There are many reasons for why I haven’t visited the new Homestead Brewing in the Swan Valley until now but one thing is clear: I will not be leaving it long for a revisit.
Only 25 minutes from Perth, the grounds are home to the modern, pavilion style buildings of the award winning Mandoon Winery and its fine dining restaurant. The new brewery, bar area and ample landscaped open space, with a new children’s playground, make this make this a real multipurpose venue.
This venture has been well thought out and no expense has been spared. In the brewery alone, the state-of-the-art Kaspar Schulz brewery is considered to be one of the best in the world.
Just before Christmas I caught up with Head Brewer Ron Feruglio for a very good natured chat about what’s brewing at Homestead. Previous to Homestead, Ron had founded and co-owned Temple Brewing in Carlton, Melbourne. Ron was gentlemanly, articulate and very generous with his time.
He took me through the current range of Homestead beers and the brand new Krush Apple Cider. While each was true to style it’s the slight edge of interest in each product that I found most appealing.
Well attenuated beers are a running theme in of all of Ron’s creations. Attenuation is the degree to which the yeast has consumed the fermentable sugars in the brewing process that creates alcohol and carbon dioxide. In simple terms, high attenuation means the yeast have consumed as much as they can, creating a dry finish. It’s this dry finish is makes the drinker want another sip.
Even after the initial sweetness of caramel and vanilla in the current seasonal ‘Cuvee’, the signature dry finish keeps the drinker intrigued. Interestingly this beer is a blend of three beers that spent time on Mandoon Shiraz barrels, old and new toasted French oak. It’s quite a treat!
Given the variety of beers Ron is creating, and has planned, I wanted to understand how he creates a recipe and what is on the horizon at Homestead Brewing.
“The process is always the same in the end but the starting point is often quite different. Sometimes it can be an inspiration from something that’s totally unrelated to beer. It could be something I’m eating, a hare-brained conversation like ‘wouldn’t it be great if’ or ‘I wonder’ if you know what I mean. Just brainstorming ideas which often happen the best when you’re not trying to make anything happen. Like when your having a beer with friends, conversation turns and there’s a spark there.”
“Or it might be ‘I need to make a Pale Ale’, we need a staple, so how is it going to be? Can it be different? What is everyone else doing? Do I like that? Ultimately I always end up with a brief.”
“My background is in Industrial Design so I approach beer very much in that way. I design beer is how I look at it. It’s also like writing music. I have also previously worked as a music composer for ten years making a living writing commissioned music. In a way it is very much writing a song. That’s why I like naming the beers because it’s a bit like naming a song, to evoke something about it.”
So you’re a Bauhaus fan?
“Yeah. Brauhaus” (laughing)
“That one refers to the brewery. It’s the Brewery Lager” (laughing)
“So whichever the way the inspiration comes from whether it’s to meet a requirement, something that has to happen, or whether it’s an idea or whether it’s an experiment like ‘I wonder what would happen if we?…’ like the Cuvee, I wonder what would happen if we treated all of this in different ways, which options that would work.”
“Ultimately once all that is in place then there is a brief. Once there’s a brief then there definition of what the beer is going to be like. What alcohol, what kind of colour, what it should represent and then I start tasting in my head, tasting with my mind. Then the process after that is if it’s going to be a large scale commercial beer I’ll always do small batches to test things.”
“Yeah, test out yeast strains. I’ve got to be really diligent about it. I do a triangulated test to sort of change things. I have three variables with five options and then I ditch one and keep running. So I might start with four different yeasts that could be good. The signature hop could be anyone of these and then start broad and the just keep narrowing and then go ‘OK that yeast doesn’t work, these two do and I’ll keep running with those” and then I keep tightening it up and then maybe at the end modifying hop charges and modifying the grain bill.”
“So in the end if you draw it all out you might do something like seventy two or a hundred and twenty separate trials but they’re not all individual brews. They are one brew on a fifty litre system that’s split into eight for example where you it change it, dry-hop one, don’t dry-hop another, use one or two different yeasts. You know what I mean. It’s quite scientific.”
“But something like the Cuvee so something more aesthetic. A bit more touchy-feely. We brewed three different small batches and blended them together for that one. You’ve got an impression of what each of the components are trying to put together but was tweaked as we went along. ‘I think it needs a little bit more of that, a bit more of this’. So you start massaging it towards the goal but you always have to have the goal in mind.”
Which is that moment of inspiration back from wherever in the beginning?
