WA has long been a fertile breeding ground for keen homebrewers. Famously, John Stallwood launched the state's iconic Nail Brewing off the back of a regifted homebrew kit in the early 90s, while the Western Australian State Amateur Brewing Competition, which debuted in 2007, has been widely supported by the WA craft beer scene since its inception – last year, the competition attracted more than 350 entries.
The popularity of craft beer in recent years has seemingly had a flow-on effect into the homebrewing realm too, with many craft beer drinkers looking to understand more about the process, or even aspiring to make their own craft brand – endeavouring to "go pro".
And one event in the state's South West is doing a fine role of facilitating such ambitions: the popular and well-regarded Backyard Brewing Tournament run by Margaret River Brewhouse.
This year will be the seventh running of the competition, one in which first prize sees the winner's recipe brewed on the host brewery's kit then sold over the bar and in cans. Since its inception, multiple winners and medalists have gone on to launch their own brewing companies or other beer-related businesses.
"We really started this tournament to stay connected to what our roots are – homebrewing," Margaret River Brewhouse director Iliya Hastings says.
"As homebrewers we found it really exciting, informative and aspiring to have a competition, like the amateur section of the Perth Royal Beer Show, to enter. We did it to help and push brewers in our region to have something to aim for, get feedback, and improve beer – but also to foster the local brewing community."
In recent years, the competition has taken on a new identity: as a catalyst for keen homebrewers to potentially transition into the world of professional brewing, an entirely unexpected but valued component of the competition.
Impi Brewers co-founder Jason Marais won the tournament in 2017 and Travis Moore of Phat Brew Club claimed top spot in 2020, while Eclipse Brewing's Rhys Fleay and Chad McGregor have been multiple medal winners over a number of years. He may not have gone into actual brewing, but Scott Butson of Mallokup Malt took out the trophy with a hefeweizen in 2018. And such is the competition's reputation that last year saw more than 100 beers entered for judging.
Rhys, now brewer and director at Eclipse, says he always found the competition to be fun, and great for improving his beers. He first attended with a mate who went onto win a silver in 2019, going on to enter himself in 2020 and 2021, when he claimed his own silver. He believes "the honest professional feedback mixed with the supportive environment" make it a "must-enter" event for budding brewers.
As for Mallokup Malt founder Scott, he describes the always sold-out awards night as "an epic evening", adding: "You get to meet the Margaret River Brewhouse crew and you get a chance to meet like-minded, passionate amateur brewers, sharing ideas, listening to the same lengths and stories that they went to for their entries and tips for future styles that you may have not attempted to brew yet."
The genuine feedback, and success at the tournament, helped convince Rhys to make the leap into the pro-brewing world too.
"I know all your mates say your homebrew is good," he says, "but are they actually just saying that to not hurt your feelings? A medal at the Brewhouse Backyard Brewing comp will make you forget those doubts!"
As for Iliya, the man who has unwittingly helped many follow the path he set out upon before them, he says: "We never envisaged that it would lead and inspire so many winners and entrants going down the path to start their own breweries and be active in the industry.
"That’s so great, but is ultimately a bonus for us, as the main aim is to continue to support the many brewers in our region."