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Spotlights and Deep-Dives

A Flight of Cupids: 7 Little Creatures Beers Taste Tested

Craft Brewery Spotlight: Little Creatures

Region: Australia

 

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While the United States was having its Renaissance with craft beers during the 1980s to 2000s, much of the world was still content with big brand lagers and pilsners- approachable, light, and tame on hops. 

Matilda Bay Brewing Company: The Origin of Australia's Craft Beers

The (previously) Freemasons Hotel, which is now the Sail & Anchor and has remained relatively unchanged. Source: Time Gents

The history of Little Creatures goes back to this time period. In 1983, Australia’s first craft brewery (and also her first brewery since World War II) was conceptualised: the Matilda Bay Brewing Company. The master brewer, Phil Sexton, having just completed his Master of Science at Birmingham University’s British School of Malting and Brewing, was deeply inspired by English ales and small batch brewing. Converting the Freemason’s Hotel in Fremantle into the Sail & Anchor hotel, followed by opening a pub and microbrewery, production was in full swing and the beer started flowing. 

Little Creatures. Source: The Sip

What’s the Matilda Bay got to do with Little Creatures? As it turns out, the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep, and a bunch of mates from Matilda Bay - marketing specialist Howard Cearns, restaurateur Nic Trimboli and Phil Sexton himself, set their eyes on bringing the American Pale Ale to Australia. Acquiring a huge shed that used to be a crocodile farm in yet again Fremantle, Little Creatures began brewing in late 1999. (On that note: Phil Sexton has returned to Matilda Bay Brewing Company in 2019.)

Little Creature’s Fremantle Brewery. Source: The City Lane.

The name Little Creatures came about when Howard Cearns was reading J.R.R Tolkien’s Hobbit and learnt about “little creatures that wandered from ale house to ale house”, and the image reminded him about yeast fermentation - yeast being the little creatures floating in beer. While I can’t find the exact page that spoke about said little creatures in the book (let me know in the comments if you do!), I can’t fault anyone who gets their beer inspiration from Tolkien’s works - something about whimsical characters making merry and cranky bearded folk grumbling in a wooden tavern just inspires thoughts about beer (or beer drinking in my case). 

A scene from LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Little Creatures Spread its Wings

The founders of Little Creatures built a brewing facility specifically for the Pale Ale. By definition, pale ale is a category of beer where pale malt and ale yeast is used. There are many types of pale ales around the world, and with the US version specifically , the maltiness takes a backseat and the floral, fruity character of the hops take centre stage. The very first Little Creatures Pale Ale was born, and followed suit are beers that take inspiration from different craft beer operations from the US and Australia.

Dubbed “The Great Hall”, folks can dine and drink beer - all while surrounded by brewing equipment.
Source: TripAdvisor

 

Little Creatures  then expanded its wings, opening up a brewing facility in Geelong at the East of Australia well. As the appetite for craft beers grew around the world, Little Creatures also exported outwards and nestled in different cities - opening up taprooms and microbreweries in Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Taipei, Hobsonville and San Francisco. Despite initial successes from 2018 to 2020, the pandemic took its toll and the overseas outposts in Singapore and Hong Kong subsequently closed. The San Francisco outpost has since closed as well.

 

Little Creatures Singapore. Source: Eatigo

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that slightly over a decade since its opening, Little Creatures was by no means little - becoming a brewery that was worth over $380 million. Little Creatures, which was owned by Little World Beverages, has been bought over by Lion, an Australian and New Zealand based subsidiary of the Japanese beverage conglomerate Kirin. Do note that much of Australia's legacy breweries that opened in the 20th century and before are now currently owned under Asahi Group Holdings and Kirin, under their respective subsidiaries.

 

 

I’ve bumped into Little Creatures a couple of times, either at craft beer taprooms or when I’m spending an obscene amount of time in supermarkets (half of that duration loitering at the alcohol section). There’s something oddly familiar about the little cupid that stuck to me, and today I’ve had the opportunity to taste most of their core range - it’s going to be a long one!

 

Little Creatures Pale Ale 5.2%

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Orange-amber, slightly hazy. Relatively light foam

Nose: First off, a pleasant passionfruit aroma that doesn’t rush up the nose. Smells a bit leafy and hoppy, but quite gentle still - akin to that smell when you tear a leaf fresh off a tree. You get more mango and pineapple as you let the aromas develop a bit more, but at the background there’s always a subtle yeasty funk. 

