Many breweries have a local focus. Many more highlight their focus on freshness. And there is a growing number with a focus on sustainability. But you can count on one hand the number of Australian breweries that tie all of these elements together in the way Rocky Ridge Brewing Co does.
Aside from collaborations – we’ll get to those soon – the beers that owner/head brewer Hamish Coates produces on his family’s fifth generation dairy farm, located 20 minutes outside Busselton in the Margaret River region, are created exclusively with ingredients grown and sourced inside the farm’s fence line. Rainwater fills the tanks, solar power keeps the brewery running, Rocky Ridge barley and wheat fill the mash tun, hop bines soar on trellises, and the proprietary house yeast was the result of an air sample collected on site then cultured up at the University of WA. It’s quite an achievement.
What’s just as interesting is the rate at which the brewery captured the hearts and minds of Western Australian beer drinkers. Since launching in early 2017, the steady stream of releases from Rocky Ridge has gathered considerable momentum, with many selling out within days of release.
This noble pursuit of hyper-locality and sustainability does, however, have its limitations – not being able to use New World hops grown elsewhere or interesting adjuncts being the most obvious. Enter the collaboration.
Brewing and beer world peers have been lining up at Rocky Ridge’s doors since the middle of 2017 and, when embarking on collaborative ventures with them, Hamish has allowed himself leeway to play with ingredients that normally wouldn’t be permitted in his regular releases.
Within little more than a year of the first beer leaving the brewery, the distinguished list of brewing buddies included Dainton, Cellarbrations Carlisle, The Dutch Trading Co, Indian Ocean Brewing Co, Cape Cellars, the late Baby Mammoth, Cheeky Monkey Brewery, Burnt Ends Smoking Co and relative neighbours The Beer Farm. Add in a joint venture with Vasse Valley Hemp that led to one of Australia’s first commercially produced hemp ales, Dr Weedy’s, and it’s clear Hamish and co are a sociable bunch.
While there has been considerable hype around each release, it’s a single beer of which Hamish is most proud. Named after his loyal brewery dog – also featured on the can – Ace Pale AIe (which has since been replaced by Ace IPA in their core lineup) has a particularly sentimental appeal because it features the Flinders hop. The variety was recently revived from an old growing region in Albany in the state’s South West and, while its exact origins remain a mystery, Hamish describes his love for Flinders in its point of difference.
“It’s so different,” he says. “There’s a unique flavour and aroma that has floral notes but underlays citrus, passionfruit and grapefruit.”
This belief in unique is also manifested in the Rocky Ridge branding. The modern geometric design that contrasts wonderfully with the romantic sensibility of Rocky Ridge is the work of an old uni pal, Matt Nankivell, who counts among his other clients the Saatchi & Saatchi design agency in London. Not a bad place for a new brewery to get some brand design done.
It's proven to be a potent combination of elements, one that saw demand rocket so far so fast Hamish had to abandon his goal of only brewing with what they could grow and buy in some ingredients as they increase production of raw ingredients at the farm. It was a decision that didn't come easily but one he was quick to make public.
Speaking of the public, the best place to sample what Rocky Ridge have to offer is in Busselton, at the Tap House they opened in 2019. It's located on the edge of the Busselton foreshore redevelopment, offers visitors a huge range of fresh Rocky Ridge beers, and is the location for occasional events from the brewery team too.