Beer identity not a big issue for Little Creatures
There has been some doubt about whether Creatures can still be considered little.
No brewery produces more of its own brands in WA. The operation has outgrown its Fremantle footprint. The team is sending its bottles and kegs to Asia. And the company is owned by one of the largest beer makers in the country.
However, the crew at the port beer beacon still think Little Creatures is an apt title.
Amid the civil war that has split the esprit de corps in Australian brewing, Little Creatures has been caught in the crossfire as a section of craft beer pushes independence, even if the team has continued to follow its regular path, minding its own business.
Although the brand reignited the Australian craft beer flame in 2000 and was considered a micro-brewing success story, its link to Lion (a subsidiary of Kirin) made Little Creatures unpopular with some in the industry that it had, ironically, largely helped create.
But the line that Little Creatures is part of Big Beer is lost on those working at Fremantle.
Certainly, head brewer Russ Gosling is still thinking largely about small processes when he works the operation’s stainless steel.
“I think we’re still a craft brewery,” Gosling says. “The CBIA-IBA change isn’t about craft, it is about independence.
“We have just tried to make the best beer we can and expose people to a new world of flavour they wouldn’t expect. The brewery was set up to make American Pale Ale and the purpose was to get people to try the beer and fall in love with it like we have.
“When the guys (Phil Sexton, Nic Trimboli, and Howard Cearns) started the brewery they wanted to make world class beer. You need world class kit, the right ingredients, employ the right brewing philosophy and you need to employ the right people. They are the four keys to success – along with a good slice of luck, too!
“There is a lot of debate about what craft beer is, what good beer is and the rest of it. We just follow our ideals. I think we’re small. I know we’re bigger than the little guys but we’re minute when compared to the big guys.”
Little Creatures, renowned for its American-style Pale Ale (5.2%) and 3.8% Amber Ale, Rogers’, is producing about 10 million litres an annum from its WA headquarters. It is still a far cry from what Swan released before it left town in 2013.
But Little Creatures has taken over Swan’s mantle as a training ground for brewers.
The alumni from the brewhouse includes, Caolan Vaughan (Stone and Wood), Jayne Lewis (Two Birds), Ash Hazell (Colonial), Jack Cameron (Pirate Life) among a raft of others. Then add in Aaron Heary (Gage Roads) and Brendan Varis (Feral) who helped commission the Little Creatures brewhouse.
A bit of Little Creatures is spread over the country.
“We went to the 2016 AIBA awards and it was a poignant moment because Jayne Lewis goes up and picks up an award, Caolan goes up and picks up an award, Jack Cameron goes up and gets an award,” Gosling said.
“When you reflect that those guys have come through this brewery and you have had a little part in shaping their knowledge base and their career it is very encouraging. It was a small part of their tutelage but it is a proud moment for us.
“I’ve always said to the guys we take on here that Little Creatures is a perfect training ground. We are big enough have the right brewing plant and equipment and have access to capital to buy bits of kit so brewing isn’t a struggle.
“It is similar to a mainstream brewery from a plant perspective just the pipe diameters are smaller. But in a mainstream brewery you tend to get siloed into departments yet here because it is smaller you get exposed to the whole process.
“So, it is a really good training ground. We’ve lost some great talent but they go on to make great beer at other places. That makes a healthy industry. And it reflects well on our business.”
Gosling also believes the hospitality focus of the Fremantle venue can’t be under-estimated in the continued success of Little Creatures.
The link West Australians have with the beer maker is enhanced by what Gosling likes to refer to as the “theatre of brewing”.
Visitors to the venue can also now have a say in what beers are made at Little Creatures.
The brewery has built a solid reputation for quality seasonal releases. Some, like Dreadnought and Dog Days, have made more than one visit to the short-term stable. Others such as Return of the Dread and Fire Falcon have shown off the team’s versatility. And their current special release, Reinhold, is an Altbier that pays homage to the popular Rogers’. (Gosling, right, pictured with Roger Bussell, who had a hand in redesigning the beer names after him).
To streamline the process Gosling has set up a trial batch area called Brewers’ Sandpit in which members of the team can experiment with a special beer that must fill one keg only. Visitors on the brewery tours are invited to try the brew on the provision they provide feedback.
And when it is time to consider the next small batch release Gosling has a library with which to reference the best-loved examples over the previous 12 months.
However, Pale Ale remains the Little Creatures flagship. It has been so for more than 15 years.
But why has it been so popular for so long in a marketplace that is constantly searching for the next great tasting beer?
“It is balanced,” replied Gosling. “We always talk about flavour plus refreshment equals balance. However, I like a rock-and-roll analogy.
“Little Creatures Pale Ale is like the Rolling Stones and when you use pellets it is like the Sex Pistols - raw, green and astringent but with big aroma.
“There is nothing wrong with the raw energy of the Sex Pistols. However, we use whole hop
cones because with think it’s more refined and elegant, and like the Stones, it’s still rock and
“We all have some Pistols in our music collection, but more people like to listen to the
Stones, and we believe we get that velvety, balanced feel, for your satisfaction.”