September 14 2012 by Crafty Pint
We all enjoy surprises. Like finding a twenty dollar note in a pair of jeans at the bottom of the wardrobe or a bottle of imperial stout you thought long quaffed at the back of the beer fridge. Coming home to discover your birthday hasn’t been forgotten or winning an international competition you didn’t even know you’d entered. OK, so the last of these doesn’t happen to everyone, but when you’re Feral Brewing it seems you can even win awards by accident.
This week, co-owner and head brewer Brendan Varis was contacted by the editor of Brews News who was eager to congratulate him on winning the top prize at the Hong Kong International Beer Awards. The brewery’s Hop Hog, winner of Champion Ale at three of the past four Australian International Beer Awards, had won both the IPA category – the toughest and tightest according to one of the judges – and the top prize too.
“It was the first I knew of it,” says Brendan (above right, with brewer Will, third from right, collecting a trophy at this year’s AIBAs), who discovered the beer had been entered by a distributor.
While he may not have been aware of the Hong Kong competition, Brendan’s eyes have been fixed on another international adventure. He’s flying to the UK later this month to brew a cask ale loosely based on the Hop Hog for the annual JD Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival. It’s the second time he’s been invited to take part in the pub chain’s festival; the first occasion saw him brew a real ale version of the Runt, Hop Hog’s little brother at the Wadworth brewery in the southwest of England. This time he’s headed to Marston’s, where he will brew 100,000 pints of an Australia IPA at the brewery’s Wolverhampton site.
“We’re going to use Galaxy, Topaz and Stella [all Australian hops] which is pretty much the same blend as I used in the Collaborator [the beer brewed with 2 Brothers for this year’s 20th anniversary beer awards],” says Brendan. “But I’ll use a much higher dosing rate – the same as the Hop Hog: the same additions and contact time.
“The beer I made last time was really well received and this year’s success [when Feral won multiple trophies at the AIBAs] probably played a role in them inviting back too. I told them about the Hop Hog and that it was getting critical acclaim, but that I didn’t see any point in using US hops in the beer I brewed over there as everyone in the UK knows about them already. So I said I’d make a 5.5 per cent version of the beer with Australian hops.”
Upon his return in 2011, he declared he still wasn’t sold on real ale, something he hopes to overcome this time around. For our part, we’ve offered to try and track down the best real ale pub in the West Midlands for him; given The Crafty Pint’s founder was born in Burton upon Trent, home of the English Pale Ale, it’s the least we can do!
Back on home soil, the new brewhouse Feral purchased with Nail Brewing earlier in the year is well on the way to being tamed. Brendan says efficiency can still be improved, but that quality is higher than ever. In an earlier article for the site, one Crafty contributor stated that the Feral White he’d tasted at a brewery degustation was the best he’d ever sampled. Brendan agrees, and is delighted with the Hop Hog too. The Smoked Porter is up next and will become the brewery’s fourth bottled beer. As for the third – the flavour explosion that is the Golden Ace – it’s set for a slight tweak.
“We’re going to rework that as a strong Golden Ale,” says Brendan, removing the “Belgian” element from it to allow the Sorachi Ace to do its thing uncompromised. “It will be a lager like ale, a six per cent imperial kolsch, if there’s such a thing.”
The old brewery at the brewery’s original site has been kept busy knocking out more of Feral’s Great Australasian Beer Spectapular beer, the Watermelon Warhead. The tart, fruity refresher has turned heads wherever it’s landed, including at last month’s Beervana in Wellington, and now genuinely clocking in at 2.7 per cent (the GABS batch turned out to be a mind-bogglingly flavoursome 1.7 per cent) it’s in growing demand. Expect more Funky Junky and Dark Funk to follow too as Feral’s barrel program rolls on.
With Nail Brewing having gone from “zero to a warehouse full of beer” since Brewcorp opened, according to Brendan, we expect to have news of owner John Stallwood’s plans to send his multi-award-winning Nail Ale and Nail Stout nationwide soon. Already, his 2011 Clout Stout, an imperial version of the stout, is out and about. It carries a hefty price tag and there aren’t many bottles left. Having been lucky enough to sample it, all we can say is grab one before it’s gone.
As for Feral’s international success, does it mean they’ll be looking to hit the export market? Not if they can help it, apparently.
“The focus is always to sell as much beer as locally as possible so we can control cold distribution,” says Brendan. “If we could sell everything in the Swan Valley, we would. So if you start seeing our beer overseas, it means we’re not doing very well in Australia!”