The Best Of Beer 2023: Western Australia

December 21, 2023, by Guy Southern

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The Best Of Beer 2023: Western Australia

With visits to Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania under our belts, it's time to head across the Nullarbor as our Best Of Beer 2023 series makes its way to WA.
Read on to see what caught the eye of our team on the ground: new openings, delicious beers, and more.
 


Standout Moments

Where The Country Meets The City

Sound Brewing Co in Rockingham will become a Cheeky Monkey venue in 2024 as more regional brewers look for homes in the Greater Perth region.

 

Perth’s LA-like sprawl has many outer areas that remain under-serviced by good beer, which has provided an opportunity for modern, social venues and breweries to start filling the gaps. Many of this year's openings, and those that aren't far off, haven't looked to Perth's CBD for customers, instead turning to the 'burbs.

Froth Craft Brewery's impressive run of venues continues as they bring their experience from Exmouth and Bunbury and place it in North Beach, with Rocky Ridge slated to open in nearby Duncraig next year. 

In the Southern Perth corridor, Whitelakes are renovating with pace, readying for a bold 2024; the area is set to feature an interesting clique with King Road, Found and Cheeky Monkey’s Sound site all within an afternoon’s drive.

In Found’s case, the city went to semi-rural Byford. With plans for their East Perth brewery venue moving at a painfully glacial pace, the team whipped up a nimble outpost 50 minutes away surrounded by thousands of people that suddenly really like them – just imagine the possibilities in the CBD.

For brewers, new or established, welcoming customers to a bar that pours your beer has become more crucial than ever, bringing better margins and allowing beer drinkers to really connect with the brands and the people behind them. 


Crafty New Arrivals

 

Speaking of new, there's been several fresh breweries and venues join the local industry over the last year.

Albany’s White Star Hotel launched the in-house Ettie's Brewing to bring more local beer to the Great Southern region. Cowaramup’s Servo renovated garage now pours one of WA’s best beer lineups in what was previously a quick fuel and coffee stop between Dunsborough and Margaret River’s wine country. 

The Corner Dairy, and cross-road neighbour St Brigid, welcome rolling beer lists in gorgeous spaces matched with excellent food menus – the kind of thing that Sydney might do on the way to the beach.

Fremantle continues to bon vivant itself bar to bar, pub to pub. Now, more than ever, the port city is an energetic thing unto itself: macro jostles with the smallest of producers in venues expansive, bespoke, petite, all replete with elite hospitality and soundtracks.

But new openings don't account for the one spare tap pouring something locally-made and owned that’s slowly becoming more prevalent across WA. 

Breweries are showing just how well they excel at hospitality: Froth were named Best New Venue by WA's Australian Hotel Association, who also gave Thorny Devil the nod for Best Boutique Brewery, and, though not beer-related, Karatha’s North West Brewing claimed WA’s Best Regional steak sandwich; after all, a good venue needs great food. It seems those steak sandwiches are mighty popular too, with the brewery's managing director Daniel Scott elected as the Mayor of Karratha

However, venue opportunities don't come without challenges, especially on the hospo side. Front-of-house and back-of-house teams have felt the pressure of travellers heading back overseas, holidaying, or seeking alternative opportunities – management roles likewise. Whether this will last or not remains to be seen, but currently many venues are running with reduced hours, shorter menus, implementing QR codes and bar service in lieu of table service, or generally simplifying their menu. 


Swings & Roundabouts

 

But, as some have grown and opened, others have closed. Debutants Brew Garage (pictured above) and The Brewship open physical doors, while Area 51 are searching for a place of their own. After opening last year, 2023 proved to be quite the year for Mandurah’s Boundary Island, claiming Best New Exhibitor at AIBAs and Perth Royal Beer Awards.

Margaret River Beer Co, née Brewhouse, opened a production facility to focus on the future. To celebrate picking up even more silverware, Nail announced they'd bought Billabong and opened a cellar door in the former’s Myaree home, while Otherside and Nowhereman found enough in common to become step-siblings and Ruinbar became part of the Picabar and Percy Flint cohort. 

Running With Thieves were WA's first brewery to enter voluntary administration in 2023 and their restructure saw previously silent partners secure the business, while Erosion Meadery & Brewery decided to call it a day. Blasta, meanwhile, expanded to one of the largest capacity production breweries in the state, at the same shifting their Burswood venue down the street and opening a gastrobrewery experience. 

Local live music and craft beer stalwart, The Bird, have been open about their struggles keeping the doors open and they're by no means alone in finding it tough in the current market. It’s not just the breweries either: Growler Depot bought Beer Caddie towards the start of the year.


Standout Beers 

Lager

 

All of them. All of the lagers. 

Cerveza, insert-number-of-days Pilsner, Aussie lagers, NZ pilsners, some just called lager – lots of them. Then there’s Viennas and "Draught" masked as lager, many of which were quietly enjoyed without fanfare, such as Blasta’s Summer Lager. 

John Stallwood liked the concept so much that he welcomed Quokka, an Aussie-style Lager, the kind of beer that his Nail Brewing railed against 25 years ago. Although not new, Whitelakes' 100 Day Pilsner became one of this year’s longest limited releases. 

