Old face behind a new brew

Steve Butler
Former Swan Brewery guru Ken Arrowsmith at the Northbridge Brewing Company. Picture: Dione Davidson/The West Australian

Ken Arrowsmith, the man on the can of one of WA's most iconic beer brands, has emerged from a five-year hiatus to put his famous name behind a new brew.

The veteran beer maker, whose image still appears on Emu Export and Emu Bitter cans alongside his ocker quotes, has moved into a new era by crafting a "Beerland" range that poured out for the first time at Wednesday's opening of the Northbridge Brewing Company.

After a stint throwing early-morning newspapers and magazines out of a car window as part of the family business he started after a long career as the Swan Brewery's master brewer, Mr Arrowsmith has hopped back into his life-long comfort zone.

His new home at NBC Beerland features three bar levels, including an open-air "skydeck", and the $800,000 fit-out has come complete with timber salvaged from the old Perry Lakes Stadium, recycled bricks, lights and fittings sourced from ebay and a hulking wooden beam from the Art Deco Ford Factory in North Fremantle.

Mr Arrowsmith started his beer career in 1979 through accidental "serendipity". He was an assistant chemist at the Swan Brewery after completing an applied science degree at the then WA Institute of Technology (now Curtin University).

He oversaw the 1992 introduction of Emu Draft and coyly described himself as the Emu Bitter "custodian" when its popularity boomed in the late 1980s into the 1990s. Not unlike his creative beer flair, he said Swan marketers had stretched his image on Emu cans.

"A fair bit of artistic licence was taken with the caricature," he said. "It was representing me, but I doubt if they actually looked at a photo of me and drew that. It was just all about putting good beer values in the brand and it took off."

Mr Arrowsmith believed there was healthy competition in the growing number of boutique beer brewers in WA. And the proliferation of new brews went hand-in-hand with the changing will of punters.

"Generationally, you find the beer preferences change," he said.

"You go back to the early baby boomers and Swan Lager was the go. Then a whole new generation came out and they weren't going to drink the same beer their fathers drank, so they drank Emu Export.

"There has been a tremendous journey of change and development and the whole industry changing around you. It's becoming more and more competitive and everywhere you turn around, someone is opening a new craft brewery."

Mr Arrowsmith said the Beerland range, which he loved like children, had been 18 months in the making and had been narrowed from 20 brews down to four styles. He also drew a battleline with winemakers, claiming his craft was more intricate.

"We taught them all they know," he said, admitting he always has an Emu Bitter in his home fridge.

"The amount of scientific research done into the brewing industry over the years predated any research in wine by about 80 to 100 years. I've always loved beer and I knew from my first taste of the industry that it was for me . . . you end up with a passion for it."

NBC has the capacity to produce 150,000 litres of beer annually and will also feature eight other predominantly craft labels. Its tavern licence does not allow it to move into the packaged beer market with the Beerland label.

Part-owner Mike Keiller, who has owned the adjacent Mustang Bar with partner Mike Rasheed since 1998, said part of the project's mission was to help "activate" the Northbridge Piazza.

"We want to get that family experience happening during the day and then obviously Northbridge is what it is later in the night - it goes to a younger demographic and we can cater for that as well," Mr Keiller said.

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