When people have asked me what I was most surprised by from my first trip to Australia (hosted by Tourism Australia and Tourism Western Australia), the first answer has immediately been the food and drinks, but especially the details, quality, and craftsmanship of what’s a new, burgeoning drink scene. As it turns out, Australia is a helluva lot more than Foster’s. And this was on display more than anywhere when I visited Western Australia’s Swan Valley.
The Swan Valley, just 30 minutes from Perth, is Western Australia’s oldest wine region, having been producing wine (and good wine, at that) for more than 180 years. It sounds almost too good to be true to have such renowned wine so accessible to a major city like that. But while most people associate the Swan Valley with wine, and rightfully so, I discovered that it had so much more to offer. Craft beer, check. Small batch spirits, check. Top-rated gourmet experiences, check. Not to mention, the Swan Valley is extremely easy on the eyes. You may leave, but it’ll be kicking and screaming. So today I’m coming to you with my itinerary and guide to a food and drink tour of the Swan Valley.
Food and Drink Tour of the Swan Valley
But first, coffee. Isn’t that right? Well, not if you’re me. That’s because I actually don’t drink coffee. But before you start unsubscribing, it’s more about my stomach not getting along with coffee, then my tastebuds not getting along with coffee. However, after having the Swan Valley’s Yahvava KoffeeWorks recommended to me from people throughout Western Australia, I couldn’t simply pass by it and not stop in.
And am I ever glad I did. Yahava KoffeeWorks is basically the winery of coffee shops, except it’s better, because the coffee beans are sourced from around the world. Alex Kok, a.k.a. the Koffee Baron, has traveled to the far ends of the world to find the best coffee to bring (and often ship) back to Western Australia. In the KoffeeWorks tasting room, you can taste your way through different types of coffee much in the same way as you can taste your way through different varietals in a winery’s tasting room. The true test for me, however, was tasting what I dubbed their “top-shelf coffee,” Hacienda La Esmeralda, a coffee from Panama, which is considered one of the top coffees in the world. I likened it to drinking a top-shelf Scotch whisky that had been aged for decades. Drinking it straight, without any milk or sugar (which I never even did when I regularly drank coffee), I responded, “Damn, that’s pretty good.” And that reaction from someone who doesn’t even drink coffee. Needless to say, it was the proper kickstart to my Swan Valley fooboozy tour.
Providore and the Margaret River Chocolate Company
From the winery of coffee shops to the Disney of gourmet experiences. Across the street from KoffeeWorks, literally, was stop number two at Providore and the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Providore is considered one of the top gourmet experiences in all of Australia, and the phrase “gourmet experience” couldn’t be any more appropriate on a property where you can sample gelato, chocolate, liqueur, wine, olive oil, jam, and a heckuva lot more. Yes, you can sample all of that in one place. Naturally, my favorite, was the boozy chocolate, such as the Cointreau chocolate.
What was really the standout of Providore and the Margaret River Chocolate Company is that you could try most of the items I listed above before buying it. But with so many products and such limited room in your luggage, I’d consider some of the products unique to Australia that you couldn’t just find at your local farmers market or chocolate shop. Among the crowd favorites is the line of Sambarino Chocolate Liqueur, which comes in a few different flavors, including the Sanbarino After Dinner Mint. Perhaps for good measure you should also get a bag of chocolates to take on the road to enjoy between tastings. You don’t want to go hungry. Plus, has there ever been a better combo than wine and chocolate?
But now, wine. It almost felt like Lancaster Wines (among the oldest vines in the Swan Valley) was built for me. As we pulled into the vineyard-lined driveway, my attention immediately turned to the parking lot, which was filled with Studebakers, and older men outfitted in bow ties and seersuckers admiring each other’s cars, sipping on wine all the while. I felt like I was looking at myself in 40 years. But it got better. Lancaster’s outdoor tasting room is less traditional tasting room, and more retrofitted, open-air shed that felt like a classy, Australian take on a tiki bar. And it was awesome. Meanwhile, general manager, James Berry, donning a Lancaster trucker hat, poured us a selection of their wines, which he also paired with a variety of cheeses. A number of the wines, like the Chenin Blanc and Rosé, were light and crisp, perfect for a warm day like it was that day. However, they also produce a number of red wines, many of which are different Shiraz variations. I could have just stayed here (and Providore) all day and not been mad about it.