Beerfarm’s longstanding IPL collected WA Good Food Guide’s Beer of the Year, while near neighbours Eagle Bay’s West Coast Pilsner flipped the numerically days-themed, lagering arms race into something far more immediate, and hop driven.


Esoteric

 

Eagle Bay’s Hoops Project arrived after a four year incubation, with the first release Blend 001 Brett Saison (pictured). The project’s releases celebrate patience, time and place, offering insight into texture and refinement more so than overt zippyness or brash intent. These quiet heroes are beers to spend time with, the kind that make the drinker slow down, changing the pace and mood around them in the process. This site's founder described it as "a beer that I could drink forever" – this assumes, of course, that more than 300 bottles were released.

While many would say Rock Juice V13, or Perth Royal Champion Beer Jindong Ballin’, the Rocky Ridge beer that was more sought after than any other was Kandy Karl, a strawberry, kiwi fruit, banana and passionfruit imperial sour launched at Froth Town before evaporating shortly thereafter; the Jindong brewers' sheer volume and speed of new releases this year was staggering. 

One of WA's pioneers, Mash Brewing, have enjoyed something of a quiet renaissance too, delivering the hop monster Tiger Balm IIPA and the recent Lolly Shop Sour with excellent technique and quality on display from the Swan Valley brewers. 


Less Limiteds

 

The past 12 months revealed a more considered approach from many WA brewers. The absence here of a "trend thing" in this year’s wrap is telling.

Fewer international hype shipments – and international deliveries in general – plus a crap Aussie dollar and bearish mood shifted consumer focus onto the locals. Yet some weeks there just wasn't the same new-new-new energy as in previous years. 

Reinforcing this notion, limiteds often resembled something closer to a core range beer than Willy Wonka cast-offs. Expertly made, Black Brewing’s American Pale Ale and Whitelakes’ Witbier echoed early 2010s progress which leads us to…


Core Range Refreshed

 

Changing conditions can lead to reflection, and for many it was back to basics: is the engine room working? And how quickly can we sharpen the offering, either in liquid or the package?

In some way, most WA breweries have tweaked or evolved their core range in response to growth, a changing market and, more likely, the maturity of business. Many of those that launched in the mid-2010s are now shouldering greater responsibility, keenly balancing questions of relevance (read: hype), volume, yield, ROI, cashflow and, generally, less sexy beer things.

If you're going to grow, a core range looks essential and the look needs to reflect your brand: Margaret River Beer Co have tweaked their look to align it with their new production facility, as too have Blasta. 

Core range sours have moved to limiteds as interest puckers, while ABVs are middling, especially on IPAs, and the likes of Impi have evolved their Euro-leaning core range to reflect the tastes of the local market. 


Collaborations

 

Western Australia’s collaborative nature has been well documented in this publication and, when collating this year’s best, or at least its themes, that resonance continues, and with sizeable effort and ABV it seems.  

Wild Hop x Make Them Suffer Neiping Wastelands, a triple NEIPA (pictured above), celebrated ten years of the band’s Neverbloom album with an equally majestic big hazy that was the South West brewers' second collab with the band. Although Void of Vision, their imperial stout, wasn’t a collab it deserves a nod as part of Wild Hop’s ongoing massive dark beer releases. Made and consumed, mostly, on site, Wild Hop’s continuing shrug towards packaged beer only adds to the allure. 

Finlays x Illegal Tender Mutiny Imperial Stout was aged two years in award-winning, cask strength rum barrels, a process which rendered this imperial stout with integrated layers of oak, dark choc malt, stave vanilla, dark fruit and lashings of rum. A very smart release which may have slipped through the cracks as much of the above isn’t listed on the beer can label: rum runners care not for details. 

Wildflower x Besk's Besk Bitter saw the West Leederville crew fly to Sydney with native ingredients in hand for a beer which spent ten months developing before release. Melding Wildflower’s considered approach and Besk’s bar nature, the result was moreish, rustic and bitter – well, bitter by Wildflower’s standards. Interestingly, the use of native sandalwood was the result of a conversation Topher had with Bokkereyder’s Raf Souvereyns: a very cool accolade if the beer wasn’t special enough already. 

Beerfarm x Old Bridge Cellars released Rum BA Pastry Stout, a cinnamon scroll-inspired, coffee-fortified imperial pastry stout, in minuscule amounts but it was one of the best Australian beers I’ve tried in years. Luxurious isn’t adequate!

And, because Guy was involved in its creation and thus won't include it here, a shout-out from the editor for Copper & Oak's Old School IPA brewed with King Road. It's as good an old school IPA I've tasted all year, with plenty to get stuck into, not least its distinct and layered bitterness. It's also not long out so if you want to give it a go yourself, you can.


Breakthrough Brewery: Phat Brew Club

 

In recent years, we’ve asked: "Who's going to take the next step in WA beer?" and the Phat cohort have answered that question in 2023, confidently going from toddler to young adult in record time. Throw in some awards, a smart beer offering, and modern Asian-inspired cuisine from chef Ian Macintosh (who met Phat founder Travis Moore at a Crafty Pint blind tasting, for what it's worth) and the result is as assured as it is inviting.

