Andrew Dykstra had two crucial occupational skills when he set out to open Brewhouse Margaret River. Firstly, picking up plenty of awards as an amateur brewer proved he knew how to handle a mash paddle.
As for the second? Was he an architect, marketer, builder, creative designer or even a hop grower? No. Better than that, he was a town planner. From the region.
Most people who have thought about building a brewery will have endured a raft of sleepless nights tormented by bad dreams involving bureaucratic red tape. Health, safety, environment, community impact, location and design are among the elements that need some type of government approval well before the first grains are mashed in.
“We didn’t get any advantages but we knew what was going to be thrown at us,” says Andrew (pictured top left with Aaron Brown and Ilya Hastings). “We knew what to do. A lot of people who want to start one up mightn’t understand it is not that easy. There is a lot of work involved.”
The solid preparation work enabled the Brewhouse to hit the ground running after clearing the logistical hurdles. And, 18 months later, Andrew and his brew partner Ryan Ashworth are at full stride.
In May, Brewhouse collected an Australian International Beer Awards gold medal, one of only 11 WA breweries to do so, for its Golden Groper Ordinary Bitter. Then, little more than a month later, the team took home Best WA Beer and Best Commercial Beer at the Perth Royal Beer Show for its Peter Coupan Barrel Aged Imperial Stout.
Andrew is happy to admit such notable achievements have come well ahead of schedule. However, it would be wrong to consider Andrew’s operation to be an overnight success.
Indeed, it took almost six years for the Brewhouse to go from a chat between two mates to opening the doors to the venue that sits alongside forest but is still within walking distance of the centre of Margaret River township.
“The idea was coined between myself and a mate [Brewhouse co-owner Iliya Hastings] when we were working together in local government about eight years ago,” Andrew recalls. “We had enough dealing with bureaucracy and whatnot.
“I had been making beer and putting it the Perth Royal Beer Show amateur section and winning the odd award. So Iliya says, ‘You make good beer, let’s make beer for a living’.
“With my background in town planning I had a rough idea what we were in for. A lot of people who say let’s start a brewery don’t realise the amount of i’s you have to dot and t’s you have to cross. But we dealt with it.
“In January last year we opened the doors. That’s how long it took to get our approval processes, our liquor licence, etc through.”
The result of their efforts is an operation based around a 10 hectolitre system and a kitchen that has quickly become a popular venue in a region bursting with breweries; within a short drive of the Brewhouse you'll find Cheeky Monkey, Colonial, Bootleg, The Beer Farm, Cowaramup and Black Brewing with another two in the pipeline. Together with even more breweries found across the wider region, they've created an intriguing beer trail in a part of Australia in which visitors can barely help but become immersed in local produce.
When it came to bringing their plan to reality, Andrew, Iliya and the third pin in the Brewhouse wheel of ownership, Aaron Brown, were determined to make their venue family friendly. And, once up and running and heading into winter, along with co-brewer Ryan they decided to create an imperial stout for drinkers to enjoy while kicking back by the fire. It proved a smart move, lighting the fuse for the Brewhouse Margaret River.
Initially, the Coupan Imperial Stout picked up a silver medal at last year’s Perth Royal Beer Show awards – just six months after the Brewhouse opened. Further down the line, the beer gained a successor.
“Limeburners had opened up an outlet across the road from us and while talking to [founder] Cameron Syme, who is an award-winning distiller, I said the Coupan would be great married with whisky,” says Andrew.
“I had a chat to him and managed to get a couple of fresh barrels and, as usual, they always leave about one litre in each barrel, which was very fortunate. We emptied the whisky out and put the (Imperial Stout) straight in there and aged it for a couple of months. We monitored it all the time.
“It was a process I haven’t done before. We had a block and tackle to lift it up and then had to decide how to get the stuff out but it seemed to work. Thank god for Google! I got to see some ideas and see how people deal with it, treat it and move the beer around. That helped a bit.”
While inside the Limeburners barrels, the black beast got bigger and bolder. It was a brave effort for a new team. But the Peter Coupan Barrel Aged Imperial Stout was soon feted by the WA beer community after dominating the local awards on a night on which the straight, non-barrel version also picked up gold, as did the brewery's Undie's Oatmeal Stout.
As for the name, Peter Coupan, it came about in a hurry. The initial Coupan was given its name by Ryan in tribute to the wildcat that is alleged to roam the South West, killing livestock. It's the state's Loch Ness Monster – many have heard stories of the brute, a few allege to have seen it, but none has tracked down the Coupan.
Then, earlier this year, when Andrew was entering his beers for the awards, he didn’t have a name for the enhanced version.
“I said to Ryan on the night of the awards I hope we don’t win for the best beer with the worst name,” he says.
“I had ten minutes to log in my entry and I was thinking, ‘What are we going to call this beer?’. Crikey.
"And then Ben [Joseph] from The Beer Farm was floating around and I was asking him and he said, 'Coupan. Peter Pan. What about Peter Coupan?'.
“I talked to my marketing lady later and she loved it. I had other names for it later but it has stuck now.”
The beer will be sticking around too with Brewhouse Margaret River scheduling in twice as much for the sequel, Peter Coupan II, next year.
Brewhouse Margaret River is at 35 Bussell Highway, Margaret River.
About the author: Ross Lewis is editor of beer website, The Sip.