Tasmanian adventures with Bruny Island Beer and Sailor Seeks Horse wines: Season Two, Episode Three

In this episode, I play a couple of interviews from my visit to Tasmania last year.

The Tasmanian drinks scene has absolutely exploded in recent decades. In season one I talked world-beating whisky with Sullivans Cove Distillery, and shared a documentary exploring ancient cider traditions at the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, with Willie Smith’s Cider.

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This time I explore the unique brewing operation of Bruny Island Beer and Cheese with head brewer Evan Hunter.

I also catch up with Paul Lipscombe of Sailor Seeks Horse, an exciting new wine company located in Tasmania’s Huon Valley.

Sailor Seeks Horse Vineyard, Huon Valley Tasmania
Sailor Seeks Horse Vineyard, Huon Valley Tasmania

Paul and his wife Gilli also make the highly acclaimed pinot noirs for Home Hill Winery in the Huon, and this is a chat exploring the evolution of Australian pinot noir, which has made leaps and bounds in recent years and is just starting to get the respect it deserves on the world stage.

Follow James Atkinson on Facebook here, Instagram here and Twitter here.

Theme music ‘Sandbox’ by Rudists.

More:
Real cider and pagan rituals at the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival (Documentary)

Bruny Island Beer head brewer Evan Hunter: Full transcript

EVAN HUNTER: I’m Evan Hunter. I started out my brewing career at the other end of Tasmania working for some years for Seven Sheds Brewery. I’ve also worked for Lark Distillery, Moo Brew, and I came across Bruny Island because I was at the time searching for a new brewing project and I was originally driving to establish a brewery of mine. But as you know, they’re fairly capital intensive and beyond my means at the time. So as part of that search I got contacted by Nick Haddow who was the owner of Bruny Island Cheese and he had been looking to diversify his business. So it was a matter of the right people meeting at the right time and we had a bit of a chat and realised that we both wanted to accomplish much the same thing with a brewing project.

JAMES ATKINSON: It’s pretty unique having a brewery and a cheesery on the one site. What sort of opportunities are there for integrating what you’re doing?

EVAN HUNTER: It is a rare thing and the opportunities offered for collaboration are surprisingly vast. There’s one beer that we make in particular called Whey Stout. So it’s stylistically a milk stout or a sweet stout and traditionally that style of beer uses lactose to give it more body and more residual sweetness. Rather than using the refined lactose, we use the source of lactose that we have coming out of the cheesery on almost a daily basis, which is the whey leftover after cheese making. So after the cheesemakers take out the milk solids and the fats to make their cheese with, you’re left with a kind of watery milk with all the lactose dissolved in it. In order to give the beer enough of the lactose to make an impact on the character of it, we have to use a fair bit. So we’re sitting here at the moment looking at the cheesery on one side and the brewery about 50 meters away on the other side. It’s a matter of siphoning the whey into buckets, carrying it over to the brewery and weighing the whey and tipping it into the brew kettle.

The brewing team at Bruny Island Beer and Cheese
Evan Hunter (second from left) and the brewing team at Bruny Island Beer and Cheese

JAMES ATKINSON: Are there any challenges working with such a raw product?

EVAN HUNTER: I wondered about that before we started. What the microbiological risks of having a brewery in close proximity to a cheesery with all the cultures that they use, and also a sourdough bakery because we’ve got a brick oven here and it’s pumping out sourdough bread every day. But touch wood, I’ve never had a problem. I guess as a brewery you have to test your cleaning practices and also have faith in them. I’m pretty stringent about the procedures we follow in there and so far the only wild organisms that have been in the brewery are ones I’ve deliberately put in there. So fingers crossed it stays that way.

JAMES ATKINSON: Aside from the the whey, you’re also working with other local producers with the ingredients that go into the beers.

EVAN HUNTER: Yeah, that’s instrumental in what we do. We made it the policy from the beginning that we would only use Tasmanian hops in the brewery. For that reason, we have a fairly close relationship with Hop Products Australia who operate Australia’s oldest hop farm at Bushy Park just north of Hobart. But we also explore all opportunities we can for sourcing raw ingredients from other producers as well. So most of our grain that we use to make beer with is locally sourced. We’re fortunate to have a malting plant in Tasmania and of course Tasmania is the perfect climate for growing barley, but we’re also lucky to have a farm on Bruny Island that grows a variety of cereals, including wheat, barley, and oats. So we utilise a fair bit of that in some of the beers that we make. Outside of that, Tasmania is a real cornucopia for various kinds of produce. So we’ve explored in the past using things like pepper berries and even the leaves of native tea tree in some of our special, a bit more obtuse beers.