Phat’s homebrew-to-pro story paid back the OG community with an inaugural homebrew comp which was later packaged as Wife’s Swheat Wheat. Beyond the win, what’s notable is the less-hyped wheat beer accolade, something reflective of the broad scope of Phat’s own limited releases. 

Glancing across the taps offering Bahn Mi Saison, Candy Apple Sour and Dark Lager next to the core range Culture of Good Times Hazy IPA evidences the thrill of this lot.

The whirlwind isn’t lost on Trav either.

“It's been a massive year for us as we made the move from gypsy brewing to opening our new venue in Citywest in February this year," he told The Crafty Pint. "Going from releasing a beer every month or two to having 20 taps has taken a lot of work, but we have had so much fun doing it.”

Whether packaged or at the venue, there was a lot to love about Phat Brew Club’s 2023, and if you’ve met the crew in person you know that they’ve had fun too!


How Was 2023 For You?
Sam Hart of The Corner Dairy

 

Together with his brother Tom, Sam Hart has created a true community hub at The Corner Dairy in Doubleview. In less than two years, the pair have turned the local suburban joint into a destination thanks to their smart, wine bar-esque food menu, taps pouring craft beer, and excellent wider booze offering. 

Before The Corner Bar, there was little support for the craft beer industry in the northern suburb, but they've shown there's an appetite for good beer options everywhere – and that, with that, you can build a culture that gets people dining and drinking out. 


How was 2023 for you Sam Hart and The Corner Dairy? 

It's been a ripper for us; it’s been our second year of trade and I think as a venue we’ve really started to hit our straps. Our community has really gotten to know who we are and support our offering. It seems like the movement post-COVID towards neighbourhood venues and places closer to home for people has really worked in our favour and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to continue doing consistent business throughout the year.

In terms of beer, we’ve had such a crazy, vast amount of stuff through this year stylistically, and the majority of that being local to WA and, to a lesser degree, the East Coast speaks pretty highly of how strong the offering from brewers we have on our doorstep has been. 

I know when we opened the fastest tap movers were always eastern state labels like Mountain Culture and Range, but it’s definitely become more noticeable that brands like Rocky Ridge and Eagle Bay can equally move the needle on what people are wanting. It’s been interesting watching the trends and I know I’ve personally been pretty stoked to see the swing back to old school IPAs in the last few months.


Which beers from WA have you enjoyed most in 2023?

It’s like picking favourite children, you know everyone’s got them, but no one wants to openly admit it, haha. You can’t go past Rocky Ridge, they’ve put out some absolute rippers this year, they’ve hit some great consistency, especially with the volume of different beers they’ve been putting out: Good Energy and I’m a Tin Can of Emotion recently were both fantastic and Rock Candy has been a stalwart in our fridge. 

Eagle Bay have a special place in my heart as they were some of the first craft beers I got into and it’s been really awesome to see their resurgence. 90 Day Pils and their India Red Lager were both awesome but, hands down, their best to date has to be the OVL (Oaked Vienna Lager), we’ve taken kegs at every opportunity, and I’ve drunk more than I’m proud to admit.

It’s also been unreal to see the steps taken forward by so many other breweries that seem like they’ve been promising to take that next step for a while. Campus, Nowhereman, Aetheon, Golden West, King Road to name a few, all punching above their weight with some brilliant beers. Nowhereman’s Altar of the IPA would have to be one of my beers of the year too, and probably my favourite beer they’ve done period.

 


What can people expect from you in 2024?

People can expect more of the same: good booze and good food from our little bar in Doubleview. We’ve just had a new head chef take over after having the same chef heading up our kitchen since we opened, so things might change up a little bit there; it's always exciting to get a fresh set of eyes into the venue but it will still be a similar share-style offering that our punters know. 

We’d love to incorporate some more beer-oriented events in 2024: some more paired dinners would be fun, and we always try to cram in as many tap takeovers as we can. We’ll continue to support as much local as we can while still dipping our toes into some fun bits and pieces from overseas when the opportunity arises, and we’re still pretty infatuated with Garage Project so there’s usually a couple of their kegs floating around.


And what's your one wish for Aussie beer in 2024 and beyond?

For the sake of everyone in the production/brewing side of the industry, I think I’d speak for most when I say it’d be nice to see some stability as everything kind of comes back to the mean after the huge boom over COVID. 

It’s been such a crazy, uncertain year, looking at articles every week about yet another company going into administration or being sold – it’s been pretty bleak. I can only imagine how horrible it must be for the people involved who put their hearts and souls into their business, especially when a lot of these guys are putting out some great brews. 

Hopefully, people continue to support smaller craft brands and don’t deviate back to the sometimes cheaper, more convenient pseudo-craft brands offered by your bigger chains.

Oh, and on a more selfish note, keep them dank, bitter IPAs coming!


You'll find all articles in the series here. And when it comes to supporting Aussie businesses, The Crafty Pint has created Local Beer Day: a celebration of local beer from local brewers at the best local venues. It's on February 24, 2024, and you can read more about it in the launch article here.

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