“Yeah, yeah. I think if you don’t have that and you just start that’s when you could have some happy accidents but it’s endless and you don’t actually know when it’s done because your beer doesn’t have a definition, because you haven’t defined it early. You define it before you even brew it.”
You have commented before that this type of brewing is the perfect blend of art and science.
“Yeah. I feel you succeed or fail in the details. That’s where it is but there’s a lot of beauty in imperfection you know what I mean?”
“If things are sterile and ‘by the numbers’ it will be fine, accurate and everything else but it may be lacking personality. There always has to be something in there that sparks. That could be the idea, it could be the name and it could be all of those individual concepts.”
You’re doing lots of small batches. Is there anything that you are working on at the moment that you can share?
“Yes, absolutely. I’ve got a beer in the tank at the moment that’s made out of two separate batches and it’s a Chocolate Cherry Sour. It’s going to weigh in at about 9-9.5% ABV.”
“So it’s two separate batches. One is fermented with sour cherries. The other is like a really, really sour, like a triple sour mash that was boiled for seven days to concentrate it down.” (laughing)
“It has got the most amazing flavours. There’s depth to it that I can’t actually describe what it tastes like. It’s thick and viscous. It was done with a sour mash technique. There is a lot of Lacto (Lactobacillus yeast) early on in the piece so there’s a lot of sourness to it.”
“One’s already filtered up and is ready to go. The chocolate sour part will ready in the next week or two. Then the two will be blended to make the final product.”
“It’s got sour cherries, Belgian chocolate; it’s a really hardcore adult Cherry Ripe. (laughing)
“So that’s going to be quite an interesting one. When it’s going to be ready I’m really not quite sure because with beer like that it’s readiness is dictated by itself. When it’s ready, it’s ready you know what I mean?”
“I had this fantastic idea to have it ready by Christmas but it’s just not. It would have been a nice bottled Christmas beer but then again it could be a really awesome Easter beer too or it could just be a beer for whenever. So it’s just something I had an opportunity to do.
Would you consider putting some of that on oak?
“Well yeah, that’s the other idea to put some of that away too. Depending on how it comes out when it’s all together it may all go into barrels and just stay until Easter and the pull it out and maybe even bottle it in 750ml Champagne bottles and bottle condition it.”
“So it won’t be out for Christmas but it’s that I’ve been working on a lot actually, for a good couple of months now. It’s shaping up really interesting.”
“The components are very interesting, very distinct. It’s going to be quite an amazing beer. It’s a sipping beer. It’s one to have in a goblet and sit back and contemplate its complexity.”
Are you planning to release anything from Homestead full time in bottles or cans at all?
“Look eventually. Everyone who comes here, especially the tourists, come to the cellar door and do a wine tasting and buy some bottles of wine. They come here (the brewery) and do a beer tasting and want to take some away.”
“Realistically there’s no plan for the next twelve months to put a bottling line in. It’s a complex piece of equipment. This is a very up market, expensive brewery the bottling will need to be of the same standard. It’s a big capital investment that needs a lot of space and a lot of labour. It’s early days for us and I think we’ve gone pretty quickly.”
“I’ve brewed more beers than I had been asked to. Not more than planned because I wrote a portfolio of beers for 18 months, so there’s a whole range of beers that will be coming up as we head into autumn, into winter and so on but I probably wasn’t asked to anymore than three or four beers for now so I’ve got more excited with my new toys. (laughing)
I’m not complaining! (laughing)
“So that’s been really nice. So at the moment we’re just going to focus on getting the place running smoothly. We’ve got a big, busy time heading up to Christmas and I think January is going to be very, very busy with families and people coming out to the (Swan) valley.”
“I think the layout is great. It’s a bit of a corny cliché but it’s got something for everybody. It’s got people come here looking for fine dining or to lie on the grass on a blanket or just sit at a high table inside and overindulge or do it all.” (laughing)
“The project is excellent. There’s a lot of scope for me anyway. I’ve been given total creative freedom to do what I want to do. That why I’m here. I’ve got no issue producing good quality drinkable beers but I also like to push the envelope a little bit with some things that are a bit more interesting.”
I’ve read of a Berliner Weiss coming on soon.
“Yes, there’s two coming on. They’ll be the other side of Christmas, still in summer.”
I’m very familiar with the distant relative of Homestead’s Black Swan Black IPA. It’s great to see it in this portfolio.
