Plenty of grand plans have been hatched at music festivals over the years, but few come to fruition in the cold light of day. Fewer still come to life to anything like the extent of that envisaged by the Otherside team when they decided to "bottle this feeling" at their own music festival little more than three years ago.
Last year, they commissioned a production brewery and opened its doors to the public and now comes the arrival of Freo.Social, a multipurpose entertainment venue and brewery on a site rich with history that forms yet another arm of the expanding business brood residing under the newly established Triple 1 Three hospitality and brewing banner.
To understand the how a few festival beers have evolved into so much more – and what the future holds – Guy Southern spoke with Otherside head brewer Rhys Lopez, Triple 1 Three director David Chitty and CEO Al Taylor.
The Brewery of Fun
Inside the Artillery Drill Hall that dates back to 1895 and was once the site of the Fremantle Prison garden, workers and employees move with a pace that underscores the race to the opening of Western Australia’s newest entertainment and craft beer venue, Freo.Social. Wet paint signs still cover most of the venue, equipment and stock are beginning to arrive, and in almost every room you'll find some level of activity.
In the onsite Otherside Brewshed, head brewer Rhys Lopez is overseeing the final installation elements of what will become a creative hive for the near three-year-old brand: a two vessel, five hectolitre brewery. It's a comparatively miniature system and one that wasn’t always part of the plan.
“For the first six months, we were talking about trying to put a production brewery here that was going to be a nine or ten hectolitre system," he says. "When talking with the guys I didn’t quite realise how ambitious they actually were.
"I was like, 'Oh! If it’s not going to be brewpub then this is not the place to do it, this is not a good location. We need somewhere like in sunny Myaree, somewhere not sexy but with lots of space.'."
So that's where the production brewery ended up: rather larger than the nine or ten hectolitre system initially being discussed and heading rapidly towards a capacity of one million litres per annum. Despite the location's perceived lack of sexiness, the people have come to the light industrial suburb 25 minutes south of Perth. And, at the site where the owners initially proposed building a brewery, the plans have become rather more ambitious, even as the kit has been scaled down.
“When me, (Andrew) Skipp and Kyle (Lyons) first pushed for the idea of doing a beer a week, that wasn’t always part of the plan for what we were going to do down here," Rhys says of the setup at Freo.Social. "There was the idea of doing something and, if it works, bring it back. And we were like, ‘Fuck that, let’s just do something new and if we’re going to bring it back, we’ll do it on the 20 hec [system].’
“So, we sat down and within 20 minutes we had over 100 recipe ideas and about 85 of them were good. You know, what if we did Anthem with a kveik yeast? Or what if we did Harvest and aged it on French oak? There’s a double Harvest in tank now. I’d like to start doing New Englands as well. If we can clear ten kegs in a few days, we can keep rolling out fresh stuff and have it at its peak."
At its peak and with experimentation to the fore – plus, according to Rhys, "just dumb beers that are based on puns and stuff like that."
He adds: “The first beer that I’ll be doing on the kit will be our GABS beer and then I want to bring back the Black and Tan but in a new, modern craft kinda way. So, I’m going to do an XPA and a Black IPA at the same ABV that are designed to be blended. So that’ll be the first couple of beers launched – you know, fun, stupid stuff like that that’s not otherwise viable.”
Add in a hop back with which they plan to play with fruit and various herbs rather than just hops and there's plenty of scope for the brewers to led their imaginations run wild across the two sites.
As the urgency of opening Freo.Social builds, David says: “It’s good to see it come to life, that’s for sure. The planning for this started four years ago but it’s taken a couple of years at the backend for all of the approvals and all that kind of stuff, which we quietly went around doing while we were focusing on the brewery and the brand.
"The vision was always to have this space to bring the brand to life in an experiential sense so that all of the things that Otherside stands for can come to life in this space, through the music, entertainment and creating an atmosphere that’s kind of like a festival every day."
At time of writing, the venue's capacity was still being finalised; however, the estimate is close to a thousand people, with around 550 likely to be approved for the Entertainment Room (pictured below). It’s this cavernous space which provides the anchor for much of what Otherside, and now Triple 1 Three, have been working towards.
“The Brewshed operates independently of this ticketed area so, if there’s no show on here, the brewery will be open to locals and tourists, Wednesday to Sunday, lunch to dinner," David says. "It's been designed to deal with different kinds of uses.
"I just think that we’re lucky to have this room: the space, the atmosphere, the heritage here, you can feel it in the room and artists have always loved playing in here because it’s very different to a pub room, which most venues are in WA.
