The Beerfarm is a well-loved and boundary-breaking brewery made all the more special with a visit to their brewpub headquarters. The converted dairy farm in Metricup finds families, off-duty tradies and locals toe-to-toe with snobby beer enthusiasts and tourists, each on the even footing of great beer in a beautiful atmosphere.
We spoke to Beerfarm Co-founder George and brewer Miles about the unique mix of fun, dedication and inclusiveness which make the Beerfarm seem quintessentially Margaret River while at the same time completely unique to the region.
Starting the Beerfarm
“We were working for a different company and the initial brewery site was going to be the second brewery site for that company, but half way through the building stage, we branched off with a separate vision, and understanding what we wanted to put into the place, the initial venture decomposed and allowed us as a group to take it on our own.” Said George, "We wanted to create an iconic australian beer brand that could be enjoyed by everyone."
With a site in place, the Beerfarm crew went about methodically establishing a core range of beers based on their own customer feedback, “We didn’t want to decide what the market wants to drink, we wanted to find out what styles they wanted to drink. We now have a balanced core range between sweet, sour, salty, and bitter drinks.”
George mentions that balance is key to the design of any beer, from their ambitious one-off and seasonal releases through to their perennial core range. He also notes that they at they at Beerfarm “like to drink more than one beer,” a habit reflected in their core range erring on the lower end of the scale for ABV.
"We try to be ambitious, not arrogant. We didn’t want to put up any barriers to the people consuming our beers, and wanted to give people a gateway into that journey.”
Established for the Future
The logistics of their unique venue have required a better approach to waste management and environmental impact: While many urban breweries can pay fees and dump their production waste, at Beerfarm their used hops are composted in their own vegetable gardens, and spent grain is fed to a herd of onsite Black Angus cattle.
"We want to set a precedent and show that it is not hard to reduce the environmental footprint breweries naturally have. We are hoping to change the train of thought and find more value in our waste." said Miles.
Beyond their environmental commitment, a lot of the magic of the Beerfarm comes from the way their staff interact, "There is a ladder, but everyone here is colleagues with one and other.” said Miles, "We have a group called the green team who invite anyone who wants to join and put forward ideas. There’s no sense of ‘we’re doing it this way’,"
"It’s all passionate people. You want to work in a place that you want to be a part of.”
Beer for All Palates
As they have solidified their core range, the brewers at Beerfarm have established a reputation for the brand with collaborative, experimental and ambitious seasonal and one-off releases. Among these are the Shirazaweiss, a collaboration with local winemakers LS Merchants, and the ongoing Native Series, which uses native botanicals to create unique brews.
“The whole idea behind the native series is to work with traditional custodians of the land, those guys are developing these ingredients sustainably, so we work with those growers in a sustainable way, and we only do one run of each. The brewer’s love it, they get to do a new style each time."
The native series has involved collaborations with Fervor and beers brewed with strawberry gum, saltbush and finger lime. The beers are challenging, unique and delicious. But rather than expect everyone who visits to put their usual tastes on hold, they are more than happy to leave the experimental beers to those who want them, and provide a range of flavours throughout their beers to suit everyone. Even a cider which is fermented in house for those who do not drink beer.
"We get a whole range of people here in Margaret River, it’s not just snobs, there’s families, younger people, we don’t want everyone to like all of our beers, but we want to make a beer which is suitable to each person.” said George.
While Subiaco’s New Normal may be the first kitchen to commit to minimal waste, all West Australian produce, or a constantly changing menu featuring wild-foraged ingredients, the combination sets them apart as one of the most delicious and progressive restaurants we’ve seen.
We spent an afternoon in New Normal’s kitchen speaking to head chef Charlie about how the small team go about making simple dishes taste so great.
A New WA
“Probably over 50% of our ingredients come from our main supplier, and the rest come from small farms and farmers markets. Many farmers such as Torbay Asparagus prefer to go through a market than come up to us each week, but some will come in and deal with us directly. We’ve currently got a lady coming up every thursday droppping pork and macadamia nuts from her farm. We deal directly with Cooladerra for our olive oil out of Frankland river, and Wagin duck comes tuesdays and thursdays.” Charlie said.
"We find a lot of herbs wild. Our sous chef Vince is really good at finding things. You can be walking or driving by somewhere and think you can see something, then come back and check it out a bit later. Then sometimes we're directed or we call out for it. A few weeks back on instagram we were looking for quandongs and kumquats. A lot of people have abundant fruit and just throw it out because birds and pests come for it."
Charlie admits that for many great chefs, attention to local and seasonal produce is just good cooking. For New Normal, however, attention to WA produce is taken a step further and the entire menu is comprised of Western Australian produce. The singular exception being some of the spices they use. "When we opened up we said we were going to let our spices come from where they come from. WA doesn't really have a lot of spices growing. You can't get fennel seed, you can't get coriander seed. That's the only thing I would say that we source from outside of WA."
New Normal’s menu reads as small groupings of ingredients scribbled onto the large blackboards which feature in each corner of the restaurant, but this effort toward transparency does not imply that the dishes aren’t well considered and contemporary.
During our visit we tried dishes including heirloom carrots, a dish of spring peas, Shark Bay cuttlefish, Torbay asparagus, and Pressed lamb. Each dish simultaneously storied, understated, and crafted.
“We've just been through winter where everything is quite dull, and now it's springtime, peas are coming in for a couple of months, the suns out, and everything is getting more colourful.”
Behind their pea dish is a water made from the juice of pea pods and emulsified with butter, alongside a powder from the spent pea pods. The peas are cooked in leek, garlic, chilli and oil, and finished with garlic flowers, sol, goats curd from Geraldton, and wagyu fat smoked by Adrien’s continental. The heirloom carrot dish is similarly detailed, and features a chickpea puree similar to a hommus but without tahini (which Charlie notes is difficult to find or grow in WA) a North African sauce of coriander stems, chilli and cumin gives it kick alongside whole chickpeas and coriander.
Minimal Waste Cooking
While showcasing the diversity of West Australian produce, each dish at a New Normal also represents their commitment to minimising waste. In their carrot dish, this is as simple as washing and soaking the carrot tops in order to incorporate them back into the dish. For the pea dish, incorporating the pea pods back into the dish was a more labour intensive process of juicing and powdering the pods.
"Often things are reused into the same dish, but a few cross into different dishes. For example our asparagus dish uses a ricotta made of the buttermilk left over from our homemade butter."
"There's a bit of trial and error, especially with the stuff which you usually throw away. There are a few attempts which don't work out, but once it does work, you know you have another use of it."
While they commit to their ideals harder than most kitchens, what makes New Normal work is a backbone of great cooking from their talented staff. Charlie has been in Perth for ten years, having spent his time here as head chef at Gordon St Garage, Fraser's and Balthazar.
Many great kitchens will incorporate local providence and talented chefs are always looking at new ways to work with ingredients. New Normal may not have pioneered their particular approach, but they have singled out the ideas and put them to work in creating great food in a beautiful restaurant.
New Normal are open Tues–Thursday 5pm–late, Friday 12:00pm-late and Saturday 4pm–late. Keep up to date on their instagram.