From ground to glass
“Everything we brew, we grow”, is the motto of one of the South West’s newest craft breweries, Rocky Ridge.
The brewery is located at Rocky Ridge Farm, a 445 hectare dairy and beef property in Jindong that is only a short drive from the thriving town of Busselton.
The business has been developed by Hamish Coates, a fifth-generation farmer who, although not interested in following in his family’s footsteps when it comes to milking cows, has a strong commitment to showcasing quality produce from the region.
Mr Coates said his interest in the craft beer industry began while he was at university studying geology and physics, but it really took off when he was offered a job as a brewer at Cheeky Monkey in 2014.
After 18 months at Cheeky Monkey, he said he felt the timing was right to go out on his own and develop a range of “ground to glass” beers. The key to making his dream a reality was proving that hops could be grown on his family’s farm.
“The South West is an awesome region — you can grow anything in these soils,” Mr Coates said.
“After growing up on the farm, I knew with a little bit of love you could produce most things here.”
Starting with six hops rhizomes in 2014, Mr Coates was able to propagate 200 plants for the following season. This number grew to 800 in 2016.
He said successfully propagating hop plants had been the key to success, as well as making sure the plants were correctly trimmed and fed throughout the year. Growing hops in Jindong does have its challenges, with the lack of chill during winter one obstacle to overcome.
“While hops are predominantly grown around the 35th parallel, we have managed to grow hops on the 33rd parallel,” Mr Coates said.
“We are not sure how the lack of chill will affect the longevity of the hop plants; however, we are trialling practices such as using chilled irrigation water to induce frost during winter.”
Mr Coates said while most Australian hops was grown in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales, there were a few WA growers producing hops.
He said in the 1970s, Pemberton used to be a big hops growing region for Swan Brewery, but production in the region stopped when the iconic WA company moved.
With the help of his father, Colin, Mr Coates has now established a big enough planting of hops to begin brewing on a commercial scale.
Mr Coates said the family had not had much assistance when it came to establishing the plantation, instead learning through their own research and trial and error. Gaining access to different hop varieties has also affected local production.
Mr Coates said he expected more assistance would be given to growers to enable the importation of different varieties, as well as investment into research specific for growing hops in the South West, once the industry expanded.
In the meantime, the family has established several varieties of hops on their farm with their original rhizomes purchased from Hops West.
“We grow Cascade, Dr Rudi, Chinook, Saaz, Goldings, Red Earth, Hersbruker, Hallertau, Perle, Pride of Ringwood and Flinders varieties,” Mr Coates said.
The plantation has been in production for the past three years and is expected to expand to 5000 crowns this year.
Mr Coates said hops were amazing to work with, being a fast-growing plant that required constant monitoring and trimming in the summer months.
He said each plant produced about 4.5kg of wet hops, which converted to 1kg dry weight. For each 1500-litre brew made at Rocky Ridge Brewery, an average of 10kg of fresh hops are used.
To date, Mr Coates has made several small-scale pilot brews using hops and barley grown on the farm and has been refining recipes in the past 12 months.
He said pilot batches had tested well and were showing some regional variances that he was happy with.
The Coates also grow their own barley for use in their brewery and have established a small orchard with the intention of using farm-grown fruit in some of their seasonally brewed craft beer.
While the number of WA craft breweries has surged in the past 10 years, very few claim to grow all of their own ingredients.
Mr Coates said having control of the ingredients they used to make beer and making sure they were as fresh as possible was important.
While hops are an essential part of the brewing process, it is not commonplace for breweries to use fresh hops, let alone hops grown by the brewer themselves.
Mr Coates said while using pelletised hops was common, craft brewers were trending towards using fresh hops to create more desirable aromatics and flavours in their brews.
He said producing “ground to glass” craft beer was becoming a common catch-cry for both big and small breweries around the world.
“What we are now seeing in the craft beer industry is consumer drinking trends following in the footsteps of the locavore food movement,” he said.
Mr Coates said the industry was responding to people becoming more concerned about what was in their food and beverages, and their desire to support locally sourced produce.
“The craft beer brewing industry resurfaced in America in the late 1970s and is years ahead of what is currently happening in Australia,” he said.
“WA’s craft beer brewing industry is behind again compared to what is developing in the Eastern States.”
With worldwide trends in mind, Mr Coates hopes Rocky Ridge Brewery will play an important part in encouraging more people to support local craft breweries.
Last year was a pivotal year for the development of the business.
“Once we had proved we could grow our own hops and barley, it was time to get serious. In late 2015, we went to the bank for a loan to build our own brewery,” Mr Coates said.
In 2016, the family celebrated the arrival of a new three-vessel brewhouse, configured specifically for the use of whole cone hops. The brewhouse is expected to soon be in operation.
The brewery has also been built to be self-sufficient. Power is generated on farm through an off-the-grid solar system and rainwater is collected for brewing purposes.
Mr Coates said they were also currently in consultation with the local council to investigate the ability to recycle their wash-down water to irrigate the hops.
Rocky Ridge Brewery will produce three core beers, including an Indian pale ale, a pale ale and a mid strength, as well as a variety of specialty and seasonal beers.
Mr Coates plans to experiment with fruit beer, barrel ageing and sour beers in the future.
Rocky Ridge Brewery has also installed its own canning line, with all beer to be sold in cans and on tap through a number of craft beer-oriented venues.
In addition, the family is planning to open a cellar door on the Busselton foreshore, as the family farm is not suitable for such a venue. Locally produced food will also be available to complement the selection of craft beer.
The cellar door is currently under construction and is planned to be open for business by mid 2017.
“We hope to make our cellar door a place where people feel comfortable and can come and enjoy a beer and relax,” Mr Coates said.
For now, Mr Coates said the family was focused on producing a good harvest in 2017 and expanding their hop yard.
“I am looking forward to playing around with what craft beer can be,” he said.
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