“We’re fortunate to have a structure that you can never build again, in a great location with a landlord that’s been very supportive. The National Trust have invested into the project as a landlord, they’ve put some capital in, and they believe in the vision that we have and the cultural legacy continuing in the space."
For gigs, no expense has been spared: 56 taps await thirsty punters and more than $250,000 has been invested on lighting and sound alone.
“We decided to it properly because ... otherwise, you’re not doing it justice. Because we’ve worked in festivals for so long, we understand the value of production and how artists value it and how much influence production teams have with management and artists."
Past contacts from the music and events world have helped: a guy who mixes sound for Tame Impala globally has worked on the production side, for example.
"We just thought that if we’ve got what we feel is such an atmospheric, beautiful room with ambience, which is attractive for artists to play in, if we don’t do the production justice as well it won’t really complete the experience," David says.
Freo.Social’s opening calendar of events features a dizzying lineup of local, national and international talent. The opening week alone features John Butler, The Waifs, San Cisco and Superego – most of those shows are already sold out – with a further 40 gigs already confirmed.
Fostering grassroots talent is also part of the culture, something manifested in the Tapped by Otherside grants that have seen more than $50,000 invested to date into the West Australian arts community over the past three years, most notably sending artist of the moment Stella Donnelly to the acclaimed SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. It’s an ethos that now has a physical home that can act as a talent incubator.
“One of the outcomes we wanted to achieve as a venue in Freo was to work with community and artists. We are going to offer this space for local bands to rehearse before they go on tour," David explains.
"We have a venue policy where we want touring acts to have a local artist supporting them wherever possible and we’ve got some spaces upstairs where people who work with talent have a place to work – office space, visual artist space, art workshops, management mentorships and music industry people.
“We believe in investing into the community that you’re in and we’re fortunate to be able to have the space to do that and we’re very passionate about that. As an example, we gave Tame Impala their first show at a music industry show back in the day. Without those platforms to give people a start, it’s very, very difficult to get to a point where they can eventually come in here and sell the room out and sell a lot of beer with that."
As for future expansion plans David is quick to focus on consolidating what have been a busy three years.
“We’re just really happy that Otherside has connected and is doing really well but we do feel that this will dial it up," he says. "We’re looking at opportunities on the East Coast and South East Asia but in a very embryonic stage.
"People are starting to ask for the beer over there thanks to the tourism side of Freo but I think we just need to catch our breath and make sure we get this right.”
More broadly, in a short space of time the group have attracted industry leaders from their own field into the Otherside fold to support this accelerated growth. Steve Finney (the new national sales & marketing manager formerly with Gage Roads, Feral and Little Creatures) and Matt Marinich (the group venue manager enticed back west from Stomping Ground in Melbourne) have joined in recent months, as has the CEO, with Al bringing a 30 years of experience in marketing, including running one of Australia’s most awarded advertising and marketing companies, 303MullenLowe.
“We’re making beer and we’re opening venues but that’s not what the business is about," Al says. "That’s a functional thing and, yes, it’s really good beer but what are we here really to do?
"We wanted to be really clear about the business we’re in. So we went back into the DNA of the business, which is principally Dave and James (Legge), and where they’ve have come from and what they are good at. They started in festivals, Dave started Sunset Cinemas, and the basic idea was, ‘There’s more to movies than just the movie’; it’s a social experience, so how can you make it more social?
"So, let’s put in a park, put some beanbags out, get some wine, and turn it into something more than just a movie. It became a social interaction event."
This progressed into Sunset Events, which was involved in the Southbound Festival, Laneways Festival, Blues & Roots festivals, Stereosonic and more.
“These businesses have been intuitively about finding ways to bring people together to experience something," Al says. "So, if you take that and look at what we’re now doing, we’re all about finding ways to connect people and connect experience and, basically, beer is 100 percent a social amplifier. So, that’s one part of it and the other part of it is you’ve got the venues.
"Freo.Social is not just a venue, it’s a place where the idea is people come together. It’s completely egalitarian – it’s to experience."
For those open to experience, whether in the form of "fun", "dumb" beers, live music or food, Freo.Social is like nowhere else in Western Australia. And, for many others, it may well prove be the opening to a whole new world.
Freo.Social is in Parry Street, Fremantle, and opens to the public at 11am on March 20 with performances in the Entertainment Hall commencing on April 3.
Tickets and more information be found here.