“Yeah, mate, because that beer is traveling here by train all the way across the desert.”
John probably didn’t realize how evocative that sounded.
I was in Fremantle, a laid-back beach town just outside of Perth, and thanks to a hot tip from a hot server at Monk Craft Brewery Kitchen had stumbled onto Freo Doctor, a craft beer Candyland disguised as an anonymous backstreet liquor shop. Here John, the shop’s stocky, well-built general manager, was simply describing to me the logistical challenges of sourcing all those buxom, brown-bottled and canned beauties lining the shelves around us.
Practically all craft beer imported into Australia goes through ports on the eastern coast, he said, so for his products the often already-long journey must go even further. Perth, as you may or may not know, is one of the world’s most remote capital cities: to wit, Adelaide is the only city within about 1,300 miles with a population greater than 100,000 (or so says god).
Tacking on a trek across the harsh, hot expanses of the Australian deserts, all snakes and feral camels and wild Mick Dundees — my lord, how adventurous does riding a train across the Australian wastelands sound? — introduces more middle men and more room for error, which puts those precious, peevish beers at greater risk. For proper beers to arrive in proper condition they must be transported by way of cold storage every step of the way, but in countries like Australia, where craft beer is still a developing populist concept, the legacy of fizzy piss can rear its ugly head and turn a good thing bad.
Folks used to handling fizzy piss may not necessarily realize that all beers are not created equal. They may not understand that while fizzy piss will probably taste like fizzy piss regardless of whether it’s moved in a hot truck or a cold truck or packed onto the roof of a 4×4, craft beers are more, well, sensitive. For good beer to retain its carefully conceived flavor profile, and for it to retain as much freshness as possible, it must be coddled. Sounds precious and I guess it is, but it’s true.
That said, John and his colleagues at Freo Doctor contract good people to get their beers from Point A to Fremantle. Like every good beer company they pay for and expect cold storage, and the shop wouldn’t be doing bang-up business if they were peddling skunked product. Shit happens from time to time because humans, but John is an industry vet — he was once a brewing assistant up the road at Little Creatures — who cares about quality, and I believed him when he said that there haven’t been many issues.
Freo Doctor is the only place around where you can pop in for a growler of, say, rare one-off brews from the likes of Stone Brewing; it’s also behind many of the nuanced beer lists you see in restaurants here and there around Perth. In other words, the shop is such a trusted source that venues pay the extra premium of stocking up from a middle man, instead of going straight to the distributor. (Does that make sense? I’m a little hungover; hazard of the job.)
It’s a pleasure browsing here. I won’t bore you with the pageantry of naming off all the breweries represented here — I’m not paid by the word, people — so let’s just say the inventory is thorough and full of surprises from around the world. It’s a great place to pick up bottles from some Western Australia breweries that aren’t widely distributed outside of the state, and staff can talk intelligently about anything on the shelves if you need help finding your jam.
Most of the local beers are well-priced, but expect to plunk down some cash for the rarer imported brews. You’re paying, in part, for the cost to keep those beers clean–after all, it isn’t easy shipping that stuff across the desert.
The Freo Doctor Liquor Store is located at 27 Arundel Street in Fremantle, WA. +61 8 9335 2801.