Two silver medals at this year’s Perth Royal Beer Awards are just the latest accolades for The Cidery and its talented brewer, Mark Hollett.
In the 20 years of its existence The Cidery has won a string of awards for its UK-styled beers and ciders, picking up its first in 2007. The latest silver medals are for its Special Bitter and Nut Brown Ale.
The Cidery uses local ingredients such as Pink Lady apples and even truffles and chestnuts from Manjimup and Nannup to make its distinctive and much-admired brews.
Mark Hollett has been brewing beer since he was 18, turning his passion and his hobby into a profession.
“I’ve always liked beer. I like beer because it’s a sociable drink,” Mr Hollett said.
He took over the Cidery’s brewing operation from Peter Vowles, one of the Cidery’s founders, in 2003, starting with just three beers: a lager; a bitter; and a stout. The first awards came in 2007, with bronze, silver, and gold medals.
Brewing the beer is one thing, but getting it to beer awards at the right time and in prime condition is also something of an art.
“What I tend to do is choose the beers that are either under development or they’re at just the right stage of their life – they’ve recently come out of the brewery – so they’re good to go to the show,” Mr Hollett said
“When you send beer to show, when it actually leaves the brewery, there are still some weeks until it’s judged.
“Beer’s really looking good, depending on the style of beer … up to a couple of months, but if you push it out, particularly with the lighter beers, then you might start to find that some of the characters start to change,” he said.
The value of beer shows is not just the medals. It’s also the valuable feedback from the judges who have a good understanding of the styles of beer, Mr Hollett said.
A trip to England with wife Di in 2016 proved valuable, with Mr Hollett studying the best examples of English beer at pubs and breweries and picking up ideas.
He then headed home to make some adjustments and altering techniques to produce an award-winning Extra Special Bitter.
The Cidery’s fourth brew was Irish Red Ale, which Mr Hollett pioneered in Australia. He created a special brew for St Patrick’s Day 2010, the pub’s anniversary, that proved immensely popular.
“I’d been reading a magazine out the back about this style of beer that was pretty much lost in the mists of time.
“It’s the Irish Red Ale and I couldn’t find any examples of it in Australia at the time so I researched the recipe and did a special brew for St Pat’s and it was a big hit on the night, people loved it.
“It’s a really nice frothy red ale and they pretty well drunk close to everything I’d made on the night, and the following week we had people coming in wanting to taste it.
“So I thought I’d better make some more, so I brewed another batch and it’s been in production ever since.”
He said Irish Red Ale has now become quite popular in breweries around Australia.
A changed market
He’s seen huge changes in the Australian beer scene since he started brewing his own as an 18-year-old.
Where once West Australians were limited to the scintillating choice of Swan Lager, Emu Export or Emu Bitter, today there’s a bewildering array of different beer styles from an-ever increasing number of micro-breweries springing up in the state and across the country.
It was a trend that started in WA with the Sail and Anchor Hotel in Fremantle and the Matilda Bay Brewery.
Mr Hollett believes the key to their success and survival in the long run will depend on the quality of their product, their resilience, and the strength of their business structure.
It’s vital that they avoid cost-cutting ingredients, which, he says, tends not to happen with micro-breweries, which are owned by enthusiastic people who strive to make a good product.
He thinks the key to The Cidery’s success is its atmosphere and versatility with a space to meet all its customers’ needs.
“John (Lucey) and Pat (Corrigan), their background is English and Irish through their family, and they set this place up to have the sort of atmosphere that a lot of English pubs would have – very family friendly, and it’s also a very versatile venue,” Mr Hollett said.
The Cidery’s come a long way since its early days in 2000, when it started with three beers, three ciders, plus sparkling and still apple juice.
Today it produces 12-16 beers, including seasonal beers and seven ciders, including a perry, a red and white wine and a sparkling white.
It’s all made on the premises right here in Bridgetown and Mr Hollett thinks that’s the widest variety of beverages made under the one roof anywhere in Australia.
He thinks The Cidery makes a strong contribution to the town and is something that most Bridgetown people are proud to have.