JAMES ATKINSON: It’s notoriously difficult working with the rural grains that you would be working with that are supplied locally from Bruny Island. What does that involve for you in the brewing process?

EVAN HUNTER: It’s a much longer day to be able to use those fantastic locally grown grains. It involves an extra step in the mashing process. It’s called cereal mashing, and it’s basically equivalent to cooking up some porridge out of oats. You start off with the grain under cooler temperature and slowly increase the temperature in stages, finishing off by boiling for a period of time. Once that process is finished, all the starch that’s inside the grain is broken down and ready to be accessed by the enzymes in the barley and ultimately turned into various kinds of sugars that are then eaten by yeast, which do the wonderful work of making our beer for us.

The Bruny Island Beer team inspecting beers aged in barrels sourced from Overeem Whisky in Hobart
The Bruny Island Beer team inspecting beers aged in barrels sourced from Overeem Whisky in Hobart

JAMES ATKINSON: It’s a pretty hands on process as well with the equipment that you’ve got here.

EVAN HUNTER: Yeah, so we don’t have any mechanical stirrers. We rely on operators to stir with a pedal. All of our grain gets milled into 10 kilo buckets and when we mash, which is mixing the grain with water, one person tips and one person stirs. By the time all of the barley and other grains are in the mash tun, we’re dealing with literally a ton of a mash. It’s good. It’s a decent exercise. But I’ve now brewed three days in a row and I’m looking forward to not brewing tomorrow.

JAMES ATKINSON: What challenges are there in running a brewery in such a remote location?

EVAN HUNTER: There’s the challenges that you might be able to imagine pretty easily like just start getting the raw ingredients down here. Basically everything gets shipped to Hobart and then we’ve got to collect it and bring it here. So raw ingredients, bottles, everything needs to be brought over on the ferry, which joins us to mainland Tasmania. Then going out the other way, nearly all our customers are not on Bruny Island, so everything that we make has to be ferried across. By far, the biggest challenge though is staff. Bruny Island has a permanent population of something like 600 people and there are not many qualified brewers on the island. So most of my workers in the brewery live on mainland Tasmania and so the way that I structure their work relies on the ferry timetable and restricts the kind of hours that we can work during the day. So unfortunately at the moment I’m the only one that could do that 4:00 AM start because the ferry doesn’t start until… Well, the earliest they can get here is seven o’clock. So, yeah, managing people is the… always the biggest challenge.

Bruny Island Beer Oxymoron Dark Pale matched with Bruny Island Cheese 'George'
Bruny Island Beer Oxymoron Dark Pale matched with Bruny Island Cheese ‘George’

JAMES ATKINSON: What’s involved with working out the beer and cheese matches, and is that something you’re actually thinking about in the brewery, making beers that are going to fit with the cheeses that Nick’s team are making.

EVAN HUNTER: Thinking about which cheese is going to pair with the beer does not factor into how the beer is made, but it’s always a fun process after the beer is made and ready to drink. Prior to getting the labels printed, we’ve got to sit down and decide what cheese goes best with that beer. Then that gets printed on the label. So it’s usually just a matter of getting whatever cheeses are available from the cheese at the time and the head cheesemaker will come and join us and whoever’s in the brewery that day will gather around, drink some beer, eat some cheese. It’s interesting. There’s usually a consensus on which cheese goes best. Occasionally, some differences of opinion, but it’s usually pretty clear.

JAMES ATKINSON: We were talking before about the current range of beers. It’s the Farm Ale that’s the that’s the biggest seller. Why is it called a farm ale?

EVAN HUNTER: It’s called a farm ale because all of the ingredients that go into it are from Tasmanian farms. So the wheat that’s grown on Murrayfield farm here on Bruny, the oats to the grown at Kindred Organics in northwest Tasmania, and the base malt which is grown in Tasmania and malted in Devonport. Of course all the hops are Tasmanian. We use Galaxy, Ella and Cascade and the water comes from just down the road from here. There’s a spring and we get water delivered to us. It tells a story about Tasmania and all of those places that those wonderful raw ingredients are sourced from. That’s a story that we never get tired of telling. It’s wonderful building that bridge between the person drinking the beer and the country that’s from.

JAMES ATKINSON: Most Australians would think of wine as being the most logical pairing for cheese. Is that something that you’ve managed to break down at Bruny Island?