While I was looking forward to checking out Western Australia’s wine country, I was most excited to visit Western Australia’s breweries, since you can’t exactly find Australian craft beer outside of Australia. The previous day I had been at Little Creatures in Perth, which is kind of like the golden child of craft beer in Australia, and has been brewing beer for 15 years. Mash Brewing in the Swan Valley followed much of its same methods and style. So what you get is a mash-up (<<see what I did there?) featuring a brewhouse, pub, and restaurant all in one. It’s not unusual to be sitting down enjoying one of Mash’s beers while watching one of the brewers brewing the very beer you’re drinking. I felt right at home with beers styles like their IPA and Double IPA, since I live in California after all.
Feral Brewing Company
Feral Brewing Company was one of my favorite drink stops on my entire Australia trip for a number of reasons, but most importantly because both the experience and beer was so much different than any I’d had before. The restaurant, an open-air patio overlooking vineyards and rolling hills, felt like something I’d experience at a winery in Napa rather than a brewery in Western Australia. But the show-stealer is the beer, with unique styles like the award-winning Watermelon Warhead, a low ABV sour German wheat beer, or the White Hog, a mash-up of the Belgian white and American IPA. Naturally, I gravitated to this with my love for both IPAs and Belgian beers. I’d be remiss, however, not to mention some of their beer names, which are nothing short of epic and cheeky, like Karma Citra and Nice Guy Dud Root. For those not familiar with Australian lingo or tongue-in-cheek sayings, “dud root” refers to someone who is bad in bed. As Feral puts it, the Nice Guy Dud Root English brown ale is a great, smooth-drinking beer, but not one you’ll be gloating to your friends about.
But wait, there’s still more. Mandoon Estate represents something I’d personally like to see more of, and that’s a brewery and winery under one roof. Mandoon Estate’s wine tasting room and the Swan Valley’s latest craft brewery, Homestead, are merely separated by a walkway. Brilliant! Though just a few years old, Mandoon Estate is Western Australia’s most awarded boutique winery, featuring a number of white, red, and sparkling wines, with some of their most award-winning wines including the Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Merlot, Old Vine Grenache, and Old Vine Shiraz. I particularly loved the award-winning 2014 Verdelho, which is a white varietal largely only found in Portugal and Australia. It typically produces a fruit-driven, tropical, dry white wine. Verdelho, too, is one of your best bangs for your buck, with a bottle of it at Mandoon available for less than $20 USD.
Just beyond Mandoon’s tasting room is Homestead Brewery, which is one-of-a-kind in that it’s one of the only breweries in this part of the world using Schulz brewing equipment, hailing from Germany, and one of the oldest and most renowned manufacturers. As you might expect, many of the beers are European-inspired, such as the Munich lager and traditional hefeweizen. However, they are also making hard cider, too. Additionally, the brewery’s restaurant overlooks Mandoon’s vineyards.
Great Northern Distillery
Well I wasn’t going to come all the way to Western Australia and not go to a distillery. Duh! And that’s where Great Northern Distillery, known for its Canefire rum, comes in. Great Northern’s rum offerings include a dark and white rum, but also other spirits that include a vodka and a few different liqueurs. Furthermore, they also have a small batch rum, which they only release 500 bottles of, and is unique in that it’s blended with white port rather than cut with water. What I appreciated the most, however, was that I could try Great Northern Distillery’s spirits in cocktails, rather than just sampling each of the spirits straight up. In this case that was a refreshing mojito, since I needed something that was a little bit on the lighter side after a day of eating and drinking my way through Western Australia’s Swan Valley. I may or may not have taken a nap on the drive back to Perth. And so concluded my food and drink tour of the Swan Valley.
What are some of your best food/drink travel experiences to date?