Little did a youthful Stewart Sampson know that his teenage distilling experiments – black potato vodka, anyone? – in a breezy western suburbs shed in Perth would later provide the name for the Black Brewing Co and the ethos of “making good booze and having fun” that runs through the multiple projects under the Black banner.
More recently, it’s also a name shared with the one of world’s largest freshwater crayfish, the critically endangered Black Hairy Marron, found only in Margaret River and the creature that adorns Black's refreshed labels, albeit straddled by a Dionysus-like character. (We're pretty sure god-transportation isn't the cause for the low numbers, however.)
Opening in late 2015, Black’s Margaret River location houses a brewery, winery and distillery on the northern third of Caves Road serpentine black top. Indeed, the vines, manicured gardens and Zen reflection pool on approach to the brewery might have you believing you’ve arrived to sample chardonnay not saison. Yet, despite its cavernous, modern digs, the brewery steers clear of the R&M Williams, "chinos and checked shirt" set, even if there is a subtle influence from the neighbours.
Black’s executive chef takes a road less travelled in beer venue cuisine and the brewery is better for the globally influenced but pan-Asian focused menu. With no burger or pizza in sight, the tight menu covers the ocean, garden and pasture with bespoke bar snacks and a kids' menu that should enable a long afternoon of share plate grazing, watching the sun lengthen the eucalypt shadows on the estate’s lake.
Scan the fonts and you'll see sessionability is the focus. Fresh Ale and Lager keep things straight ahead, while the Pale Ale and IPA bring a modernity that will sate craftier tastes. Then, as the days darken, the lactose infused Bao Bao Milk Stout brings a similar level of drinking pleasure that’s best enjoyed beside the brewery’s double-sided fireplace.
The original German built brewery has been extensively expanded to allow for increasing volume and single batch releases that have included a 9 percent ABV Gunslinger Double IPA and iterations of the well-loved Bao Bao Milk Stout, an approach that keeps things interesting for drinkers and brewers alike.
However, it’s a building interest in the saison style that offers the most creative potential for drinkers. Black’s core range Saison is the launchpad for seasonal variations that draw from the local area; think wine barrel aging, co-ferments and more - as well as influence from collaborators like a Cascara Saison made with bespoke bean purveyors, 5 Senses Coffee Roasters.
Collaborations also include Honest Ale, made with pro-surfers Taj Burrow, Jay Davies, Dino Adrian and Caley Brent-White. Available in cans and draft, the inspiration for Honest Ale was to brew a beer that offers refreshment while chasing waves between the two Capes – one to complement the conversation not be the conversation. Given the board riders spend most of their time in the ocean, the inclusion of a small amount of local sea water within the brew keeps the beer true – honest, if you like - to its collaborative intent.
Additionally, Black releases 50,000 bottles of wine each year as well as Still Black Gin, under the new Label Dune Distilling, which uses water from an onsite natural spring and has a range of other spirits taking shape in barrel; it seems that, years later, Stewart can still stand still.
As for those pushed for time during a busy South West weekender, they can take the full complement of Black's commitment to “making good booze and having fun” home with them via the venue’s cellar door.