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Completing Margaret River

Thanks to Augusta Margaret River Tourism for
the help and support on this portion of our trip.

During our first day in the Margaret River area, Merideth and I fell in love with its scenery, beer and food. We regretted having only one more day to experience the charm of the area. But, that is the life of the beer traveler. Western Australia had other regions to explore with more breweries to visit.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse at the end of the continent

We were on the road relatively early, heading south from Margaret River towards Augusta. Our first stop day of the day was Cape Leeuwin at the southwest corner of the Australian continent. Where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet, Cape Leeuwin was often the first landfall for many European ships in the days of sail. Given its importance to seafaring, the main attraction of the cape was it’s lighthouse built in 1896.

But before our lighthouse tour, we decided to check out the two oceans a couple of hundred yards apart. Walking down to the Southern Ocean along a rock strewn trail, I must have stepped on a small snake. Merideth had to wait a minute or so for the writhing reptile to slither under a rock. Relating the story to our lighthouse tour guide later, he remarked that the snake was highly venomous. Oops!

The Indian and Southern oceans clash

As we climbed the 176 steps to the top, we learned the history and workings of the lighthouse, plus some of the local lore. At the top, we were treated to an amazing panoramic view of both oceans and the surrounding countryside. Several hundred yards offshore, we could even see where the two oceans met, a surge of whitewater marking waves from each ocean colliding. At least on this day, it looked like the Indian Ocean was winning.

Heading into the depths of Mammoth Cave

One of the hidden geographical features of the Margaret River region is several caves. Driving north back on the aptly named Caves Rd., we passed both Jewel and Lake Caves on the way to Mammoth Cave. We chose Mammoth as its self-guided tour fit better into our hectic schedule.

Discovered around 1850 but not mapped until 1895, Mammoth lived up to its name. Walking the 500 meter length, we passed through a number of massive chambers, all adorned with rock formations hanging from the ceiling or projecting from the cave floor. The most impressive of these was the Mammoth Shawl, with it’s red/orange ribbons.

Moo!

With our outdoor and underground activities done for the day, it was time our first beer stop of the day, Colonial Brewing back in Margaret River.

Colonial was another modern, open brewpub with a beery touch, including chandeliers made out of growlers. We set up shop outside in a shady spot with a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside to sample the Colonial brews.

Sample paddle at Colonial

Colonial had five beers in their paddle. Merideth picked up the first beer and asked, “Which beer is this…?” Colonial’s big contribution to the beer world is that they have solved the age-old ‘which beer is this’ problem in a sample flight of beers. Each tasting glass was labeled with the beer style, plus there were short tasting notes on the back.

Lunch and beers with a view

Colonial’s lineup was solid from front, a Kölsch to back, a Porter. True to form, Merideth picked the delightful, clean Kölsch as her beer of the paddle. It was another hot and humid day in southwestern Australia and the brew lived up to its description as a refreshing summer beer.

Equally predictable as Merideth, I chose the India Pale Ale as my favorite. Hopped aggressively like I prefer, the IPA still had a lightish body that paired almost as well as the Kölsch with the weather. And the tasting notes also had my new favorite phrase, “forest floor of hops.” I’m going to start using it as soon as I figure out what it means.

Bootleg Brewery in Wilyabrup

After a short stop at Millers Ice Cream to sample some “Cow to Cone” goodness, we were headed back to Wilyabrup for our next brewery. Set on 74 acres next to a lake, Bootleg Brewery opened its doors in 1994. As one of the original craft breweries in Western Australia, Bootleg has won many awards for its brews.

The seven beer paddle at Bootleg

There were seven beers on Bootleg’s paddle and three were in contention for my ‘best of’ award. The Hefe was a wonderful banana bomb, quenching on the hot day. Settler’s Pale Ale was brewed in the American style with lots of citrusy hops. But in the end, the runaway winner was Wild Ginger Wheat. Kind of how I like my IPAs, the brew was aggressively ‘gingered.’ As the brewery says, “If you’re not a HOPHEAD… You’re a GINGER NUT!”

The incredible Duckstein Brewery

We had one more brewery to complete the Margaret River portion of our journey. Duckstein Brewery in Wilyabrup was the poshest of the posh breweries we visited on the whole trip. We have been to over 700 breweries now and Duckstein was the first with a reflecting pool complete with a heroic-looking horse statue. The only thing that deterred from the amazing setting was the low water level of the water feature.

Relaxing at Duckstein

Merideth and I had a great sense of satisfaction as we relaxed on the deck sampling Duckstein’s German-style beers. We had had a busy two-day schedule and were now at the last stop. Everything on our agenda had been completed.

Continuing the trend of excellent German-style beers on the trip, the Pils and Hefeweiss were both excellent. The nutty, roasty Dunkel, a first for us in Australia, was my favorite of this sample paddle. However, the highlight beer was an American-style IPA that we got to preview. Not released until the following day, Shannon, the brewer, was gracious enough to pour us a sample. What a wonderous hop bomb!

Leaving Duckstein, we were done with Margaret River. The next day, Merideth and I would head back north to Perth and new Western Australia beer adventures. We hope to get back to Margaret River sooner, rather than later.

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Falling in Love with Margaret River

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.

Cowaramup Brewing in Cowaramup

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’]

The view from Cowaramup

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.

Sample paddle at Cowaramup Brewing

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.

Merideth at the Grove Vineyard

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.

Drinking the House Ale

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.

A shack in the bush

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.

The sample paddle at Bush Shack

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!

The beautiful view at Eagle Bay Brewing

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.

The sample paddle at Eagle Bay

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 at Eagle Bay

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!

Look mom! No wet suit!

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…

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