Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle

Had I forgotten something from the menu at Little Creatures Dining Hall in Fitzroy? Had I made an unfair comparison to its Western Australian brewery progenitor?

In the interests of factual accuracy, I flew across the country to Perth to find out.

Little Creatures Brewery, PerthClick the image to see full panoramic glory

On the westside, Little Creatures seems to be undergoing an identity crisis. Originally, the Little Creatures brewhouse and restaurant was housed in a set of two identical, adjoining sheds converted from their earlier role housing boats for the America’s Cup. It was a grand building to convert for this purpose: almost central Fremantle; overlooking the harbour with its eponymous medicament breeze; open space aplenty for the stainless tanks of a professional but small-scale local brewery. A thin membrane of plexiglass bisected the two sheds dividing the drinker from the brewer whilst keeping them in close proximity. The men’s urinal even had a chest-high window into the brewery so that male patrons could see the beer come full circle.

The bar and restaurant retained an ad hoc feel of a joint that was built to satisfy the brewers next door rather than the general public. It was packed with pipes, girders, pallets, bare chain link, fairy lights. For all its gleaming stainless steel and cavernous industrial space, the bar and restaurant had an appropriate feel of little-ness and being a bit half-arsed in a way that suggested that the owners were too busy making hand-crafted ale to care where the public drank it.

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle
Little Creatures Brewery, original pair of sheds on the left, new sheds on the right. This is how Perth looks in midwinter. Sunny and laden with cockatoos.

Where once a microbrewery stood (albeit, a microbrewery with an impeccable fitout) now stands an industrial cathedral worship of hops. The site has now expanded into an extra shed and some grain silos. They’ve built a lounge bar next door called The Loft, a name with all the generic urbanity of Ikea. Ikea would probably fit an umlaut in there somewhere, though.

The original bar and restaurant are otherwise unchanged, apart from the old urinal with a view, which has shifted. On my Monday morning visit, my waiter apologized at 11:00am that the table service might slow down because a table of 60 people had arrived, unannounced. Amongst the hundred or so breweries that I’ve seen, I can’t think of another that is getting hammered by customers early on Monday – so my guess is that the bar and restaurant wouldn’t want to change their business, ever.

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle

There is no mistaking that Little Creatures are stepping up from the micro-league and are taking aim at the mainstream drinkers of Australia. The place now feels big. With their extra brewing capacity, they’re now covering as much of the mainstream palate as possible.

They now produce a pilsner as bland as the style requires, a cider (Pipsqueak), an amber ale (Roger’s) and a “bright” ale that has less bold hops and maltiness than their flagship American pale ale. I certainly don’t begrudge them for brewing blander and less complex beers. If they are planning on moving up from a microbrewer to challenge the mid-sized likes of Coopers in Australia (and beginning to export seriously) then it is inevitable that they will brew less challenging beers because that is what the global market currently drinks in vast and unending quantities. As much as I whined about bland Asian pilsners in Cambodia, I did neglect to mention that bland pilsners are the brew that the majority of the world’s drinkers enjoy; the more nondescript, the better. “Interesting” is not an adjective that most people would ever wish to append to their beer. The decision to go blander has seen Little Creatures bright and amber ales achieve double digit growth in the last year.

Little Creatures early success came from doing something that would seem unremarkable if viewed from the perspective of the American microbrew market: brewing consistent American pale ale in Australia. That they managed to thrive from the start by doing so is an achievement and a nice testament to Perth’s preference for drinking locally. We could be drinking any number of floral American pale ales from America (or elsewhere), but we were smitten by the one from Fremantle.

The added bonus of Little Creature’s changing identity from micro to mid-size for Melburnian drinkers is that the old equipment from the Fremantle brewery is headed over east to Healesville.

Little Creatures Brewery, Fremantle
When brewery logos attack.

According to Little Creatures press release:

Work has commenced on building a brewery in the Yarra Valley town of Healesville…The original Fremantle brew house will be relocated to the site and the first brew of what will be a new national brand will be ready for sale early in the new calendar year.

The brewery is under construction Lot 2/316-336 Maroondah Highway, Healesville, next to the Innocent Bystander winery.

My guess for that new brand: Hoegaarden clone. The last few years of Australian brewing have been awash with cloudy and “blonde” beers, so why shouldn’t Little Creatures follow the pack instead of leading?

Little Creatures Pale Ale
A pint of Little Creatures Pale Ale, as delightful as ever

Location: Little Creatures Brewing, 40 Mews Road, Fremantle, Western Australia. A short walk from the Fremantle train station.

Maintaining the spider rage

Ten miles out of town, my guide pulls up at a little shack on a winding roadside. This is real boondocks Cambodia. Little kids are staring at me like they’ve never seen a white man before, which they probably haven’t.

From “Man bites frog

I miss the days when I used to rant about the Cambodian spider story of the week, where a Western journalist, parachuted into a strange land, proceeds to take the local food completely out of context. It gave me a regular windmill to tilt at. Now when I pitch articles about the possibility of Cambodian food being a varied and delicate cuisine to magazines, I’m sure that the grim thought lurking in the back of every editor’s mind is “They eat spiders, don’t they”. Sean Thomas’ recent article in The Independent is a tour-de-force of the culinary racism that does me out of business.

