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.