EVAN HUNTER: I think that that is a common perspective in Australia and I think a sort of more high end cheese culture takes a lot of its cues from French cheese culture. But it’s not always the case in many of the great cheesemaking regions of the world, right through England and Germany and all of those great beer brewing regions. They all make cheese, and beer and cheese have been a natural pairing in those parts of the world for as long as those things have been made. A great way to illustrate perhaps why beer and cheese go so well together is that when you think about it, they both ultimately come from grass. The animals that produce the milk that makes the cheese eat grass and the beer that we make is made from the seed of that grass.

JAMES ATKINSON: What do you look for in a good beer and cheese match?

EVAN HUNTER: You can have pairings that contrast. Sometimes you can have a particularly richly flavoured beer. It might be the case that there’s a sharp acidic cheese that will help cut through that richness. It can be vice versa as well. Sometimes quite a mouth coating, creamy cheese can be contrasted with a kind of palette cleansing beer that will, yeah, help those flavours grow but also refresh your mouth as well. On the other hand, complimentary pairings can be really good too. So one of the best I think cheese and beer matches that we do is with our Whey Stout and our Saint cheese. The Saint is a common beer style cheese, so it’s very oozy and creamy and one of our former cheesemakers described it as a cookies and cream pairing.

JAMES ATKINSON: It’s been a big part of Bruny Island cheese’s business model selling direct to consumers through the mailing list and social media. Are a lot of people choosing to buy the beer and the cheese online?

EVAN HUNTER: Yes, it’s an important and growing part of the business. As you mentioned, we already had an established cheese club, so the beer naturally from the outset has been sold via that cheese club. We do distribute interstate. We’ve got a presence in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland. Of course, I’d always recommend are coming straight to the source and getting the freshest beer possible directly from us.

JAMES ATKINSON: No worries. Well Evan, thanks for the chat.

EVAN HUNTER: Yeah, thank you. It’s been great.

Sailor Seeks Horse co-founder Paul Lipscombe: Full transcript

JAMES ATKINSON: So maybe just to start, you could just introduce yourself and Sailor Seeks Horse?

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: So Sailor Seeks Horse is owned by my wife Gilli and I. So I’m Paul Lipscombe.

JAMES ATKINSON: And we probably should paint the picture for our listeners. You’re sitting on a tyre, and I’m sitting on a log.

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: Yeah, sorry about that.

JAMES ATKINSON: Literally at the bottom of the vineyard, so that’s why you can hear the occasional cow.

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: And the turbo chooks and stuff like that.

JAMES ATKINSON: And so what’s this vineyard called?

Paul and Gilli Lipscombe, co-founders of Huon Valley Tasmania wine label Sailor Seeks Horse
Paul and Gilli Lipscombe, co-founders of Huon Valley Tasmania wine label Sailor Seeks Horse

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: This is the Sailor Seeks Horse vineyard. We had this idea, and we formulated the idea, I guess, it would have been 2007. But we wanted to go somewhere that was right on the edge in terms of viticulture. Possibility, I guess, in Australia, and either you go high, or you go south. And so we’re like, right, what’s the coldest, coolest region in Australia for making wine? And when we did the research, it seemed to be the Huon Valley was the one. And so like, right guys, pretty cool down there. And then looked at the anecdotal evidence of Elsewhere Vineyard, and Panorama Vineyard, and Home Hill Winery, looked at those three vineyards and just went, geez, they’re punching above their weight, and they’re sort of doing good things down there, but nobody else seems to be planting down there. It’s kind of a bit odd. But it kind of felt like somewhere that wasn’t for the fainthearted and sort of would be challenging, but it was always that idea of, you know, with great risk comes great reward.

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: And we came here with the assumption that we’d probably, in those warmer years, you would be making great wine, and in those cooler years, maybe they wouldn’t be that great, but we were coming down here to make great wine. So it’s not about consistency. If we wanted that, we’d go somewhere else in Australia, and you’d go, okay, every year we’ll get it ripe, and we’ll harvest it in February, and that’ll be fine, and we’ll make some nice Pinot. But it was never about that. It was about making something that was a little bit more challenging than that. So that’s why we chose down here. And yeah, so we came across for our honeymoon in 2008 to Tassie, and we had a look all around the different areas, so up north, and on the east coast, and Coal River Valley, and Derwent Valley, and the last place we came was the Huon Valley. We’d already had the idea that it would tick the boxes that we wanted, and so we were looking for somewhere, as I said, in a super really cool, and where you’d just get ripe. And so you’re sort of having those long, cool summers where, especially with Pinot, you want those kind of, those aromatics and the acidity to remain. And we weren’t looking for a sort of gutsy kind of a Pinot. We wanted something with delicacy, and restraint, and elegance. It’s something that would evolve in glass, and it would be slightly more savoury in terms of flavour profile, and more structured.

