few australian wine regions are as eulogised as Margaret River. Flanked by breathtaking sea and forest, Caves Road cuts south from the surf town of Yallingup and weaves dramatically through estates such as Moss Wood, Pierro, Arimia, Cullen, Vasse Felix, Burch and Cape Mentelle.
Regular visitors, however, could hardly fail to notice a new bevy of haunts peddling that other ancient elixir: beer. Margaret River’s craft brewing scene has frothed-over from obscurity, becoming one of the most concentrated and reputed in the country. And, leveraging off the region’s premium and intrepid status, the breweries are having an impact well beyond their remote frontiers – with a dedicated focus on pristine quality.
Colonial Brewing (colonialbrewingco.com.au) has taken bold steps in recent years, daring to ride the wave launched by fellow West Australians Little Creatures and Matilda Bay to become one of the most popular craft beer brands in the land. While part of the sprawling Colonial Leisure Group portfolio, the brewery in Margaret River maintains an informal zeitgeist of beer gone-by, right down to its aesthetically unfussy can art.
This is beer you can trust: crafted with attention to detail but never overmeddled with excess dry hopping or compromised by production inconsistencies – an enduring concern with many craft producers. While the Small Ale has set the pace nationally in the craft mid-strength market, it’s the South West Sour which is dazzling drinkers now graduating from intensely hopped ales. A Berliner weisse-style beer, slightly cloudy, it gives hints of sour peach but without making you flinch, and at 4.6% ABV it’s eminently sessionable.
Whereas Colonial mines an affable middle-ground, Beerfarm (beerfarm.com.au) in Metricup is proving one of the more innovative upstarts on Australia’s craft beer scene. Its reputation is fortified by the continuing triumph of its India Pale Lager – a beer that rattled the much-maligned lager from its torpor and planted it firmly in craft beer territory.
Founder Ian Atkins, once of Sydney’s Young Henrys, is clearly determined to shake up the national brewing scene yet again with the label’s Native Series that utilises endemic Australian botanicals. The Native Australian IPA is a type of New England IPA with extra citric punch thanks to sunrise and blood lime. It’s a beer that will braid most tastebuds but suggests the thrilling potential of such endemic flavour infusions in this ever-growing sector of the craft market.
Eagle Bay Brewing (eaglebaybrewing.com.au), the most northerly brewery of the region, is where the region’s craft beer credentials began. Once a boutique family operation, its beer is now a fixture in WA bars and bottleshops but so far has had limited impact in eastern states. The brewery’s invigorating kölsch remains one of the finest examples in the nation – and helped kindle the resurgence of premium lagers and paler, cold-conditioned ales, a torch carried nationally with Colonial Draught Kölsch Ale, amongst others.
Similarly, Cheeky Monkey (cheekymonkeybrewery.com.au) is a regional favourite with a family-friendly setting and congenial food offerings. Local tour operator Robert Dewar (mydrivermargaretriver.tours) believes that, whilst the breweries have largely become symbiotic with the local wine industry, they have added some welcome diversity and significantly increased regional visitation (the breweries also sell local wines).
Black Brewing (blackbrewingco.com.au) is a label with both ambition and a canny edge that should see it emerge as a national player in the years ahead. Operating out of the sprawling headquarters of Caves Road Collective – a hub of wine, food, distilling and beer – brewers Shannon Grigg and Adam Brookes offer bodacious left-field brews such as Bao Bao Milk Stout, but clearly also have their eyes on the broader craft market with an outstanding IPA that boasts adroit balance between the tropical-tinctured hops and light, supple malt.
Toss in equally commendable establishments such as Brewhouse Margaret River and Cowaramup Brewing and the evidence is clear: Margaret River has well and truly been tapped.