Everything about Whitelakes Brewing is big. Except where the beer is made. No, that’s huge.
As visitors step into this new facility in Perth’s deep south, they’re confronted by a mesh of stainless steel seemingly laid out to resemble an outstretched Transformer. It's a beast that's built for brewer Sean Symons. And, thankfully, he has plenty of experience keeping these brutes under control.
White Lakes has arrived on the WA beer scene with some serious bling. The glistening 25 hectolitre brewery not only adds to the renowned Baldivis food and wine trail, it shines like a beacon.
This isn’t a run-of-the-mill suburban brewpub. Instead, Whitelakes enters the WA brewhouse charts size wise in equal fifth with a bullet behind Gage Roads and Little Creatures (both 100hL), Feral and Nail's joint operation (50hL) and Last Drop (30hL). Colonial in Margaret River operates on a similar sized kit.
Former Swan Brewery man Sean reckons his kit could deliver 500,000 litres of beer a year; it may pale against, say, Stone and Wood's 12m litres per annum but, for a startup brewpub operation, White Lakes has serious brewing power.
And Sean, who has a passion for sailing, is like a master at the command as he sails solo on his brand new silverware overlooking Lake Walyungup across the road. He's set up the various parts of his brewhouse in a semicircle and can stand on a specially-made podium to tend to each piece of machinery – if ever the art of brewing could have crowd-drawing power then Sean certainly has the stage from which to perform.
There is another different display at Whitelakes too. The beers aren't the typical fare found in a contemporary Aussie brewpub. And this was done deliberately.
“We’ve got four lagers at the moment and that was done for a couple of reasons,” says Sean.
“Nothing allows you to test out a new kit like lagers – they show up the problem spots – and since I’ve got such a great system I really wanted to run it through its paces.
“But it was also a case of we wanted to get some traditional brews like Pilsener and work on having a much bigger flavour. In our Dark Lager, we use eight different types of malt. There is plenty of flavour in that glass and that is the ethos I and the team wanted to base our beers on.”
The Schwarzbier is a choc hit with a lightly roasted finish that demands a second tasting. After a few months of refinement, Sean is also content with how his Draught, Wit, and Standard (English Bitter) are tracking.
Whitelakes marks the return of Sean to full-time brewing since he left Swan Brewery in 2013, when all Swan products were moved from Perth to South Australia. He was the final brewing manager at the now demolished Canning Vale premises.
He’d always had a love of travel and, while in Vietnam in 2008, set up a small brewery after training locals. It still operates today and Sean makes regular visits in a consultancy capacity. However, he felt the urge to get his hands dirty again. In 2013, while on one of his Asian visits, he was called by WA businessman John Gastev, who made initial enquiries about establishing a new Perth brewery. It was to become White Lakes and had a soft launch late last year.
“It had to be the right location and it took some time to find it but we certainly have now,” says Sean of the site that includes a vast seating area and a sprawling front lawn.
“We wanted something that had a community feel. We have around 80,000 people living on the back door and, with there being such a strong attitude about provenance, we wanted to be a local outlet for fresh beer.
“And plenty of work had to go into the environmental aspect of the brewery. We spent a lot of time on our waste water strategies and we treat it and keep it on site now and use it for irrigation. Our used grains go to local farmers. Solar panels are on their way.
“We’ve tried to balance the inputs and outputs.”
Sean has plenty of opportunities to fully test the “brewing beast”. The ever-expanding Gastev Group Collective has a raft of hospitality venues north and south of the Swan River that will have space for Whitelakes beer. An off-premise canning or bottling line is in planning. And, while the brewpub is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the drinks are available seven days at the Vernon Arms Tavern next door.
There is plenty of room for expansion. The block on Old Mandurah Road is expansive and has enough grassed area to stage its own beer festival.
While there are big plans for a brewery this size within the Gastev Group Collective, it is the opportunity to relive the love of being finger deep in the process, like he was when working under the great Chuck Hahn in Sydney during the late 1990s, that drives Sean.
“I want beer to be fun again because that is what it is all about in the end,” he says. “There was also the chance to make some roots with the family in this area, which continues to grow.
“We’re looking forward to growing with them, too.”
Whitelakes Brewing is at 1441 Old Mandurah Road. Baldivis.