Hoppy and assertive IPAs and subtle and zesty Belgian-style farmhouse ales are now all the rage in craft beer bars around the world, but in Western Australia the trend for full-flavoured and interesting brews actually kicked off three decades ago.
Back in 1984, the Matilda Bay Brewing Company (matildabay.com.au) launched as Australia's first craft brewery in the Sail & Anchor pub in the sleepy port town of Fremantle. Within a few years, brews like Redback wheat beer and Dogbolter dark lager were waking up Aussie tastebuds attuned to more innocuous flavours. In 2000, when Little Creatures commenced brewing in a former crocodile farm in Fremantle's Fishing Boat Harbour, the town's legacy as the birthplace of Australian craft beer was secure.
Fast forward another fifteen years, and both Matilda Bay and Little Creatures are now owned by multi-national companies, but the Sail & Anchor is still one of Australia's best destinations for beer-obsessed travelling hopheads, and a new generation of Western Australian brewers are keeping the hoppy dream alive around the state.
Easily reached by train from central Perth, Fremantle's well-preserved Victorian townscape is the best place to kick off exploring Western Australia's craft beer scene. Often the 27 taps at the Sail & Anchor showcase beers from smaller WA breweries, and Little Creatures' hip and buzzy waterside brewhouse partners excellent tapas with the brewery's popular American-style Pale Ale. Other brews to try at Little Creatures include the spicy White Rabbit Belgian Pale Ale and Pipsqueak Apple Cider, and the brewery's Single Batch program always conjures up interesting seasonal and experimental beers.
Seasonal brews are also important at The Monk Brewery & Kitchen (themonk.com.au) in Fremantle, and the brewpub's bustling outdoor area with views of Freo's South Terrace cafe strip is a good spot to enjoy one of Australia's best Oktoberfest celebrations. The Monk brews a special Märzen beer for Oktoberfest, and outside of spring's German-themed craziness, other standout beers include The Chief, a hoppy American Pale Ale, and Rauch combining smoked malt with a traditional Scotch ale. A tasting tray of eight different beers is perfect for the curious or indecisive beer fan, before making the short walk to the eucalyptus tree-shaded stone courtyard at The Norfolk Hotel, Fremantle's final essential craft beer destination.
The Western Australian capital of Perth is also a good base for exploring the craft beer scene of the Swan Valley, a semi-rural, laidback collection of wineries and artisan food producers on the city's northeastern edge. Public transport around the valley is limited, so settle on a designated driver or join a tour with Beer Nuts (beernuts.com.au) or The Brewers Dray (thebrewersdray.com.au). Both tours visit Feral Brewing Company, one of Australia's most-awarded craft breweries, and the best place to try their Hop Hog Pale Ale. The sprawling decks of Feral's rural brewpub are ideal for a lazy lunch, and more challenging sour and barrel-aged brews show how the world of beer is far more interesting than just bland, fizzy lager. Infused with Swan Valley watermelons, Feral's Watermelon Warhead wheat beer is super refreshing on a hot day.
With more modern decor than Feral, Mash Brewing's Swan Valley brewhouse (mashbrewing.com.au) serves up beers ranging from refreshing and accessible brews like the Freo Doctor Pale Lager, to more robust beers including the Copycat American IPA. Mash also have brewpubs in the coastal towns of Rockingham and Bunbury south of Perth.
Also providing big flavours in the Swan Valley are the beers at the Homestead Brewery, opened in a spectacular building adjacent to the award-winning Mandoon Estate winery in late 2014. Top drops to partner with the interesting menu channelling Asian and South American flavours include Kaiser's Choice, a zingy Hefeweizen wheat beer, and Thunderbird, a punchy Pale Ale. Visit Homestead on Sunday afternoons for garden picnics and Mediterranean-style barbecues inspired by the owners' Croatian heritage.
South from Perth, the Margaret River region is awash with well-kept vineyards and elegant winery restaurants, but a flurry of craft breweries have also launched in recent years. A handful of operators offer day tours around the best of the breweries – see Taste the South Tours (tastethesouth.com.au), Margie's Big Day Out (margaretrivertourswa.com.au) or Bushtucker Tours (bushtuckertours.com) – but the area's compact nature means it's also good to visit them independently over a leisurely period.
Near the beachy holiday town of Dunsborough, Eagle Bay Brewing (eaglebaybrewing.com.au) has spectacular Indian Ocean views and a growing reputation for innovative beers harnessing Margaret River produce. Try the Cacao Stout made with cacao husks from local boutique chocolate maker, Bahen & Co (bahenchocolate.com). In Dunsborough township, The Pour House is an excellent pub with different WA brews always available on tap.
Continuing south to sleepy Yallingup, Cheeky Monkey Brewery's spacious brewhouse (cheekymonkeybrewery.com.au), restaurant and kids' playground shares a lakeside location with Killerby Wines. Five beers and two ciders fill Cheeky Monkey's taps – Hagenbeck is a moreish Belgian spin on a traditional IPA, and Crooked Tale cider harnesses Pink Lady apples originally developed in nearby Manjimup.
Detour through sleepy backroads to reach Cowaramup and meander further to Cowaramup Brewing Company (cowaramupbrewing.com.au) in a quiet rural valley. Seven different beers make it worth the journey, ranging from a hoppy Pilsener to a robust and malty Porter. From Cowaramup, it's a short drive to the Colonial Brewing Company (colonialbrewingco.com.au) near Margaret River township. Try the zesty Witbier or the subtle and refreshing Kölsch with the best wood-fired pizzas in Margaret River. Colonial's beers are increasingly available in hip bars and restaurants in Perth, but visiting the brewery offers the best chance of tasting their limited volume 'Project' seasonal beers using eclectic ingredients like fresh WA truffles or cold-brewed coffee.
Thirty years after Matilda Bay first launched in Fremantle, they're tasty proof creativity and innovation are still key ingredients in Western Australia's vibrant craft beer scene.
Last updated April 2017.