“Once again, it’s 7% ABV and you wouldn’t pick it. It’s dry and easy to drink. All the trademarks.” (laughing)
“I really like the hops in this beer. Black IPA’s are a really interesting style in that most people now have either had a go at it or got them as staples in their portfolio or as seasonal beers.”
“My whole idea with this one was make it all about pine and resin with lots and lots of really old school American hops in this. So there’s no Cascade or Galaxy hop type flavours of tropical fruits. It’s all Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe, Centennial, all those kind of big robust, earthy, resinous hops. I think that works in unison with the dark roast flavour.”
“The whole idea with a Black IPA is to make it look black but not taste black so you are trying to disguise the roasted elements. My approach with it was to make it to make the roast and the resins get into bed with each other and then they become something a little bit different.”(laughter)
“I like this because it’s really clean. It’s a really good seller but it’s not for everybody obviously but having said that there is people who come out here just to have pints of this.”
Looking at today’s taps, Homestead has a very interesting line up.
“Yeah, it’s pretty eclectic isn’t it? (laughter) And there’s a Cider!”
I really enjoyed the Cider.
“Thank you. Yeah, look I’m proud of everything I’ve done since I’ve been here but I’m uber proud of the Cider because it’s the first Cider I’ve ever made, at all. I’ve got 600 litres of it so I’m glad it turned out well.” (laughter)
“Seriously, it was a real journey into the unknown with that because making Cider has a lot more in common with wine making than with brewing even though a lot of breweries make a cider.”
You’ve kind of got nowhere to hide?
“No. I kind of took a Lager approach to it if you know what I mean; cold fermentation. We handled it carefully. I kept all the oxygen away. Really treated it with gloves you know and I think it really paid off.”
“I have to say I really relied on Ryan Sudano, the Chief Winemaker and his palate. I would give him a taste and said ‘what do you think of this, the structure of this from a wine maker’s point of view?’ The acid balance and so on. That was really cool to because I got to hang out in his lab and test with things that I don’t normally test with in beer like salt levels and stuff like that. So it was a real learning curve.”
A lot you can bring back to beer in that space?
“Yeah, definitely. I think also he’s getting really excited about beer since I’ve been here too. We kick around quite a few ideas about some new things for next year incorporating what’s going on in the winery as well as what’s going on here. It won’t just extend to barrels.”
“We’ve been using their barrels but there a couple ideas we’ve got that I can’t talk about yet because they may not happen. It should be quite good. I think we’ve both decided it would be good to play together.” (laughter)
There are a few American breweries like Dogfish Head and Cascade Brewing are doing some things in that space.
“No one is doing it here that I’m aware of and the whole philosophy of this place is all about the things we do. It would be nice to get a perfect triangle of beer, wine and food happening together you know.”
“From the food point of view, the guys that take all of our spent brewing grain raise pigs and cows. They sell almost exclusively to the kitchen for the fine dining restaurant. They just set up a slaughterhouse there so they can butcher the animals there themselves. So the stuff that we get on the spit is coming from grain feed from our own beer. All we need to do is incorporate by-products from the harvest as well into an agricultural kind of twist and we’ve got everything.”
Are any collaboration beers planned at all?
“Ah, not at this point but I’m definitely open once I’ve found my feet, I’ve bedded in to Perth and this place and everything is running as I want it. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me really excited and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and have ideas of things that you can do. There is lots of magic stuff around here (the Swan Valley) to work with.”
I’m looking forward to the Homestead Saison. When do you think it will be ready?
“I’m ready to brew that. It would been out by now if I hadn’t gone off and done other things. (laughter). It’s really a spring beer but that’s not strictly the case. That’s one that could certainly go into autumn.”
From your Temple days and now here at Homestead it seems that you understand your customers will trust your judgment and the beers that you are making, rather than trying to pander to a style or have a particular customer in mind.
“I think that’s very true. A lot of people ‘get it’ with how I do things and they like what I do. That’s very much so. It’s a very astute observation actually.”
Finally, what advice would you give to your former self in 2005 when you decided to go into full time brewing?
Strap yourself in!
“Look if I had my time over would I do it all over again? Yeah, absolutely. I think the thing that I’ve learnt is that it requires a lot of patience. Things don’t happen as quickly as you would like them to and it’s definitely worth it. That’s the advice I’d give myself if I was having a drink with me. (laughter)
“I’d say ‘hang in there, stick with it and go hard!” (laughter)
Homestead Brewery is located about 25 minutes east of Perth city in the Swan Valley, WA.