What can you say about the decidedly unlovely tarantulas of Skuon? Except that they aren’t very lovely. Certainly, they are much prized in Cambodia – anyone who goes to Skuon is expected to bring back a bag of big roasted spiders for the kids. When told that these rancid, sugared arachnids are less than popular in the West, Cambodians are shocked and surprised. They find western cheese-eating equally repugnant, of course.

None of that is true apart from the spiders being manky. My Cambodian friends are cheese freaks. He finishes off by eating a dried frog in Phnom Penh, which is something that Cambodians don’t treat as food. Dried frog is for medicinal purposes and occasionally, a rice wine additive. Complaining about the way it tastes is a little like eating a few spoonfuls of straight cloves, then writing them off as useless as a foodstuff.

This is not to say that you can’t write about a food that you don’t know as a local: a perfect example of covering Cambodia well is Robyn and Dave from EatingAsia’s recent posts from Cambodia – they might not speak Khmer, but they can put the food into the context that they know well: similarities with Vietnamese and Isaan food; familiar herbs in an unfamiliar dish; photos that set the food in the real environment. It is a reminder that food is about tradition and memories, even if those traditions are not your own.

Props to Maytel for passing on the article.

Little Creatures, Fitzroy: Invasion from the West

There is only one thing that can turn me off the citrus-y and floral pale ales of Little Creatures Brewery and that is the music of Collette Roberts. Her ode to campanology was blaring across the industrial Viking beer hall that brewery Little Creatures have infested in Fitzroy in Melbourne as I entered.

When did 1987 become cool? Am I getting that old? Or is this just a musical taste of Perth-ness from across the Nullabor?

I had never wondered what had happened to Collette after her career of impersonating Kylie Minogue came to an abrupt end. If you’re keen to find out, you can hire her from modeling agency Real Faces and ask her in person whether it is in Western Australia alone that her music never died.

Along with poor choices of soundtrack, Little Creatures make sublime American pale ales in their brewery in Western Australia; the sort of beers that feel like the hops monster has burrowed into your sinuses and deposited its fragrant and addictive spawn. Their immaculate waterfront brewery is the only valid reason to go to Fremantle, but now that a piece of that has been transported to inner Melbourne, what’s the point of Fremantle altogether?

Their space in Fitzroy bears a remarkable similarity to their converted boatshed in WA: a cavernous open warehouse serving up good value pub food along with their ales. The only thing missing is their stainless brewing tanks and ready access to the sea. I’d swear that the menu and wine list is the same but with the addition of pies. I might be wrong.

So I had a pie, just in case.

Pie from Little Creatures, Fitzroy

Chunky meat pie, peas, mashed potato glue substitute, super-salty coleslaw. Thin gravy.

Little Creatures, Fitzroy

As for the beer, their pale ale, amber ale, pilsener and bright ale come from the tap as freshly as it does straight from the brewery door. There is no trace of oxidation, the hops are as bright and clean as if the beer was being poured straight from the tank. They come in three sizes: pony ($3), pot ($4) and weirdo-not-quite-a-pint-but-larger-than-schooner ($6.50). There is probably a Western Australian term for this beer size.

I’m going to call it the Collette.

Little Creatures Dining Hall
Address: 222 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

Cold smoking at home: Convert your Weber for $10

I seem to have infected my friends with the charcuterie virus.

What started with the occasional foray into a simple pork and garlic sausage is now ending in converting garden sheds into full-sized smokehouses to smoke lanjager and prosciutto. I had a recent discussion about the feasibility of airing ham beneath your average Australian home. It’s utter madness. The only thing that keeps my psychosis from blossoming is limited space in my apartment.

A limitation that I’m learning to overcome with ingenuity.

Converting your BBQ into a cold smoker

Cold smoking (smoking foods below 37°C/100°F) can be achieved through a few different methods: lighting a fire in large room to disperse the heat; cooling the smoke on the way into wherever you are hanging the food to be smoked; or generating as little heat as possible to create smoke. Smokehouses are the first tactic some of which include refrigeration to cool the smoke on the way in. Various barbecue forums mention using trays filled with ice to cool your backyard smoker (or smoking outside in the snow, further north), which constitutes the second method. The third method just needs a hot and very concentrated heat source

All you need to provide that heat is a brand new soldering iron ($9.99!). An empty tin can with the lid still partially attached will suffice for a smoke box, along with sawdust and a barbecue with a lid. A Weber-style kettle barbecue is ideal. Don’t use an old soldering iron: lead solder and food do not mix.

Cold smoking with a soldering iron

Punch a hole in the tin can, stick the soldering iron in and fill the can about a third full of clean sawdust. Turn on the soldering iron and smoke away. That’s all. I burnt the can over an open flame just in case it was lined with a lacquer but I doubt that it was.

The smoker maintained temperature in the barbecue at 18 degrees Celcius (64°F), 4 degrees above the ambient temperature. At that temperature, it’s cold enough to smoke butter. After two hours, two thirds of the handful of sawdust had burnt down to charcoal suggesting that for longer smoking, the smoker will need to be refilled with sawdust every three hours or so.

Smoking Coon Cheese: Tasty

My test cheese to cold smoke, alleged to be “Australia’s tastiest cheese”; definitely Australia’s most inadvertently racist cheese. I used hickory sawdust.

Cold smoker

After two hours, the cheese had taken on a heavy hickory smoke flavour but hadn’t developed the reddish color that comes from longer smoking. It is by far the best thing that can happen to Coon cheese.

More testing to come.