Top-Notch Local Tipples in Trying Times: Three WA Companies Making Must-Sip Drinks in 2020
Meet the standout local drinks brands that were voted the state's favourites as part of the BWS Local Luvvas initiative.
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Learning to always keep hand sanitiser within arm's reach is a very 2020 lesson. Working out how many jigsaw puzzles you can do in a single month is too. So is accepting change — because a year can start out normally, then transform into something completely different. And while we didn't need a pandemic to tell us this, a person's entire life can go through similar shifts as well.
Someone can start out in one job, for instance, then make a once-in-a-lifetime leap to pursue another. That's the story behind Wilson Brewing Company, which is based in Albany. It also applies at Illegal Tender Rum Co, in Springfield in Western Australia's midwest. Or, a person can jump into the wine industry in one part of the country, then end up making it in a completely different area. That tale rings true at Ferngrove Wines in the Great Southern region, for instance.
What hasn't changed lately, though, is how much Australians love Wilson, Illegal Tender and Ferngrove's drinks. When BWS asked Aussies to pick the country's top tipples as part of its Local Luvvas initiative, all three emerged victorious in WA. They'll now receive an extra helping hand with getting their products stocked in more BWS stores — and we've chatted to key players from all three to discover just how life's changes brought them to this point.
FROM THE MINING INDUSTRY TO MAKING BEER IN AN OLD NURSERY
If you were to ask the entire Australian population how they'd spend their time if they could have any job they wanted, we're betting that a considerable number would mention brewing beer. Matty Wilson would now, but he mightn't have known how much he loves his work if he hadn't been a boilermaker in the Pilbara first. It was there, as one of the mining industry's many fly-in, fly-out employees, that his cousin Leon first introduced him to brewing. "I was instantly addicted, and loved the combination of science, cooking and chemistry," he says. "After about six months, I realised that I had a knack for brewing and recipe development — and started thinking about opening a brewery in Albany."
Opening a brewery isn't a part-time endeavour, of course. For Wilson, it meant calling time on his existing career, buying an old garden nursery with a big dilapidated shed out the back, and putting all his energy into making Wilson Brewing Company a reality. He didn't completely farewell his old skills at first, though, using them over the course of nine months to fix up the property and build his first brew kit by hand — a key early step in making the leap into the professional beer business after five years of home brewing.
That was back in 2016 — and while it represented an enormous change for Wilson, this year would bring more. "2020 has proven to be a time of overcoming challenges," he says; however, it has also been one of "banding together and supporting each other". When he started Wilson Brewing, he sold his first keg to the Earl of Spencer Pub in Albany. Now, in this tough period, the community in WA's southwest and the state as a whole has been pivotal. "They've truly proven why it is so great to live here," Wilson shares. "We have had unprecedented support, and have had the opportunity to support others like never before. We learned that we can take a beating, stick it out, and come out the other end stronger and still chasing our dreams."
LEAVING A CAREER AS AN ELECTRICIAN TO DISTILL RUM
At first glance, Illegal Tender Rum Co's origin story is rather similar to Wilson Brewing Company's — and that of the former's Codie Palmer to the latter's Matty Wilson, too. Palmer was previously an instrumentation electrician by trade, working in iron ore mining in Dampier. Now, after selling his house and car to finance his dream, he has been distilling professionally for six years out of Dongara.
For Palmer, however, making rum was always his "true calling". In fact, he's been doing it for more than half of his life. "There is something about it that just ensnared me; something with the process and how you could take raw ingredients and really make them your own," he says, explaining that it's "a curiosity that beckons to you like a bright light in the night". He relishes the process, and the hard work that's required along the way. "A truly great spirit is something that is nurtured from start to finish — no shortcuts," he notes, explaining how Illegal Tender guides its 100-percent Australian ingredients through the brewing stage, then through fermentation, then double distillation, and finally through maturation.
In 2020, Illegal Tender has been making something else as well: hand sanitiser. Add that to the big changes that have marked Palmer's rum-distilling path — but, while unexpected, it's one he'll always cherish. "It saw us help thousands of vulnerable people in our area, and that's something that we will be proud of for the rest of our days," he says. Indeed, it has allowed him to support a community that has supported him. "Without it, we simply would not be around. When we began our journey, it was the local support we received from the very beginning that made us feel like we were a part of a greater family," he explains. "Being local should be something all producers are proud of… and supporting locals should be at the forefront of people's minds in this day and age."
SWAPPING THE BAROSSA VALLEY FOR WA'S GREAT SOUTHERN REGION
Unlike his fellow Local Luvvas winners, Ferngrove Wines' Craig Grafton didn't experience a stint in mining before following his vino dreams. But he still probably wouldn't have predicted that he'd become the chief winemaker at a Western Australian vineyard — especially given that he grew up north of South Australia's Barossa Valley; has spent time working in the Yarra and Clare valleys, Geelong and Bellarine, and Mildura; and has also plied his trade in the Bordeaux region of Southern France, in California's Sonoma Valley, and also in Nashik in India and Ningxia in China.
The move to WA was the result of years of respect for the area, though. "I have always held the Great Southern region in high regard," he says, noting that that's proven true across his 20 years as a winemaker. And if you're going to make a top-notch drop, Grafton believes that you need the very best location. "It is a little clichéd, but it is absolutely true that great wines really are made in the vineyard."
Ferngrove's location since 1998 — where "the cool climate of the Frankland River allows our vines to produce some incredibly intense fruit, and we have relatively warm days which allow the fruit to fully ripen in flavour," as Grafton explains — is a little off the beaten path. It's 360 kilometres south of Perth, in fact. That makes local support crucial for Ferngrove Wines, even before 2020 delivered its challenges. "Being loved as a local winery is what we've been striving for as remotely located vineyard. We have to work a little harder to get our wines out there, and it means that we have to shout and scream at the top of our lungs that we are a winery that's worth tasting, enjoying and seeking out," he says. As a self-confessed wine fanatic, that's a task that Grafton enjoys, however; "the romance, the history, the people, the places that are all involved in wine production made me want to forge a career and lifestyle around this".
To find these or other Western Australian drinks as part of the BWS Local Luvva's initiative, head to your nearest BWS store.
Published on November 20, 2020 by Sarah Ward