Since the below article was published, Feral's owner, Coca-Cola EuroPacific Partners, have announced they are to sell all beer and cider brands in the region. This means Feral will be sold less than five years after it was acquired from co-founder Brendan Varis. More here.
The closure of Feral's brewpub in the Swan Valley at the start of the month felt like the end of an era for many. Sure, the trailblazing brewery has been following a different trajectory in recent years following its acquisition by Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) in 2017, with Biggie Juice and its variants meaning more to many drinkers than trips out to Baskerville, but the venue will be remembered fondly by thousands of beer lovers, both from WA and far further afield.
All being well, however, good beer will soon be poured – and brewed – at the Haddrill Road site once more. And it will do so under the stewardship of one of Feral's original founders.
Once the relevant liquor licence transfers have taken place, the venue will reopen as the Baskerville Tavern, with a few taps still pouring Feral beers and others featuring a mixture of offerings from brewers small and large. Completing the picture will be new beers brewed on-site: the brewery responsible for so many iconic beers over the years – not fired up since Feral innovation brewer Will Irving left the business – is set to be recommissioned.
Overseeing the rebirth is Al Carragher, who wrote the business plan for Feral more than two decades ago, and is partnering with an old friend, Paul Fowler, who's been running country pubs in regional WA for the past 15 years. Al was a co-owner of Feral with Brendan Varis in the brewery's early years before moving to Melbourne, where he's been running the hugely popular Great Northern Hotel in Carlton North since 2009.
He recently bought the freehold for the site from his mum, Gillian Lamont, and with Feral's 20-year lease up for renewal around the same time CCA planned to stop operating the brewpub, the opportunity to create something new was too good to resist.
"We'd been having conversations about keeping it in the family for the past year," Al told The Crafty Pint. "I made the decision in July to take over the freehold, then Coke announced the closure of the brewpub."
Conversations between the two soon ensued, leading to a position Feral's GM Rob Brajkovich describes as a "win-win". Three of the 15 taps will continue to pour Feral, the venue remains in the hands of someone who not only appreciates its position in the modern Australian beer landscape but was responsible for bringing it to life, the brewery will produce beers once more, and the Swan Valley retains a craft beer-focused destination.
"The idea is to turn it into a tavern focusing on good beer, good food and a good local wine list in a family environment," Al says, pointing out that the evolution of the Swan Valley since Feral launched in 2002 makes it an ideal spot for such a venture.
"I've always had a soft spot [for the place]. The Swan Valley has become a vibrant desert oasis."
At this stage, there's no word on a new home for Feral, even though they are looking forward to commissioning a 12 hectolitre brewery at their Bassendean production facility early in 2022 to allow them to create more experimental batches in house. Since the mothballing of the Swan Valley brewhouse, such beers have been brewed on the kit at Edith Cowan University.
According to Rob (pictured below), however, the hunt for a new Feral venue is ongoing.
"A brewpub is really important to a craft brewery business," he says. "When Brendan was still consulting for the first 18 months [after the sale], we were out looking at sites.
"The plan was always to move from the Valley; as much as it all started there, the brand was diverging from that country feel to something more urban. For a lot of drinkers, their first experience with the brand is Biggie Juice and hip hop. Mine was with Feral White 15 or 16 years ago; they've come [to Feral] off the back of Biggie and seen us at GABS with hip hop playing, or in alleyways with cool murals on the walls."
With the lease coming up for renewal and COVID adding its own challenges, Rob says they were unable to have a new venue ready in time for the closure of the old one, but says "it's still very much part of the five-year plan".
In recent years, he says the majority of visitors to the Swan Valley brewpub were tourists "out for a good time but not necessarily to see Feral or beer led", which also played a role in their decision. Aiding the process that led to this point was the fact he'd known Al for years; "WA is a small place," he points out.
"He was thinking the same thing we were," Rob adds. "It's a bit of a nice closed loop, going back to one of the original founders. We've been more than happy to have our venue manager out there working with them for three or four weeks, getting them ready and set up. It's a win for both parties."
Once the new brewery is in place in Bassendean by the end of summer, Rob says Feral fans can look forward to "more sours and more big double IPAs", while there may be ongoing finessing of existing core range beers, as with the recently reinvented and relaunched Runt.
As for the Baskerville Tavern, which will hopefully start welcoming guests next month, Al says: "It's a good feeling to be getting back into the Valley – into what's a mature Valley now."