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No bad taste in Feral's big beer deal

Feral brewing sell-out. The Sip Beer

Forget abracadabra, sell-out is the new magic word. At least it is in Australian beer.

Immediately after a Big Beer accountant signs the cheque to buy a craft brewery - and the buzz phrase is uttered - the shining examples of the smaller operator’s work suddenly turn to shit. The brewer’s integrity seems to vanish in a puff of smoke. From that moment drinking one of the brand’s products is like swallowing swords.

Apparently Feral’s Hop Hog, Watermelon Warhead, Boris and Sly Fox no longer taste the same. Even if they were bought last week. Just because the brewery was bought by a corporate giant. What rubbish!

How can a few waves of a writing wand over a bank transfer have such a mysterious physiological effect on some craft beer consumers? Well, it is all mental. And it is a little crazy.

In the wake of Coca Cola Amatil’s purchase of Feral, the WA brewing icon has been dodging plenty of knives. Apparently, once Big Beer gets control of smaller players the game changes.

Some social media jockeys, even those claiming to be Feral fans, were pushing for a boycott of the brewery because they "sold out".

All because Feral is no longer independent, although it still may stay find a loophole in the small brewery industry body’s constitution to hold on to its membership.

Well, independence has no taste. It is a state of mind. Even the Macquarie dictionary refers to ‘thinking’ in its definition. Independence has no impact on the nose, the buds on the tongue or the throat. There is no section called independence in any major judging style guide. But independence does provide a political platform for a few.

At The Sip, we’re stuffed to know why anything should be different at Feral just because Coke is now paying the bills. Brendan Varis, the brains behind the rise of the brand, remains. So, too, does master brewer Will Irving, pictured below with Varis and a Swan Valley-made brew. And the team that does the heavy lifting at the Bayswater production house is staying.

To be honest, if Feral and Coke had managed to keep the sale a secret for another six months, would anyone notice anything different about the beers? Aren’t aroma and taste they keys for any brew?

But because the sale is now public knowledge the prejudices of independence have kicked in for some drinkers.

Well business freedom comes at a cost. For Varis it was the burden of being the sole owner. It was up to him to put in 14-hour days starting at 3am to complete brews. He also carried the weight of debt needed to fund the operation that produces those beers so many have enjoyed. In a crowded craft beer market some more resources are needed to maintain that brewing approach and going back to the bank cap in hand isn’t an option.

That’s where the guys with the money bags come in. Not all ride into town wearing black hats.

No-one can begrudge a business owner from getting a return on 15 years of hard labour. It is a similar situation for 4 Pines which last month sold to CUB.

Indeed, the Coca Cola Amatil deal allows Varis more time to get back on the tools and away from the balance sheets. Working his wizardry on the floor has always been his forte.

Only time will determine whether under the new owner Feral, in a brewing sense, can continue to pull rabbits out of hats.

Gauging by Varis’ history, there are still a few more tricks up the WA brewery’s sleeve.


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