Western Australia's reputation as the birthplace of craft beer in Australia is unquestioned. Equally, the quality of the state's breweries, in particular the all-conquering Feral and Little Creatures, is recognised by beer lovers far and wide. But in the state itself there are few who have done as much for the craft beer industry as John Stallwood, the man behind Nail Brewing.
He's been brewing beers - and winning copious awards and gold medals - under the Nail banner at various breweries since 2000, has helped other WA brewers with their businesses, was the driving force responsible for getting the WA Brewers Association up and running, created microbrewing.com.au - Australia's first online resource for craft brewers, and helped launch the Perth Royal Beer Show. If that wasn't enough, his story has a personal side that makes the fact he is still brewing - let alone expanding Nail across Australia and even into overseas markets - truly remarkable. In 2004, he was assaulted while trying to stop a fight between strangers outside a pub in Fremantle and so severely injured that his brain was shut down and he was placed into a coma. The brewery he had established at Bobby Dazzler's in Perth was sold to The Monk (then the Mad Monk), his parents had to keep Nail from bankruptcy and his skull required rebuilding with titanium.
Eight years later, having eased himself back into brewing at Jarrah Jacks and Edith Cowan University alongside his brewing mentor Hugh Dunn, he completed his comeback by entering into the BrewCorp business with Feral, run by his longstanding friend and sparring partner Brendan Varis. The two breweries combined to purchase one of the largest microbreweries in Australia - based around a 50 hectolitre brewhouse - and work began to establish Nail as a brewery recognised across Australia and not just in WA.
John's brewing story begins well before that, however: with a home brew kit purchased for a friend's 21st birthday in 1994. His friend soon discovered brewing wasn't for him so John inherited the kit. Two years later - fully four years before his first commercial beer was tapped - he registered the Nail Ale trademark. The first commercial Nail Ale was poured at Bobby Dazzler's on March 23, 2000, and since then, accompanied by slogans such as "Hammer down a Nail!", his beers have become much-loved WA staples.
John likes to refer to himself as a "pale ale and stout brewer" and has created a few variants on each. Tack Lite is his light version of Nail Ale and the epic Clout his Russian Imperial version of Nail Stout. It was first brewed to mark Nail's 10th anniversary and has gone on to become one of Australia's most highly-rated and sought after annual releases. In 2013, he added a "hoppy, golden summer ale" – Golden Nail to the permanent roster and has since brewed all manner of limited release beers and continued to expand the core range, with Nail Red becoming a runaway hit, with good reason, and VPA appearing in cans.
There have been occasional limited releases too, such as the Antarctic Nail Ale that was brewed with water collected from Antarctica and auctioned to raise money for Sea Shepherd. Bottle number one went on to fetch $1,850, making it the most expensive bottle of beer in the world at the time, and the iconic Clout Stout, a beer that should be on every discerning beer lover's bucket list. Alongside that, supported by family, John has continued to work tirelessly on issues facing the microbrewing industry both in WA and across Australia; once he even packaged his beers in cartons with one side dedicated to highlighting the excise issues facing small Aussie brewers.
As someone who's done so much for the beer industry in Australia, it's perhaps best that the last word is left to John himself – and a phrase he used to describe the relationship with his BrewCorp business partner.
"Brendan is a better brewer than me," he says. "But I brew better beers."