Over the last few years, two large culinary movements have dominated Australian discussions. The first is a transition back to wild fermenting, with the use of wild yeasts in baking and an increase of skin-contact in wines. The second is the rise in foraging, as chefs around the country discover the bounty of native ingredients just waiting to be used in their kitchens.
Wildflower Brewery, the newest kid on the craft-beer block, combines both phenomena to produce wild ales with a mixed culture, foraged from our very shores. To find out more, we sat down with Head Brewer, Topher Boehm.
How did Wildflower come to be?
Wildflower found its feet when my brother-in-law Chriso became interested in the idea of starting a brewery with me. I had admittedly always thought of some day, in the far future, owning a brewery of my own, having creative control over all the beers and having a bit more freedom in my personal life. In talking to Chris, I realised that he wanted similar things, especially a job where we could put our families first. It was a way for us to work to live, rather than the other way around.
What was the inspiration behind the name?
I have come to realise that Wildflower means two things to us. Firstly, the literal reading – we are focused on making 100% wild ales. All of the beers we make will be fermented with a mixed culture that I have foraged, wrangled and harvested from New South Wales. All of the bugs (wild yeasts) in our beers, as it were, are entirely indigenous to this state.
A number of my cultures were grown off flora, so Flower seemed like the perfect addition. My best two captures so far actually have come from flowers – wattle blossoms and dandelions. In this way, the name evokes exactly what the beers are and where they are from.
Its second reading is slightly less tactile. This meaning surrounds the nomenclature and imagery that a word like Wildflower evokes. Soft words like subtle, nuanced and beautiful, paired with visuals of colour, life and earthly things. In this instance, Wildflower conjures a less domineering, engineered psyche. This is my true goal as a blender, to bring this spirit to the beer world.
You guys are doing a lot of work with native yeasts. Can you tell me a little more about what that means (for the un-initiated among us)?
Way back when, in pre-industrialised times, brewers made their beers with a mixture of yeast strains. Each brewer would have their house culture (the mixture of yeasts) that they cultivated and propagated. Over time, these cultures defined a brewery’s house character and made them distinguishable from another brewery down the road.
Worldwide now, there are a handful of breweries rediscovering how to make beer using a diversity of yeasts, including wild yeast rather than using a monoculture. Using mixed cultures to make beers takes a certain amount of submissiveness to Mother Nature and her curious ways. Mixed cultures are prone to behave unpredictably and take a great deal of patience from the brewer. These inconsistencies and time requirements pose distinct risks for any business. However, these inconsistencies also result in an addition of character that’s often not found in pure, yeast beer making.
Our brewery is only but a part of a larger movement to rediscover the flavours of natural fermentations. Artisanal bakers have revived ancient methods of bread making and are expressing local flavours in their sourdough. Each harvest, more and more winemakers around the world are allowing the native yeasts, resident on the skins of their ripe grapes, to ferment their wines adding an extra element to their terroir. There are cider makers, picklers, foragers, and a whole myriad of food enthusiasts coming back in touch with the microflora from their region. Wildflower, our little brewery/blendery in Marrickville Australia, is an attempt to explore this movement from a beer perspective.
What will your starting range be? Will it just be the one beer or a few?
Our starting range is three beers: Gold, Amber and House. Gold is a light in colour, well hopped, 5% ABV blended beer. Amber is a little more malt forward, slightly toasty and with an ABV of 6%. It also undergoes maturation in oak. In barrel, the wild yeasts are given the perfect conditions to impart their funky, esoteric flavours into the beer. Wild yeast acts much slower than normal brewers yeast – think sourdough vs a dry yeast packet for making bread. So in order to properly develop the complexity and nuance that we want from our wild yeast, the beers need this time in oak.
When I think a barrel is ready, I will pull out a few others that are tasting good and blend them together for packaging. These barrels will likely not be from the same batch brew, ie they are different ages. Blending beer at different ages allows for a more diverse flavour profile in the beer. It helps build length and subtlety of flavour.
The house beer is a beer for us. It will only be sold from the cellar door. It’s a very low ABV (3%), well hopped 35IBU beer. It’s very refreshing and perfect for a hard day’s work when you still need to drive. It’s a very old type of beer that I feel has a great place in the Australian climate.
When the brewery opens, what can people expect from a visit?
I think it would be best to visit our cellar door without expectations. Have an open mind, to us, our beer and our fellow patrons there at the time. This is a family business and we don’t come from hospitality so it might not be super polished. We aren’t all that pretentious and prefer to spend time with kind-hearted folk.
Our beers are likely a step away from what one would consider ‘normal’ beer. They might taste more like a skin-contact white to one person or orange juice to another. Everyone’s palate is different and that’s great. To our fellow patrons, we will have a pretty strict maximum occupancy and there may come times when we will have to refuse entry because we are operating at that capacity. We can only ask for your patience.
Other than that it’s a beautiful little space behind the Factory Theatre that I think a lot of people will enjoy. I’d best describe it as 1890s timber framed metal foundry, turned barrel store/fermentorium/blendery/cellar door.
We’ll be open on Saturdays to the general public from 2-7pm. We will also have ticketed brewery tours and tutored tastings for 12 people at a time from 12pm-1:30pm
I know you guys haven’t even opened yet, but any thoughts about what’s on the cards for the next year?
We would love to stay open. Managing stock levels is a real concern for us. We can’t turn a beer around in a matter of weeks to meet demand. This is a process of months and patience with our house culture of yeasts. The innate risk means that sometimes we will be dumping some of our beer down the drain that progresses poorly.
So, to blend and package more beer we have to just wait and watch as our barrels do what they love to do. So this year, I hope we are able to blend and package enough to pay the rent, keep the doors open and keep our customers happy.
Wildflower opens its doors in May. Stay tuned for further information.