Taste: The effervescence is rather gentle. It has that mellow citrus and bitterness of grapefruit, followed by a biscuit-crumb flavour from plain crackers. A fruity sweetness from apricots is there as well. There is a strong but not overbearing presence of the hops, which to me has a combined flavour of green tea and pie crust mixed into one.

Finish: Fairly short lived. The astringency and grapefruit zest flavour dances on your tongue a little bit, before leaving a drying sensation at the end like after a mouthful of green tea.

 

My Rating

⛅️🌲

Reminds me of that misty air around a forest during the first few minutes of sunrise. It is grassy and light, and no single flavour stands out particularly, maybe except the grapefruit or apricot ones. It’s an easy drinking beer for those who don’t particularly like a malty or cereal forward beer, but don’t mind hops either. Kinda like having to wake up early in the morning for a stroll in the park.

 

Little Creatures Amber Ale 3.8%

 

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Dark amber, almost molasses like. Clear.

Nose: Bovril comes to mind. A pronounced roasted flavour, that oscillates between roasted chestnuts to roasted barley. There’s a bit of a burnt aroma as well - think of that smog when you set wet leaves on fire. 

Taste: Effervescence is somewhat bitey, but not too overpowering. The texture is noticeably thicker as well. The flavours tend towards the bitter side, but more of a burnt toast and roasted barley kind. There is a savouriness to the beer, and again Bovril comes to mind (not Marmite - it has that meaty savouriness). After the roasted cereal flavours, there is a burst of black coffee. Towards the end, the hops start to show.

Finish: Dark chocolate, both in sensation and taste. There’s that bit of nuttiness as well that reminds me of black coffee.

 

My Rating

🏕️🔥

I think of hanging out at a campfire with this one. The burnt, toasty flavours aren’t stout levels of dark, but there’s still a certain roastiness to it. If I had to recommend a beer to fans of dunkels or stouts, this would be the one. It has the dark roast flavours, and very lean on the sweetness with some hop character, yet the texture and mouthfeel isn’t in cloying territory.

 

Little Creatures West Coast IPA 6.4%

 

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Hay, clear with some particles 

Nose: A burst of tangerine peels, followed by a bouquet of chrysanthemum and osmanthus flowers. It’s very floral with that strikingly citrusy aroma you get when you pinch citrus peels. After the burst of floral and tangerine aromas, it smells like honey.

Taste: Effervescence is on the lighter side. Floral tea comes to mind right away. It has that floral sweetness from concentrated chrysanthemum tea and that aromatic sweetness from musk melons as well. However, the sweetness doesn’t last long, and a puckering bitterness you get from over-steeped, unsweetened flower tea comes in. 

Finish: Quite an overpowering hop astringency takes over the floral flavours. It gets very drying and the bitterness digs deep on your tongue, staying on stubbornly.

 

My Rating

☀️🥵

I’m torn on this one. When I first nosed the beer, I was extremely excited - the bright citrus and flower blast was almost intoxicating. The excitement continued when I had my first mouthful too where the floral and melon flavours were very palatable. However, the tonal shift was a bit drastic in my opinion, not helping was that the overstayed hoppiness. We all love bright sunny days and flower meadows in bloom during summer, until we get sunburn and the heat gets sweltering.

 

Little Creatures XPA 4.9%

 

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Blonde, a bit hazy

Nose: Peach, nectarines and apricots. There’s a bit of cantaloupe aromas as well, though not pronounced. The nose is quite gentle and muted, and paints a picture of stone fruits in general. There’s a bit of chamomile at the back as well.

Taste: Effervescence is somewhat aggressive. Honeydew, musk melon and under ripe peach come to mind. There’s a bit of a honey tea sweetness as well. Interestingly, it develops into a toasted biscuit flavour that had a very light smearing of salted butter, enough to give it a savoury touch. The hops introduce a dull bitterness to the beer, a bit like bitter gourd.

Finish: The astringency is the lasting flavour, however it isn’t off-putting. There is a lingering peach and jasmine tea flavour alongside the drying bitterness of the hops.

