Local breweries bring a lot to small towns. They don't just offer a place to drink, but a place to work, build a sense of community, and, for outsiders travelling through, they're often a reason to stop.
In the case of the mates behind Eclipse Brewing, they're set to offer Northam beer to be proud of for the second time in more than a hundred years. Eclipse beers only started appearing across WA earlier in the year, but there’s a weight of history behind the name: the first Eclipse launched in the Wheatbelt town back in 1897.
That first brewery was opened Gustus Luber, with brewing led by Henry Edmeades, who by then had brewed at multiple spots across the continent. But a decade on, the new Eclipse closed its doors to make way for the Northam Brewery, which is also long since shut.
Rather than leave the Eclipse name languishing in the past, a group of mates have brought it back to life and have plans to build a new brewery just down the road from the site of Northam's first. Driving the rebirth are Ryan Sandrini, Rhys Fleay, Carl Della, Bryn Allan, Chad McGregor, Stefan Lauk and Daniel Dempster, with five of the founders growing up in the Wheatbelt region.
Ryan says their decision to revive the brand has been warmly appreciated by Northam locals, the local council and even those who share a familial bond with Eclipse.
“We actually had some family members of the founder contact us recently,” Ryan says. “They were great, great, grandchildren and one of them didn’t know that he ran a brewery in Northam which was pretty cool.”
Before launching Eclipse, Ryan, Rhys and Chad had been homebrewing together for some years, with the co-founders among the many who enjoyed support and appreciation for their beers through the Margaret River Brewhouse's Backyard Brewing Tournament (which you can read about here). They launched their brewing company in March, conducting their initial brews on various homebrew setups before scaling them up at Shizuku Brewing in Perth's north, but plans are underway to give Eclipse not one but two homes.
Their pilot brewery will be in the South West, housed in a small winery and dedicated to small batches and recipe development. The site in Northam, located a little more than an hour’s drive north-east of Perth and known for not just agriculture but hot air ballooning and whitewater rafting too, is scheduled to open next year. That's where the bulk of their production will occur, in a brewery sitting beside the Avon River and a short stroll from the original home of Eclipse.
While they’ll be production-focused, they also want to ensure the venue is family-friendly as they set out to build a new community hub in a town that acts as a hub for the wider Wheatbelt region.
“We do want to provide a place for the community to go to, meet, enjoy the beers and hear the story,” Ryan says. “We get a lot of people coming into town who don’t get to see that many people a lot of the time so we want to build that place where people can come and have a nice, relaxing experience.”
The team also intends to work closely with farmers too. They've already partnered with Mortlock Malt, which is based nearby in Karranadgin, and given some of the founders are farmers, the plan is to send their own barley to Mortlock for malting. They're working closely with the state's small-scale hop growers too.
To find out more about the 21st century version of Eclipse Brewing, we invited the team to join us as part of our Who Brews...? series.
Who are you?
We are a group of seven good mates with a mix of backgrounds including electrical, instrumentation, refrigeration, mechanical trades, farming, healthcare, tourism and oil and gas.
Where do you brew?
We currently pilot our recipes in the South West at our homes on various size homebrew setups, with our commercial batches brewed at Shizuku Brewing in Wangara.
Why do you brew?
We are beer nerds, we love craft beer, we like trying new styles. Our brews have stories and memories attached to them. There are so many good brewers and breweries in the South West and everyone is super supportive of each other.
The challenge of developing a recipe, striving for consistency and achieving a high standard puts a smile on our faces. We’re just loving the opportunity to show what we can brew, and are stoked to say the local support for returning quality local craft beer to the Wheatbelt town of Northam has been brilliant.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Rhys: I moved to Margaret River in 2019 and went to the Margaret River Brewhouse Backyard Brewing Tournament. Seeing fellow Eclipse directors/brewers Chad and Ryan win awards made me leap from beer enthusiast to Obsessed Home Brewer. I didn't realise it at the time but years of visiting craft breweries, trips overseas to England, the US, Oktoberfest and Czech led me to understand what I like and appreciate the history of great beer.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Eclipse was originally established in Northam way back in 1897. Five of us grew up in and around Northam, so we were keen to bring the brewery back to town! There’s a really cool historical photo of the main street in Northam that shows the original Eclipse Brewery tower – we plan on setting up our brewery a few hundred metres down the road.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
The Eclipse Summer Ale best represents us because it was brewed with the Wheatbelt in mind. We used local barley malted by Mortlock Malt and Australian hops in Galaxy and Eclipse. It is a no-nonsense beer that will win over the craft beer fans or the diehard bushchook drinkers.
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
The OG of WA craft beer, John Stallwood. This legend paved the way for WA craft and still puts out great beers that I find myself buying over and over again. I’m sure we would learn heaps from John.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
We range from mid-thirties to early forties in age so Grinspoon, 28 Days, Frenzal Rhomb, Rob Zombie or Rage Against the Machine. It’s the music we grew up with as country kids in WA thinking we were tough.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Nail Ale Red Carpet (mmmm tasty but dangerous), King Road IPA (top notch IPA), Dingo Lager (solid lager), Rocky Ridge Coffee Maple Stout (such a good beer) and heaps of Eclipse Brewing Co (perks of owning a brewery)
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
Hmmm tough question, there are so many good beers out there. Variety is the spice of life.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Golden West Brewing in Subiaco just did a collab with Big Don’s Smoked Meats called South of the Border Ancho Chilli Porter. It blew me away. Chilli beer done right.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
We want to push the local ingredients as far as we can. The same way wine is produced with variations due to locality, weather and growing conditions, we think barley can do the same thing. Our barley farming directors are busy growing the best grain for Eclipse to make our beer unique to us, and in the future we will grow our own hops for a limited-release wet hop IPA.
Where can people find your beers?
We are lucky to be supported really well across Perth, the Wheatbelt and in the South West. Jump on to our website for our beer finder map.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
Still making great beers!
In ten years, we hope to have set up and expanded our production facilities, have two or three awesome venues, have Australia-wide distribution and be showcasing our awesome West Aussie produce to other parts of the world.
Follow Eclipse Brewing's Facebook and Instagram to follow their journey. Once their homes are open, you'll be able to find them on the free Crafty Pint app along with hundreds of other breweries and good beer venues.