The Sophisticated Beast is more than a hobby in the Vasse district

By Bree Swift
Updated April 5 2022 - 10:27am, first published February 3 2022 - 4:00am
The Sophisticated Beast microbrewery owner and head brewer Ryan White said the business expanded from a hobby.

WHAT Western Australia's smallest brewery lacks in size, it makes up for in personality.

The Sophisticated Beast microbrewery began as an expensive hobby for owner and head brewer Ryan White about three years ago.

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It has since evolved into a fully fledged business, with Mr White opening the doors of his production facility-turned cellar door to the public in July last year.

Based in the Vasse business district in the South West, The Sophisticated Beast specialises in producing fun, new and old world styles of beer as well as delicious cold brew coffee.

Mr White said the initial concept for his microbrewery was to make beer that he and his friends would enjoy.

He has since used the small scale of the business to his advantage, experimenting and playing with a range of different and interesting flavours for his beers.

"We aren't like the big boys where they're brewing large amounts, so if a batch doesn't work out it isn't a big deal - we can blend it, put it in a barrel, age it, and we have the opportunity to have a bit more fun with it," Mr White said.

Having moved from Perth to Margaret River in 2009 to study a Bachelor of Science in oenology and viticulture at Curtin University, Mr White spent about a decade working in the wine industry in the Margaret River region before transferring his skills and love of science to making craft beer.

Having previously worked a vintage in Sonoma, California, in 2013, Mr White credits this experience for providing him the inspiration to switch gears from wine to beer years later.

If a batch doesn't work for The Sophisticated Beast it is no big deal for head brewer Ryan White.

"Back then, the craft beer industry in the South West wasn't as big, but it was already huge in Sonoma," Mr White said.

"I had a great time driving around all the industrial areas that had little breweries where you could pop in, have a drink and try something a bit different.

"That was probably when I first thought to myself - 'I would love to do that' and, though it's taken me a while, I got there in the end."

However Mr White acknowledges the way in which he brews beers is still probably closer to winemaking than modern brewing practices.

"There isn't as much big stainless steel and I like to use a lot of grape skins," he said.

"I use mature or neutral oak barrels and, in beers, the barrels pull out a heap of character, flavours, tannin and texture, so you also have to take into account what the barrel is going to do.

"Each beer has its own character because each barrel develops its own flavour spectrum over time."

It was also while studying viticulture that Mr White came up with the name for the business which would come into being almost a decade later.

The microbrewery's range of beers and cold brew coffees are cleverly branded, with each product sporting a different character on its label to reflect its traits.

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"When I was studying winemaking, one of the things you had to do was design a whole winery from scratch - not just the facility but also the marketing plan behind it, and after a few glasses of wine one night I came up with The Sophisticated Beast," he said.

"I just think it's the perfect fit for the business."

The microbrewery's range of beers and cold brew coffees are cleverly branded, with each product sporting a different character on its label to reflect its traits.

"All of the beers are like my children, so I always have a lot of fun naming them," Mr White said.

"Jack is a cowboy that is a little wild, so he is a farmhouse lager with a wild barrel ferment blended in.

"Then you have Margot - an old name for an old lass that has been around the traps.

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"She is a barrel aged saison that is very popular with our customers," he said.

"Franco is a malbec gose and he is actually named after the lovely vintner who I get most of the grape skins from.

"It's a beer that has a little bit of everything in Margaret River - a bit of salt, some sourness and a heap of grape skins in it.

"Then we have George, an Indian Pale Ale that has a lovely, smooth and creamy character.

"We also have two styles of cold brew coffees - Dave is a macchiato style that has a bit of oat milk on a dark roast and we also have Neil which is a dark and salty espresso style of coffee."

Due to the farmhouse style being the mainstay of The Sophisticated Beast's beers, Mr White said the beers naturally included a bit of character of the South West region.

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"The farmhouse style is a huge category and it's basically beers where the flavours are predominantly from the ferment or the microbes themselves rather than the malt or the hops," Mr White said.

The next beer planned for the range is a collaboration with Margaret River Farmers' Market, where Mr White sells his products each Saturday from 7.30am until 11.30am.

"The new beer is going to be an Indian Pale Ale and I will be using fruit from the growers at the farmers market so that it represents the region," Mr White said.

"The beer will also be named Kat, after the manager of the Margaret River Farmers' Market."

While The Sophisticated Beast beers will continue to be sold from the cellar door in Vasse and at the Margaret River Farmers' Market, over the next six months Mr White intends to expand the business, put on some employees and buy bigger equipment to reduce the time he spends producing the beer.

With the time saved Mr White plans to shift his focus to further marketing the business as well as making a return to growing pink oyster mushrooms.

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"I read a lot of research papers and spent grain from beer is really good for mushrooms, it's pretty much the perfect environment for them," he said.

"Previously I was growing the pink oyster mushrooms on used coffee grinds and grains from the brewing process and then selling them at the markets, but unfortunately that side of the business had to take a back seat lately because I've been too busy.

"As soon as my time is freed up a bit though I will be straight back into growing them in the grow tents in the upstairs section of the warehouse."

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