 

My Rating

🍑🍈

If the Pale Ale is the first born of the family, this is their younger, fruitier sibling. It has a pleasant stone fruit and melon fruitiness right from the start, which slowly gives way to hops that isn’t sharp. This beer is a pleasant middle ground like the Pale Ale, but perhaps with a bit more fruitiness and simple yet expressive character.

 

Little Creatures Pacific Ale 4.4%

 

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Blonde, noticeably cloudy

Nose: Requires a bit of a dig, but there’s an oatmeal porridge and boiled cereal aroma to it. There is a bit of lemony, sour orange aroma as well, along with that sap-like, almost passionfruit granadilla aroma. I pick up a very subtle orange blossom fragrance as well. 

Taste: Effervescence is very light, and the texture of this beer is quite watery. The flavour profile is rather muted and subtle, tasting like a diluted orange cordial drink. There is a pleasant savouriness that reminds me of brine solution or Himalayan salt candy. The bitterness is faint.

Finish: The finish develops into a very specific cereal - Weetbix. It has that whole wheat savouriness that lingers for a while alongside a tickle of astringency from the hops.

My Rating

🏞️

The most gentle, lowkey beer of the lot thus far - like that river/rain background noise or your lofi playlist you put on when you’re studying or working. It’s calm, peaceful, and does not yell at your face, but  stimulating enough that you wouldn’t exactly sleep on. This beer is the easiest drinking one of the beers with still some twist - and if you like lemon-salt candy you might like this one.

 

Little Creatures Hazy IPA 6.0%

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Nutty brown, cloudy

Nose: Tropical fruit punch - equal parts orange juice, mango juice, pineapple juice and passionfruit juice. There is an undertone of pine that gets musked easily by the tropical fruit aromas. As it sits, it develops more towards the aroma you get from canned pineapple juice. 

Taste: Effervescence is rather bitey. The theme of tropical fruit punch continues, although the flavours are more mango and orange juice dominated. There is a slight vegetal flavour to this one, like freshly prepared green smoothie, though it does not last long.

Finish: The fruit flavours don’t last long in the finish - it gives way to vegetables like kale and spinach in a lightly dressed salad. The hoppiness, while not overbearing, does stay for a bit.

 

My Rating

🍹😎

When I have this beer, I think of beach themed mocktails, mango slushies and party vibes. A fruity, extroverted beer that still packs some alcohol and hops, this beer might just be the shoutout to beach raves, music festivals and Hawaiian floral shirts. This is my counter proposal to the Pacific Ale as far as easy-drinking goes.

 

Last but not least... Little Creatures Pipsqueak Apple Cider 5.2%

 

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Lemon green, clear

Nose: Heady fermented apple, apple cider vinegar, and freshly sliced green apple. Has that sharp fruity yet slightly funky aroma of freshly popped prosecco. As it sits, there is a tinge of guava. 

Taste: Effervescence is very aggressive at the start, but tapers to a foamy mouthfeel quickly after. Very tart and acidic, with a strong apple cider sour at the start. It develops to a more gentle, smooth apple juice flavour after the initial wave of bubbles and acid.

Finish: My mouth keeps salivating from the acidity of this cider. The prevalent flavour is still strongly green apple, though more candy-like (think Fruit Plus or Hi-Chew). A limey aftertaste lingers as well.

 

My Rating

⚡🍏

Very electrifying for an apple cider - at least to ones I’ve tasted. It’s very sour, almost so much so you can feel it in your teeth. It is an alternative to beer, though a feisty one. Do not recommend this to anyone who don’t like green apples or sour flavours in general. In fact, I would recommend this at the end of a party as a quick sober-up.

 

With the exception of the Pipsqueak, the common theme amongst the beers, true to Little Creatures’ claim, is hops. Resinous, piney flavours take center stage. While there are somewhat easy drinking beers, these beers are by no means beginner friendly (especially those adverse to hops). Breaking down this beer flight into four quadrants: Amber Ale for those who like dark, stouty flavours; Pale Ale and Pacific Ale for the balanced, middle ground drinkers; Hazy Ale and XPA for fruit lovers; West Coast IPA for those looking for something different. My favourites have to be the Pale Ale and the Amber Ale, with Hazy IPA coming in as a close second - and if I had to recommend one beer that encapsulates the style of Little Creatures, the OG Pale Ale is a good place to start.

@vernoncelli