Few breweries have managed to spread the word about their beer as fast as McLaren Vale. Launched as a brewing company with just one beer – VALE/ALE – in 2008, it was soon on tap and in stores in multiple states, aided by a much debated top spot for VALE/ALE in the Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers of 2011 poll.
By that point, VALE/DRY – a lager – had been added to the roster, a roster that was steadily expanded further with the addition of a dark lager and a highly aromatic IPA plus a number of seasonal releases. The company had also taken up residence in McLaren Vale too, taking over the former Salopian Inn before the final piece of the jigsaw arrived in the middle of 2012 in the shape of their own brewery down the road images at Willunga. It had been a long time coming, with the site secured two years earlier and the 35 hectolitre brewhouse imported from Canada originally expected to be in place late in 2011. The Willunga site now produces all of Vale’s draught beers under the stewardship of a very happy head brewer Jeff Wright.
Since firing up the new brewhouse, Jeff has been steadily developing a series of seasonal releases. Going under the EXP banner, the series was kickstarted with an Oatmeal Stout, with new beers following every few months. In 2012, a new lager, AKA LGR, replaced the DRY in their core range.
Vale also decided to move its whole operation to the brewery location in 2013, handing over the keys to the Salopian Inn and beginning the process of creating a cellar door and bar at Willunga. Watch this space for news on its opening.
McLaren Vale Beers
The beer with which the McLaren Vale project was launched – and for some years their only beer – is the epitome of a gateway beer, designed to entice drinkers away from the mainstream. An approachable Australian pale ale that combines light tropical and citrus fruit hop aromas with sweet malt flavours and a gentle bitterness, it clearly set out the McLaren Vale stall as one with mass appeal in mind.
Style: Australian Pale Ale
Bitterness: 25 IBU
VALE/DRY - Discontinued
The second release from McLaren Vale and another one with its sights set firmly on the wavering commercial beer drinker. It’s an unfiltered dry lager that keeps the bitterness firmly in check, uses a little wheat malt to give it a dry finish and uses noble German hops for a light floral nose.
Bitterness: 18 IBU
Why brew one lager when you can brew two? For their third release, Vale decided to follow their dry lager with a dark one inspired by the States. Utilising the Falconer’s Flight hop blend more commonly found in hoppy pales and IPAs, it combines chocolate and cocoa malt flavours with fruity hop notes and a solid bitterness too.
Style: Dark Lager
Bitterness: 30 IBU
The latest addition to the permanent Vale stable represented quite a radical departure from what had come before. An IPA packing a powerful hop aroma that hits you well before the glass reaches your lips, it’s use of three big hop varieties – Australian Galaxy, NZ Nelson Sauvin and American Citra – gives the beer heaps of tropical, citrusy, passionfruit and piney notes. There are some caramel malt flavours in there, but they’re really a bit part player brought along to give the hops a leg up. Remarkably, given how pungent it is, any bitterness is minimal, making it a highly approachable introduction to the world of hop bombs.
Bitterness: 41 IBU
It’s old world meets new with the latest release from McLaren Vale. Currently enjoying being owners of their own brewery and holders of the trophy for Best Draught Lager from the Perth Royal Beer Show (where their DRK – aka dark lager – picked up said gong), the aim here, says head brewer Jeff Wright, is “to achieve is an old-world backbone with a traditional European lager body, but with the artful addition of new world hops.” This has been done by using a mix of German Tettnang hops alongside Aussie Helga and Kiwi varieties Pacifica and just-released Waimea. The result, says Jeff, is “sweet malt characters … balanced by the earthy spice, fresh citrus kick and floral aroma.” It’s out in time for summer but will be added to the brewery’s year round range.
Bitterness: 25 IBU
McLaren Vale EXP 4
There’s a lot to be said for US-inspired brown ales. After all, what’s not to like in a style that is based around ensuring there’s lots of rich malt flavour and plenty of big hops joining in the party too? It’s the style the brewing team at McLaren Vale has plumped for as the fourth release in its occasional EXP limited release, keg-only series. They’ve plumped for some pretty punchy American hop varieties too – Simcoe and newcomers El Dorado and Zythos – which have been pitted against five malts. The result, we’re told, is aromas of “rich chocolate and caramel, combined with tropical fruit and vanilla-pine derived from the hops”. It’s a similar story with the flavour, although the brewers reckon you’ll find citrus and stonefruit hop characters too. Completing the picture, they used nitrogen when filling the kegs to create a creamier mouthfeel. Sounds luvverly.
Builders Arms Hotel
Steam Packet Hotel, Williamstown
Metropolitan Hotel, Nth Melb
Great Britain Hotel, Richmond
Young & Jackson
Brunswick Mess Hall
Brother Burger & The Marvellous Brew
New Brighton Hotel, Manly
Style: Hoppy Brown
McLaren Vale EXP 3
It seems like they’re having fun at McLaren Vale now their brewery is fully up and running (and set to develop into a venue for punters too). This, their third EXP (or experimental) release sees them going a little fruity and adding a little rhubarb into the mix. We say a little as the fruit is subtle rather than the dominant force in this take on the Belgian witbier style, which is a full-bodied, deeply cloudy and creamy affair. If anything, the more traditional witbier ingredients (coriander and dried orange peel) are more noticeable with the rhubarb, which was added in the boil, adding a touch of tartness to what’s otherwise a lightly citrusy beer with a big sweet malty base.
In good beer bars nationwide
Style: Witbier with Rhubarb
The first release in McLaren Vale’s EXP series – AKA experimental – is an oatmeal stout given a shot of nitro for added creaminess. Borne of brewer Jeff Wright’s experimentations, he says to expect “flavours of rich, bitter chocolate and roast coffee coming from the combination of seven malts” plus a “citrusy bitter finish” from the use of Cascade hops.