This week saw Little Creatures release a new Single Batch beer. Reinhold is a Sticke Altbier head brewer Russ Gosling describes as a German cousin to the brewery's mid-strength staple Rogers'.
Here, Ross Lewis from The Sip, travels back in time with one of the Rogers in whose honour the beer was named.
It was a 12 week stay that left a 15 year beer legacy...
When Roger Bussell (pictured above) accepted the SOS call from Little Creatures management in 2002, he knew his time at the Fremantle brewery would be short. Midway through that year, Little Creatures’ head brewer, Janice McDonald, had left to pursue other opportunities and a replacement was needed fast. Yet such operators were in short supply at the turn of the Millennium.
Roger, a veteran brewer from the UK who had a wealth of experience in New Zealand and Australia, particularly with Swan in Perth, had returned to the WA capital a few years earlier after working in malting in Adelaide. He was “pottering around the place” at Little Creatures when Janice departed.
So, while the search was conducted for a new head brewer, Roger agreed to fill the role temporarily.
At that point, Little Creatures had been alive two years and had three beers in its stable – the now world renowned Pale Ale, a lager and a mid-strength amber ale.
The last of these wasn’t as popular as the others. When Roger learned this, he recalled great memories of drinking English brews in his youth and remembered fondly how many of these drinks were in the mid-strength range.
“The Pale Ale was a great beer and everyone liked it but I looked at the Amber Ale and thought it could do with some improvement,” Roger says.
“Janice had left Little Creatures so I was the interim while they searched for a new brewer, who became Franklin Lucarotti. I was only here 12 weeks and excellent young brewers such as Aaron Heary (now Gage Roads) did the heavy work. I potted around and looked at the amber ale.
“I wanted it to be a much more drinkable beer. I always wanted to produce a ruby red beer and could never make it. I thought I’d give another go."
Thus, the brewers decided to make the beer more like the old English bitters he had previously enjoyed, with lower alcohol – between three to four percent ABV,
"We thought that it didn’t have to be a flavourless beer and could have more body,” he says.
The Little Creatures team tweaked the Caramalt in the recipe to fill out the beer's body and give it a darker tinge. The roasted toffee flavour became more prominent. The Cascade hops were allowed to lift the aroma. And a slight nuttiness came through.
The result was a 3.8 percent ABV brew that was like little being brewed in Australia at the time –particularly at that alcohol level.
Although refined by later brewers, the revamped Amber Ale quickly become popular at the Little Creatures headquarters. It led company co-owner Howard Cearns to believe the revitalised beer needed a name – an identity to carry the variety into the community.
Another brewing identity, Roger Bailey, had been heavily involved in Little Creatures during the same period as the brewery’s commissioning engineer. Howard thought both men should be rewarded for their efforts and dutifully retitled the Amber Ale Rogers' in their honour.
“Roger Bailey and I had worked together at Swan," recalls Roger, who was technical brewer at the now closed brewery during the 1990s. "And I used to potter down here anyway when the concrete was being poured out of curiosity.
“He was still milling around when I was here for the 12 weeks and, shortly after that, Howard came up with the name.
“I was delighted and humbled with the naming.”
With such a turnover of beers in the craft world, the success of Rogers' over a long period is celebrated at Little Creatures. Indeed, current head brewer Russ Gosling has overseen the latest short run release for the brewery, a 6.5 percent ABV Sticke Altbier called Reinhold. Russ calls the latest brew “Rogers’ German cousin” and says it is a “taller, stronger version” of the old classic.
Russ was also happy to recognise Roger Bussell’s influence, particularly through his work promoting quality as a senior figure with the international Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Meanwhile, Roger says Russ, in turn, has also completed the enhancing of the original three beers by redeveloping the lager into the Pilsner that took out Champion Beer at last year's Craft Beer Awards.
Roger Bailey has since moved to Victoria but Roger Bussell continues to frequent Little Creatures, often trying the beer bearing his name.
“It was a brand that was here," he says, a decade and a half on from his three month stint at the helm. "It was [the brewery's] mid-strength beer and all I did was play around with it and it remained its mid-strength beer. But I still have a soft spot for it.
“Lake Karrinyup Country Club has it on tap and I usually taste it for quality. And it is still a quality beer.”
About the author: Ross Lewis is editor of beer website, The Sip.