I’m not sure what the collective noun for many ales would be. A hop back of ales? A tank of ales? A headache of ales perhaps? On Saturday night I had what you might call “a tale of ales” – Matilda Bay Alpha Pale Ale, Golden Nail and Feral Hop Hog. It wasn’t a conscious decision to get these specific beers instead my partner and I had been doing food shopping at the Bunbury Farmers Market popped into Dan Murphy’s on the way home. We happily grabbed the last 6 pack of Golden Nail, there was a 2 for deal on the four packs of Alpha and, frankly, it’s hard to go past the Hog without it leaping from the shelf and begging to be taken home.
As I tucked into each of these beers I realised that in many ways they are a tale of a different part of craft beer in WA and even my own craft beer journey …
Matilda Bay Brewing – their story, my stories and their Alpha Pale Ale
The short version of the Matilda Bay story starts in 1984, brewing at The Sail & Anchor in Fremantle and this is generally considered the birth of craft beer in WA. It came about when a few friends wanted to make tasty, hand crafted and full flavoured beers. A lot of years, cash and beer and several moves later the brewery is now in Melbourne.
I was lucky to be able to go through the Matilda Bay Brewery in WA before they shut up shop and moved east. They had these big beautiful copper tanks that looked amazing. There was also a big occupational health and safety poster on the wall with an extreme close up of an eyeball with a nail in it. Who on earth brings a nail gun to a brewery?! Anyway, moving along …
The story of Matilda Bay is fairly well known however I have to giggle when I read this from their website:
They purchased a small pub called the Freemasons Hotel in Fremantle, Western Australia, installed a brewery and reopened as the Sail & Anchor Hotel. The brewery at the pub enabled the guys to control the quality and presentation of the beers and talk directly to the growing legions of converts.
I don’t giggle to make mockery of them or because I disagree, I don’t at all. I have a lot of respect for Matilda Bay. I only giggle because the way Phil Sexton, co-founder of Matilda Bay, once told the story to me, well me and a group of other people …
In 2010 I was working for Little Creatures Brewing which was then still part owned by Phil Sexton. I was a sales rep and during one of our sales conferences we were lucky enough to do a beer tasting with Phil. He picked a small range of beers and we sat, tasted the beers and we all asked a LOT of questions of Phil, hammering him like some kind of beery interrogation. After all how often do you get to pick the brain of someone who co-founded the likes of Matilda Bay, Dome Coffee and Little Creatures?
I remember asking Phil what had made them decide to buy a pub? I had braced myself for an answer filled with strategic thinking and powerful foresight. Instead Phil laughed and replied with a very simple answer – no-one wanted to buy their beer, if they wanted to sell their beer they were going to have to buy a pub so they could sell it themselves. It was hard to imagine Phil Sexton rocking up to bottle shops and bars and his beer being rejected by all of them. But that’s what happened.
So they bought a pub and you might be wondering, like I was, why that one in particular? Why The Sail & Anchor? I asked Phil. He smiled and simply said, “because it was the cheapest”.
Brilliant! I love this answer because it removes all the marketing spin and business awe and takes into account a) sheer determination b) dumb luck and c) a ‘screw you, I’ll find another way’ attitude that I think makes for a far more entertaining story than the one on the website.
But what about the beer?
Well Redback Original is my nostalgic favourite of the Matilda Bay line up. It brings back fond memories of my dad drinking it at The Sail & Anchor after a morning of him, me and mum wandering through the Fremantle Markets. However if you’re talking about flavour and taste then it’s gotta be Alpha Pale Ale. Piney, tropical fruits, pineapple and just a seriously tasty pale ale. I know my craft beer heart isn’t supposed to like Matilda Bay beers since they are one of the big brewers, the enemy, etc etc but this is a damn good drop.