Thanks to Augusta Margaret River Tourism for
the help and support on this portion of our trip.
The four days in Victoria were only a warmup for the main event of the trip, our first visit to Western Australia. We focused our visit to Australia’s largest state on the area around Perth, but our first destination was Margaret River in the southwest corner of the continent. Long known as one of Australia’s most famous wine regions, Margaret River is also home to a large concentration of breweries.
The three hour drive from Perth airport to the Margaret River region was pretty much a straight shot. As someone joked to us, “It’s a left, then a right…” All the breweries in the area close in the early evening so our late afternoon arrival only afforded us time for one stop, Cowaramup Brewing. [Get ready because names with ‘up’ are going to come fast and furious. It means ‘place of’]
Cowaramup Brewing was a good introduction to what would be a defining feature of most of the region’s breweries. The impressive and modern brewpub was open (literally) to an expansive outdoor seating area with an incredible vista of the surrounding Western Australian countryside. Not even the giant biting flies with the huge green eyes could ruin the moment, though. Despite the painful bite, the flies are one of the few creatures in Australia that can’t kill you.
Merideth and I grabbed a seat to enjoy the view and warm summer weather. After a long drive, the sample paddle was a very welcome sight indeed. There were five beers to try, ranging from a Pilsner and Hefeweizen on the lighter side to a Porter on the dark end of the spectrum.
The Special Pale Ale, an English-style Extra Special Bitter with English hops, could have been the beer of the paddle. However, the almost 90 degree temperatures screamed for the excellent award winning Pilsner (Champion Lager at the 2011 Australian International Beer Awards) or the wonderful Hefeweizen. Cowaramup was a great introduction to the Margaret River beer scene.
With only two days to visit the seven remaining breweries, plus do other tourist stuff, we needed to get busy on Wednesday morning. Luckily, the Grove Vineyard in Wilyabrup, with it’s 9am opening time, was a perfect starting point for the busy beer traveler. A winery and distillery, the Grove Vineyard recently added beer to their repertoire.
Not a surprise, we were the first customers of the day when we arrived a little after 9am. There was only one beer available, the House Ale, an American-style Pale Ale. Hopped with Citra and Nelson Sauvin, the brew was well-balanced with a big malt backbone. The Grove Vineyard only had one beer, but Merideth and I both enjoyed it.
Bush Shack Brewery in Yallingup was the odd ball of the Margaret River breweries. Truth in its name, Bush Shack was, compared to the other area breweries, a shack in the bush, complete with warning signs about snakes. I don’t mean this in a bad way. Bush Shack’s laid back surroundings and atmosphere were much more what we are used and drawn to, except for the snake part.
Prior to our visit, Merideth had picked up one of their rack cards at our hotel that listed their beers. Frankly, we were a bit worried. A chili beer, a lemon lager, a strawberry beer; these all raised red flags in our minds. But we couldn’t have been more wrong.
Starting with the Strawberry Blonde, Merideth and I were quite impressed by the selection of brews. My previous experience with strawberry beers leaned towards sweet, heavy-handed brews that might have well been strawberry soda. Bush Shack’s version had a dry, subtle strawberry flavor that beautifully complimented the base Pale Ale. And it was a slam dunk with the hot and humid weather. Same could be said for the Twisted Lemon Lager. All eight beers were solid and flavorful, well, except maybe the Chili Beer. But, admittedly, that’s just my crusade against my least favorite flavoring in beer.
Thanks go out to the friendly crew at Bush Shack for making us feel so welcome!
A short drive up the road was Eagle Bay Brewing in Eagle Bay. Of the Margaret River breweries, Eagle Bay had the most stunning setting. Set on a gentle rise, the brewpub overlooked rolling hills and cows roaming through tree-studded fields. From our vantage point at our table, we could even see Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in the distance.
Brewer Nick d’Espeissis, whose family land we were now standing upon, brewed one of the best lineup of beers of the trip. The first three, a Kölsch, Pilsner and Vienna Lager were the most impressive. Merideth really appreciated the light and refreshing Kölsch while my thirst was quenched by the crisp Pilsner. The Pale Ale was also excellent, showcasing Nick’s experience brewing in the Pacific Northwest.
Lunch was equally delicious. We got the sense that in order to keep up with the posh wineries, pouring good beer just wasn’t enough. The brewpubs had to have a food menu to match, which of course delighted us to no end. Merideth and I both ordered pizza. I’m big sucker for pizza with fresh greens on top and the peppery rocket, what we call arugula, was a perfect accompaniment for the spicy sausage.
Thanks to Margarita and Nick for taking time to chat with us and for their excellent hospitality!
We finished our incredible first full day in Margaret River by soaking in the Indian Ocean for the very first time. The shimmering, turquoise blue waters made Merideth gasp on first sight. Used to the cold Pacific Ocean on California’s coast, we thoroughly enjoyed standing in the Indian Ocean’s warm waters. After such a fantastic first day in Margaret River, we went to bed dreaming of what the next day might bring…