WA brewery not monkeying around

Deep in the Margaret River forest, the little chimp of WA brewing has grown into one big beer-selling gorilla. And a year after outgrowing the production cage at its South West home, Cheeky Monkey Brewery and Cidery is about to break out and roam into new habitats – locally and overseas – with a fresh look.

Development of a new brewhouse near Busselton is well underway and, once completed, will enable Cheeky Monkey to meet demand for its beers in WA and target export sales in Asia. So the grinning ape could soon become a chest-thumping king kong of west coast brewing. The new production facility in Vasse, a 30-minute drive from its Wilyabrup base, will underpin the next leap for Cheeky Monkey. Then there will be a label revamp. The results of both should be in drinkers’ hands by mid-January.

Cheeky Monkey managing director Brent Burton believes the changes will enable his brewery to deliver one million litres of beer annually. Only Little Creatures, Gage Roads and Feral produce more in WA over a 12-month period. “We have been operating here in Margaret River for six years now and when we established the place we didn’t have visions of becoming a national craft beer brand. We were a small family-owned operation,” Brent said. “Once we got to that to a level we were happy with we started distributing across WA. We brought our own canning line and then realised how accepted our brand was in the market. “We’ve been at production capacity at this brewery for the past 12 months and there was no real opportunity to expand on site here. But we needed to get more space. The brewery was sharing a store room with our kitchen. It was just too cramped.”

The Cheeky Monkey team looked strongly at establishing a brewhouse in Perth, 250km from home. With two million people the big city is where the customers are at. However, Brent believed the relocation would have detracted from the brewery’s ethos. And once the numbers were crunched in the accountant’s calculator there was no doubt Cheeky Monkey should remain in a rural environment. “The option was to head to Perth or stay locally and do it in Busselton (Vasse),” Brent said. “There were two factors that encouraged us to keep it local. One was to use the same team under a Head of Brewing Operations who would keep an eye on both breweries. “And the other reason, to put it simply, is the cost. Other than freighting to and from Perth we found it to be much cheaper to handle everything under the same team down here. “If you’re sending 1000 cartons to Perth every week, divided by the cost per case, it is a fraction of the price of stretching a team over two breweries three hours’ drive apart. At the end of the year you look at the freight costs and think it might be cheaper to do it in Perth. But then if you have two teams working in Margaret River and Perth it quickly changes your mind. “You look at Stone and Wood, they are based in Murwillumbah (150km south of Brisbane) and have succeeded. So we think we can do likewise and absorb the travel cost.”

The new facility in Vasse (10km from Busselton) has a 3500 square metre footprint with a 1300 square metre shed under constructed on the site. With a 25 hectolitre Premier Stainless Steel kit due to arrive from the US in a few weeks, the brewery has the peak capacity to deliver 10,000 litres of beer a day. It will enable Cheeky Monkey to finally sit down and talk business with Asian customers who have recently shown interest.

The Cheeky Monkey brand gained recognition among WA’s northern neighbours after its range was included on Singapore Airlines flights in and out of Perth last year. “We’ve had a few enquiries (from Asia) but because we’re at capacity here we can’t take up the opportunities, at least not until the new brewery is up and running,” Brent said. “Obviously it’s a competitive market over east, but we want to get our beer over there as well. “You look at the likes of Stone and Wood and Feral and you want to be up next to those guys in terms of production. The market is getting a little saturated now, so we don’t have too much time left to get fully established. “If we don’t move now we might just miss the boat.”

Cheeky Monkey has advertised for a Head of Brewing Operations to supervise the Wilyabrup and Vasse facilities. After five years of hard toil with the team, head brewer Ross Terlick has decided to step away from the business to seek other opportunities.

Ross was responsible for a raft of successful Cheeky Monkey beers, including the Australian Lager (4.6% and trophy winner at the 2017 Perth Royal Beer Show Awards) and West Coast IPA (6.5%). The Vasse facility will concentrate on producing the brewery’s core range, which also includes the Pale Ale (5%) and Session Red Ale (3.5%), while the Wilyabrup operation will handle a steady rotation of seasonal releases.

Cheeky Monkey will ape the operational method of Feral which splits its production between a brewpub in the Swan Valley, where much of its experimentation takes place, and a major production venue in suburban Bassendean.

The smiling primate that has featured on Cheeky Monkey cans will also undergo a makeover and the brewery is working with local image changers, Juicebox, to rebrand the label. “We won’t steer away from Cheeky Monkey’s playful side. That will remain. It is just a matter of being able to communicate that more efficiently,” Brent said. “Last year we put the little monkey head on the can and I think we will have a look at getting him more to the front of the label in the future. “He can be that little bit cheekier.”