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Beer bogans and beer snobs boost craft beer scene
A boom in craft breweries in Margaret River has seen the region become a mecca for beer-drinking tourists and enabled producers to get their beer off the farm.
Despite beer consumption in Australia steadily declining over the past six years, craft brewers say their business is growing.
The Margaret River region now has 10 craft breweries, making it the most concentrated brewing area in Australia.
The region’s longest-standing brew house, Bootleg Brewery in Wilyabrup, has experienced growth in recent years despite increased competition since it opened in 1998.
Head brewer Michael Brooks said it was a difficult task to introduce people to craft beer when he started 18 years ago.
“With the emergence of great, iconic breweries in Western Australia like Little Creatures in the early 2000s, what’s happened now is this generation now used to drinking craft beer in Western Australia,” Mr Brooks said.
“They’re a lot more open-minded and their palate’s a lot more adapted now to trying different types of beer.”
Mr Brooks said the increased number of breweries on his doorstop had been beneficial, making the region a mecca for beer drinkers.
“We’ve obviously got a lot of competition, yet what we’re doing is we’re showcasing beer in a bigger shout between all the breweries,” he said.
“And what that’s doing is it’s making it a more attractive package for people coming from interstate and Perth and Asia to come to this region to visit four or five breweries instead of targeting just one.
Tourists and locals descend on craft breweries
Local surfer Julian Lelah, who has created a brewery tour business in the region, said visitors were very keen to sample beer from a range of small producers.
“It’s not people building these massive places and targeting a huge market. There are lots of little, almost bars, lots of little breweries that are scattered around a region.”
“All the beer’s made on site, a lot of people are sourcing as much local ingredients as they can, so it’s a handcrafted product that you can sort of cruise around and try everyone’s different take on craft beers.”
He said the nature of craft beer, being made in small batches, enabled brewers to try new recipes.
“Most breweries on average are producing beer two times a week, so it’s just an ever-changing formula where you just get all these great variety of beers and it just opens it right up,” Mr Lelah said.
One of the region’s newer breweries, the Beer Farm, has only been open for a year, but manager George Scott said it had survived through its first winter season thanks to a steady flow of thirsty locals.
“It’s about starting that journey for everyone, it’s not about just blokes coming in to breweries anymore, it’s about everyone coming in, [including] families,” he said.
Mr Scott said the increased interest in cider in recent years had helped draw people towards craft beer and seen more women drinking beer.
“Cider’s definitely been a gateway product to get more people onto beers that are crafted and handmade by people, that are not from concentrates, that are from real apples,” he said.
Mr Scott said small bars were enabling new craft beers to get into the market outside the brewery.
“With the big brands buying up all the venues it essentially puts a block on us getting in there,” he said.
“With the small bars, they’re normally owned by smaller companies, individual people, they’re really supporting the smaller craft breweries, and it gives us a lot better opportunity to get tap points, it gives our beer a place in the market.”
Mr Scott said craft breweries in WA were working together.
“The key thing for us is that smaller breweries are really combining, doing events, working together, going into each other’s venues and drinking beer,” he said.
“Just working together to ensure that those tap points that we can get have got good quality craft beers so more consumers are drinking it.”
Bootleg Brewery’s Michael Brooks said online communities such as the Southwest Craft Beer Bogans and Perth Beer Snobs Facebook pages also helped generate interest in new beers.
“There are a lot of social media sites where people interact with each other and talk about beer,” he said.
“Someone will post up about a local beer and talk about it and 100 people will make comments on it and then from that you can network with people.
“It’s a great reach, so we get to monitor how our beers are going out there in the wide world.”
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