Australia is to get its first ever dedicated sour beer brewery, after two of WA’s top brewers finalised plans to move into a joint facility. The decision of Nail and Feral to form Brewcorp and share a new 50 hectolitre brewery in Bayswater means Feral’s existing brewery in the Swan Valley will eventually be used to produce nothing but sour and wild ales and other funky Belgian styles. The remainder of Feral’s range will be switched over the course of the year to the shared facility, which will also allow Nail to ramp up its output significantly and supply its award-winning Ale and Stout to a wider audience.
“The vast majority of beers – 80 per cent – produced [at the existing Feral site] will be for our sour beer program,” says Brendan Varis, of Feral. “We need to be brewing beers now to sell in 18 months or two years time. It’s a different mentality for a brewer to make beers that take that long, rather than thinking three weeks ahead. It’s a pretty significant capital investment as we’ll have a dedicated filler for our sour bottles and dedicated tanks [to prevent contamination of other beers with the wild bacteria]. And if sour beer doesn’t catch on then I’m a pretty thirsty fella!”
He already has 60 barrels onsite that he has used to create sour beers such as the Dark Funk and Funky Junky as well as barrel-aged brews such as the King Brown cognac barrel-aged Imperial Brown. The aim is to move bottling and storage to Brewcorp and extend the barrel room.
His sour obsession can be traced to a bottle of Liefman Goudenband and has since led him to visit sour ale experts Russian River in the States several times, including attending one of the brewery’s Sour Beer Symposiums.
“The biggest attraction for me in a climate like we have got now is the refreshing character of the acidity,” he says. “Bitterness is good for refreshment but acidity is king.”
On its way is what he claims is his most ambitious sour beer yet: the Swanambic, which should be debuted at one of the Liquid Lounge events being hosted by The Crafty Pint at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. It is a beer fermented with wild yeasts living in the Feral brewery: Brendan poured wort into a clean mash tun post boil and left it open overnight in the brewery to pick up whatever was in the air. It was the fastest ferment he had ever witnessed.
“We left ourselves at the mercy of what was floating in the brewhouse at the time. When we came back the following morning, it smelled of baked beans. Now it’s had months to develop it smells like three-week-old socks and that’s an improvement.”
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you can console yourself that plenty of other Feral and Nail beers will be spreading across the country later this year. What’s more, the opening of Brewcorp represents, for Nail founder John Stallwood, a chance to get back into his own brewery after several years of “gypsy brewing” at other facilities, including Edith Cowan University, a situation forced upon him after he suffered serious injury in an incident in 2004.
“It’s been nearly eight years since my accident and I am finally in a better place to where I was before my accident,” he says. “If you believe in a dream then one day that dream will believe in you.
“The idea of Brewcorp is to save money. By sharing warehouse and equipment we pretty much pay half the price. It’s enabled both of us to have ownership of a 50HL brewery, something a few years ago I thought would be impossible without giving up ownership of Nail. By Feral and Nail being partners in Brewcorp we keep our breweries' ownership separate and therefore continue to be independent.”
He and Brendan are long established in the WA brewing scene – friends who enjoy a lively relationship.
“Both Feral and Nail have put lots on the line together so have strong trust in each other. We are sure to have our conflicts but can communicate constructively. Its going to be tough and very hard work but we now have no restriction on brewing capabilities and a lot better economics of scale. We are both competitive with each other but that should only help our quality.
“Brendan is a better brewer than me, I just brew better beer.”
The new brewery has been delayed in leaving the DME plant in Canada but will be delivered later this year. Feral will immediately transfer brewing of its White, Sorachi Ace and Hop Hog to Brewcorp with other beers to follow over time (Boris lovers – that should be one of the first to follow). Once the transfer is complete, Brendan will ramp up his sour production, a project he has been developing over the past few years.
Once the new facility is in place, John will begin brewing Nail Ale, Nail Stout and probably a Lite beer (currently under development and based on the Nail Ale) on a national scale in both draught and bottle. He will continue to brew some specialty beers at Degrees Brewery at Edith Cowan with others developed to brew on Brewcorp.
Picture at top is John Stallwood. Brendan Varis is on the right in the reflection in his glasses.