These days the Margaret River region of Australia can lay claim to more microbreweries than any other part of the country. But back in the mid-90s there was just the one: Bootleg Brewery. It was the first to bring craft beer to WA's wine-producing heartland when it was opened by Tom Reynolds, just a short drive off the famous Caves Road, and soon found favour with local winemakers and tourists alike.
Head brewer Michael Brookes has been there almost as long as the brewery itself, joining as a home brewing barman in 1998 and instantly showing a desire to move into the brewery. Since becoming head brewer, he's helped Bootleg earn a reputation as home to some of the state's finest and most creative beers.
Back in 1994, the brewery started out with just a single beer - called "Bitter Beer" - but Brookesy now oversees production of six year-round ales and lagers plus a colourful series of limited release beers throughout the year, including a barrel-aged barleywine, a Black IPA and fruit-infused ales, as well as a cider. Some, such as the award-winning Raging Bull, are available fairly widely across Australia in bottled form, but the best place to sample them all remains the brewery's home in Wilyabrup.
There, the original building houses the bar, brewery and restaurant as well as a collection of Australian brewing memorabilia. Perhaps its greatest attraction aside from the beers, however, is the expansive beer garden that makes full use of the 30-acre site. Rows of benches and tables stretch out across lush lawns to Bootleg's own lake meaning there's plenty of room in which to stretch out and relax with one of the brewery's tasting paddles and food from the kitchen, which favours seasonal, local produce.
From its humble beginnings, Bootleg has now grown to the point where it produces well over 100,000 litres of beer each year, most of which is still sold in state. Brookesy has also been instrumental in the establishment of the South West Craft Beer Festival, which launched in 2012 and brings together brewers from across the region for two days of good food, great beer and live entertainment. You'll find plenty of live entertainment at Bootleg too, with a full lineup of bands throughout the year.
Two decades on from its founding, and despite the arrival of many other breweries within the region, Bootleg remains just as popular with local winemakers and tourists as ever, revamping its core range, playing around with barrel-ageing on a regular basis and always living up to its tag as "An oasis of beer in a desert of wine".