d brewed the first commercial Sorachi Ace beer in Oz, only for Crafty to discover the guys at Feral in WA had beaten them to the punch. Feral 983 was the beer in question and now Sorachi, a hop we’ve found adds a really interesting character to the beers in which it’s appeared so far, returns in the Golden Ace. Described as “a crisp dry golden Belgian style ale with a refreshing lemon hop character”, it is Feral’s third bottled beer.

Available:

Feral – Now
Perth bars – Now
Perth bottlesops – From May 2
The Local Taphouse St Kilda – May 3
The Local Taphouse Darlo – May 3
The Wheaty – May 11
Blackhearts & Sparrows

Style: Belgian Golden Ale
Strength: 5.6%

Feral-golden-ace_bottle