The past five years have been dynamic for all of us, to say the very least, but for Blasta’s Steve Russell there’s been a level of dynamism that well exceeds most of our experiences.
And, as you'll find out below, the strides made in the brewery’s first five years may well be doubled – even tripled – in intensity with what’s to come over the course of this year alone. And that's without mentioning any more immediate surprises...
But, before we get to the major updates later in the article, there’s a fifth anniversary to celebrate. So, after a half decade filled with mountains of silverware, some high profile collaborations, and even some amateur sleuthing, we invited Steve to take part in our Five Years In Five Beers series.
Myway Grapefruit IPA
“Myway was the first commercial beer that was made at Alan Proctor’s Billabong,” Steve says of the beer that announced Blasta's arrival in 2017.
Head back two years from that point, and in 2015 brewing was barely on his radar – at least until he was offered a brew-in-a-bag homebrew: “green apple beer!” Inspired, the then FIFO mining engineer combined a passion for cooking with his wife Katarzyna’s homebrew kit Christmas present, the results of which soon birthed what would become Myway, a citrus-infused fermented manifesto: beer on Steve’s terms, made with detail, frequently fruited, and delivered with pace.
Within months, the enthusiasm engendered by tinkering in the couple’s kitchen led to a “What if…?” moment, which morphed into their brewery / venue / café opening in Burswood in 2018. Not to mention a whole lot of hand peeling of local ruby grapefruit and blood oranges.
Grimster Rocks Mosaic Pale Ale
Grimster Rocks showcases the dynamism of Mosaic hops at a reasonably moderate ABV. Its approach has seen the beer claim Perth Royal's Champion Pale trophy in 2018 as well as a gong at the 2019 Australian International Beer Awards. It’s set to be the first beer brewed at Blasta's new production brewery just a few days after this article goes live too – more on that below.
And although multi-award winning Chainbreaker IPA could have easily been featured here on the strength of its success, the connection to Steve’s late brother – look closely at the decals and cans – resonates stronger.
“I’m probably not the same as most people in Australia," Steve says. "I love hefeweizens.” [To be fair, I know plenty of brewers with a thing for wheat beers, it's just the public doesn't seem to go for them – Editor]
“As soon as I drink one, it takes me back to being in Berlin, being in the beer gardens in summertime. It’s really easy-drinking, and I don’t mind the clove and banana. For me, it reminds me of summer."
Judges agree that Blasta's take on the Bavarian style is an excellent one too; Blastaweizen was named Champion Independent Beer and Champion European Style Ale at the 2021 Indies.
Rampant Raspberry Quad Fruited Sour
"It sounds bad," Steve says, "but pretty much every beer that I make is selfish. I’ll only experiment to start off with things that I like and, really, I should be going ‘What do other people like?’ because it’s not just me who’s drinking it.
“The first sour that I enjoyed was Face Inverter [from Little Bang] but it was a bit too extreme, so I thought I’ll make something with fruits that I like.
“In Scotland, where I grew up, in our school holidays we were raspberry picking, strawberry picking. I think someone made a joke that Scottish people need their vitamin C, but it probably does lead back to that. We did a lot of that sorta stuff when we were younger.
"I know raspberries taste amazing and the passionfruit adds some tang and depth, hibiscus adds fruitiness and colour.
“This year, Rampant has become one of our best sellers.”
Regular Best Hybrid & Specialty Beer awards show there's more to Rampant Raspberry than its nostalgic intent.
Unbridled Unicorn IIPA
If the there’s a recurrent naming convention at Blasta, it’s is one of freedom. Break free, find your own path, and drink likewise.
Unbridled Unicorn arrived midway through 2020, partially extending the work done by the previous year’s Stone Brewing collaboration, List.Loud.React Double IPA, but with its own point to prove.
"For me, it’s the way the Strata works with the Citra," Steve says. "It’s pretty malty – there’s a fair bit of Caramalt in it – but I like the way the Strata works with the Citra because you get the fruitiness and the dankness – that weedy strawberry works really well.
"But you’ve gotta be careful when you’re drinking them," he adds, laughing
Unbridled Unicorn soon claimed Champion Beer at the Perth Royal awards in 2021 as well as coming with bold artwork which featured on a far larger scale on the side of the original brewery.
(If you've not noticed, Blasta's logo is a unicorn, the official national animal of Scotland.)
The next year – and beyond
Often, these celebratory reflections end here with best wishes, digital air kisses and a quippy sign off, but for Blasta this is where the next chapter starts, and it’s one with multiple threads. Indeed, while Blasta is Gaelic for delicious, Steve Russell’s brewery may well have been bestowed "Dána", meaning "bold".
The coming year begins with what will be one of WA’s largest breweries in scope and volume. It will feature a brand new production facility capable of 15 million litres per year and an accompanying "departure lounge" just a five-minute Blasta-scheduled ridesharing drive from Perth airport.
Walking around the partially-completed facility, the scale is immense, and it’s not yet complete.
"I designed the thing, and it blows me away now! Straight away we can make five million litres, which is a lot of beer," Steve says, equally enthused and wide-eyed.
Andf it’s not just the size of the new equipment, but also its speed.
"Because of the width of the lauter tun, we can sparge 60 hectolitres in 40 minutes. Twenty hectolitres in the current brewhouse would take us an hour and forty minutes. That’s three times the amount, in less than half the time," he explains.
"For context, the CIP vessels [clean-in-place] are 40 hectolitre; in the current Blasta they’re 200 litres. They’re as big as our current actual fermenters. In our current brewery, we’ve got the blow off buckets for sanitising, here we’ve got a 10-hectolitre foam-capped vessel."
The 200-capacity bar upstairs features views towards the airport, showers, and secure luggage storage lockers for travellers, as well as quiet "pods" for meetings and screened live departure information.
They commence production there mid-March, with the departure lounge set to open to the public mid-year.
And, then there’s Blasta 2.0, a short shimmy down Goodwood Parade in Burswood from their current home to a new, 1400-person capacity venue which will also be open by mid-year. This new venue features familiar themes from original location’s beer hall, plus alfresco areas and more bespoke spaces offering local natural wines, a café, curated gastro-brewery menu and a private dining space. A blessing of unbridled unicorns will also feature prominently, as well as the ability to host masterclasses.
The move there will see Blasta’s original brewpub become vacant for now – more to come on that soon.
In the meantime, Blasta’s fifth birthday celebrations kick off on Sunday (March 5) – which also happens to be Steve’s birthday. There will be a new French-oaked version of Grimster Pale, face-painting, Big Don’s Smoked Meat, a garden spritz bar and, no doubt, many reflections on the first five years of Blasta beers.