The Sydney Morning Herald

Pioneer brewery suffers for its craft

Date: 23/03/2010
Words: 641
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Good Living
Page: 22
It's always sad to hear about a brewery closure, especially when it's the Sail and Anchor hotel in Fremantle, Western Australia, where the whole craft-beer revival kicked off 26 years ago.

Its owner, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group - a joint venture between Woolworths and the Mathieson family - has a portfolio of 270 hotels, of which 17 are in Western Australia.

"It was a commercial decision to close the brewing operations," ALH spokesman David Curry says. "But we will keep producing the Sail and Anchor beer brands, which will be brewed at Feral Brewing in the Swan Valley. And we will continue to sell a range of local craft beers at the hotel."

Sail and Anchor's house beers include Fremantle Pilsener, Sail and Anchor IPA and Brass Monkey Stout. Somewhat paradoxically, a new low-carb brand, Sail and Anchor Dry Dock - produced by WA brewer Gage Roads, which is 25 per cent-owned by Woolworths - was recently rolled out across Woolies' chain of bottle shops.

In many ways, Woolworths has followed a similar path to Carlton and United Breweries, which previously owned ALH and briefly dabbled with a stable of brew-pubs that, in the early 2000s, included the Sail and Anchor, Gunn Island Brew Bar and 3 Degrees in Melbourne. Soon, none of these will survive as a brew-pub.

There's a certain emotional attachment to the Sail, where the first so-called boutique beer flowed in mid-1984. The pub was then part of the Matilda Bay Brewing Company, started by Phil Sexton, and some basic brewing equipment was installed while they were building a more substantial plant in nearby Nedlands.

As Sexton tells it, the original Matilda Bay crew weren't having much luck convincing publicans to buy their beer, so they bought their own pub. The Freemasons Hotel - as it was called - was in liquidation and was the only pub they could afford at the time.

Anchor Ale was the first beer brewed at the Sail and Anchor and Sexton recalls it was "a dark, copper-coloured, traditional ale". By the time the 1987 America's Cup regatta was held off Fremantle, the Matilda Bay Brewing Company was up and running and the Sail was a brilliantly successful shopfront for the country's first boutique brewer.

By 1990, Matilda Bay had been acquired by CUB along with its handful of hotels in the west, including the Sail and Anchor. The reputation of the house beers was still strong throughout the 1990s, particularly under the brewing team of Peter Nolin and Bill Hoedemaker, who, significantly, left to start Gage Roads.

By then the Sail had largely been eclipsed as Fremantle's premium-beer venue by Little Creatures Brewing, which set up shop in a large hangar across the way. Wood-fired pizzas and edgy new beers drew the crowds and the Sail started to look decidedly dated. In 2005, the ALH group changed hands and the Woolworths-Mathieson family consortium became the long-running

brew-pub's new owners.

When I last visited Fremantle, a couple of years ago, the contrast between the two craft-beer venues couldn't have been more stark. Little Creatures was packed to the gunwales and, as I ordered a pale ale, the barman told me I might have to wait upwards of an hour for a pizza.

So I drank my beer and wandered to the Sail, where a dozen or so punters were scattered around the bar. My beer and food arrived quickly but the whole experience was less than memorable. It's possible things may change but for now the Sail and Anchor brewery has been dry-docked.


The Northern Rivers Brewing Company, based near Ballina, ceased brewing about 12 months ago, despite winning awards for its stout and pale ale. While the brewing equipment has since been sold, owners Kevin and Andrea Rowland are offering the beer brands for sale, including recipes and customer database.


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