Brendan Varis is at the top of his game. As owner and head brewer of one of our top breweries it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels, but 10 years after opening Feral Brewing Company, the man from the Swan Valley is looking to new opportunities that will push Feral forward, while retaining the ethos of making great beer.
Meeting Varis at the Haddrill Road brewpub, where they started business back in 2002, he is laid- back and personable. The epitome of brewers the world over, he has an immediately obvious love for beer and his industry, while keeping clear in his head that brewing is a business.
That is not to say he's purely profit driven and as we talk he displays a degree of modesty about recent events that many in his position would not have.
It's no exaggeration to say he's in demand with international beer judge duties at the World Beer Cup and a whistlestop brewing mission to the UK under his belt. The Wetherspoons International Beer Festival is held by the UK's biggest pub operator (with more than 800 pubs nationwide) and sees a select band of brewers jet in to produce one-off batches for distribution during the festival. Flying the flag, using all-Aussie hops which are growing in popularity in the UK, the trip was an eye-opener with brewing undertaken at the historic Banks' Brewery.
"It was a rush. In at midnight on the Tuesday, with a state of the union address according to Wetherspoons the next day," he says with a grin.
"Then the train to Wolverhampton, slept, brewed, slept, train back to London, caught the AFL grand final and then home." At three nights and just four days, most folk would hardly be over their jet lag, but it seems this is all taken in his stride. Asked about the beer's reception Varis seems happy with the result describing it as "balanced, sessionable and broadly appealing". The ideal characteristics for this type of festival. Showing the restless side that all great brewers have, the last word is that while it "showed off the Aussie hops" it would "ideally have been a bit more aggressive".
These foreign sojourns are by no means the biggest things happening at Feral. It seems there could be more but Varis is mindful that time away doesn't get the job done at home.
With the opening of their Bassendean production brewery (a joint venture with Nail Brewing), there are interesting times ahead that can only be good for WA brewing and drinkers, both here and over east. On the one hand it allows production of their core Feral White and Hop Hog to be amped up, to slake the thirst of drinkers in Victoria and NSW as well as WA, where the Hop Hog in particular is in constant demand.
With these core beers being produced in Bassendean it allows the brewing team to get creative up in the Swan Valley "seeing which way the wind's blowing" on any particular day. Success in a smaller brewery is a double-edged sword, with drinkers expecting a good supply of the core beers they come to love.
To feed this need, more production is given over to meet demand and inevitably the ability to be experimental is narrowed.
The coming year will see the Swan Valley site return to a program of innovation with sour and barrel-aged production ramp up, which should see the barrel room fill once again; which for any WA beer lover can only mean good things and good beer ahead.Making inroads into the east is not their only aspiration, with Feral now shipped to Singapore, albeit under strict quality conditions. If it can't be cold freighted and cold stored they aren't interested. A focus on quality that is refreshing. If anything is clear from the journey of Feral over the last 10 years it's that while Varis is at the helm there'll be good beer pouring in WA and beyond.
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