So I’ve spent the last week or so over in the West. That big old state famous for beaches, great big holes in the ground and a craft beer scene that us Melbournians thinks comes close to, but doesn’t exceed Melbourne’s. This is mainly because us Melbournians think that the world of good food and drink extends about as far west as Footscray and is made up of laneways tapas bars, coffee shops in former storage cupboards, food trucks and not much else.
Well I have returned from the Western Front with tales to tell. Beer soaked of course and over the course of the next little while (I’ve learnt that putting actual time frames on blog posts just makes me look lazy and unable to hit a deadline when I miss them) you will hear of my trips to many a brewery, from well known names like Little Creatures and Feral to those breweries people in the East have never heard of like Bush Shack and Occy’s.
But what have I learnt from my time over there? Well it’s true Western Australia does have a beer scene that would make a fight with Victoria’s beer scene pretty damn close, except of course why would beer scenes fight, beery people are friendly people. Make Beer not War and all that.
But as I sat in the sun at yet another brewery/café/restaurant with an amazing view I realised that there were some obvious differences between the two states.
The first is the confidence of the West Australian scene. Now this might be the difference about the two states as much as the beer scene, but you walk into a brewery in Melbourne is it’s likely to be a small affair, it might fit a hundred people (and their fixies) at a pinch, it’ll probably be in some industrial area, and it won’t be fancy, in fact it’ll be a little bit ramshackle and have a held together by gaffer tape vibe. Victorian breweries wear their alternativeness like a Black Flag badge on the canvas backpack of the high school student.
Walk into a brewery in WA though and you’ll notice it’ll be brand new (I’m not convinced that there is anything in WA that is more than six years old, unless of course you are in Freo then everything is a hundred and sixty years old). It will be shiny and smick, the toilets will be so fancy they have those Dyson air blade hand dryers in them, you think I’m joking, but I’m not, I have never seen so many Dyson air blades outside of an airport before. Oh and it will be huge. We often found ourselves on Table number 78 or 103 or in one case table 123. Do the maths kids, that means they were seating 350-400 people. And they were busy, not just on a Saturday night, but there would be fifty people having lunch there on a Tuesday afternoon.
One of the reasons for all of these people is locations. West Australian’s don’t hide their breweries, they pick a spot smack bang in the middle of everything and open it there. In fact we saw real estate listings that mentioned ‘Perfect for a Microbrewery’ more than once, and when the evil pariahs of the estate agents are on to it, there must be some money in it.
Monk Brewery for instance takes up a huge space on the main tourist strip of Freo and because of that they sell beer to more than just craft beer geeks. Both the Swan Valley and Margaret River are dotted with breweries, often sharing space with a winery, all of them ready for the passing tourists.
I’m convinced that it is because of this more mainstream appeal that West Australian brewer’s do amazing sessionable, more approachable beers. A couple of the breweries we went to (Cheeky Monkey and Eagle Bay) even did a surprisingly good mid strength beer. Correct me if I’m wrong but I can’t think of a Victorian Brewery that does a mid strength at all, and we seem to love an 8% barrel aged monster or an easy sipping in the sun kolsch.
Then there is the whole costume thing. On the first day we stumbled off our flight straight into Feral, only to discover it was Spring in the Valley, which appeared to be a little like Grape Grazing, but with costumes and I can assure you there is a costume shop in Perth doing a roaring trade in an outfit I assume is described as ‘Slutty Oktoberfest beer wench.” It was strange for 11am on a Saturday morning. On a side note if the Barrel Fermented Hop Hog isn’t the best beer in Australia I’ll eat my hat.
So which is better? Christ I don’t know, but they are different, and I for one think that it might require some more investigating/drinking to find out. For instance I think there are a least five or six breweries in Perth/Swan Valley/Margaret River that I didn’t get to, plus then there is Matso’s up in Broome… excuse me while I go book some flights.