JAMES ATKINSON: And so when did you move to Huon?

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: That was in 2010. So we knew we needed to do Pinot Noir vintages, so we went to Oregon in 2007, we went to New Zealand in 2008. Over in Oregon, we worked Beaux Frères, and Chehalem. In New Zealand we worked for Mt Difficulty, and again, they were just really interesting places. When we were there, we sort of saw this link between Burgundy, Oregon and California and then New Zealand, and there was this little triangle. Everybody knew each other, everybody worked in each others wineries, and there was a real network there. And Australia kind of sat out side of that, it wasn’t part of that group, it never felt like it was really taken that seriously. You’d say, we’re going to make Pinot Noir in Australia, ‘righteo, good luck’.

JAMES ATKINSON: How did you fall in love with Pinot Noir?

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: Being young, you sort of go through that period in the early part of my wine education, I guess you go through that big Shiraz-y zone. You know, I loved Australian wines, there’s a lot of things like D’Arenberg and stuff coming across the UK, back in the early 2000, late 90’s kind of zone. Where Australian wine was massive in the UK then, and so there were all these gutsy sort of reds coming through, yeah love those. And then as your sort of taste evolves, it just sort of came around as I was hitting my mid 20’s to late 30’s, I just found myself drinking a lot of Pinot Noir.

Daniel Mahon

JAMES ATKINSON: At what point did you realise that people were making some good Pinot Noir in Australia?

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: Yeah that’s one of the things. So when you change your life, part of what you want to do, or we wanted to do, was make it as challenging as possible. And I think at the time it was, geez, Australian Pinot Noir, it’s not great, Pinot Noir in itself is a big challenge. You know people always say how capricious it is, and how it’s very responsive to site, and not everywhere is suited for Pinot Noir in the same way. Certainly that was a challenge, and then it was like making great Australian Pinot Noir, that’s going to be even more of a challenge. And that was around that time that we were thinking about going into the industry.

JAMES ATKINSON: What year are we talking?

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: So that would be around 2004 or five, that kind of mark. And you know in the UK, we weren’t getting the Bindis and that kind of thing of Australia. So weren’t necessarily seeing those few producers who were excelling in Pinot Noir. And I think when we first started, so we moved to Margaret River, I did a post grad diploma, Gilli did the degree. And even then in 2005, six, seven, Australia didn’t have a great reputation for Pinot Noir.

JAMES ATKINSON: Do you think that Huon Valley Pinot and Australian Pinot in general is now getting the recognition among that global Pinot-phile demographic?

PAUL LIPSCOMBE: I think it’s starting to change, it’s definitely not there yet. We went to the international Pinot Noir celebration over in Oregon, a couple of years ago now, it’s held McMinnville in Oregon and it’s 1000, 1500 people, something like that, who are Pinot Noir lovers, who come together and have this great weekend celebration. Most years it focuses on Burgundy or New Zealand or Oregon or California, and a couple of years ago the focus was on Australia, and it was great. Halliday went across and Michael Hill Smith and various, you had Mac Forbes and Mike Simons, Michael Dylan from Bindi Winegrowers and various other people. It was this quite heavy hitting, the greats of Australian Pinot Noir over there. I guess the idea was to show that Pinot Noirs from Australia can compete with the rest of the world. But certainly in America, there is a degree of cynicism, so Home Hill Winery – we made that wine, and it had been selected to show at the grand seminar. Gilli and I went in and we were going to go talk, so we had to stand up and give our little spiel, in front of 1000 people or whatever it was. And tell them about the Huon Valley and the wine and how it was made and grown. But on the way in, I walked past this couple of guys, and they were walking away from the venue, and I heard them, and this guy said, hey what’s it about this year. The other guys said, it’s about Australian Pinot Noir, and the other guy went, ughhhh. That was just before we were about to talk to this 1000 people about Australian and Huon Valley Pinot Noir, and it was like, oh righty-o, this is a big leap, this is quite a challenge, this is what people’s general perception of Australian Pinot Noir is. It unfortunately falls into that critter-wine context of Australian wine in America. So it was an attempt to get over that and show people that we do make great Pinot Noir in Australia. And the great thing about the tasting was that people sat there, and you could see people just going, huh wow, these wines…so many people looked surprised. And that’s a start, people being surprised that Australia is actually turning out some pretty exceptional Pinot Noirs, from the slightly lights more ethereal perfumed style to the slightly more robust, more structural kind of styles. And there was a great range of Pinots there, they showed well and it was great, seeing people challenged, and accepting that challenge. And recognising that actually, Australia is starting to do things. The feedback that we had, certainly as we were walking around talking to people was, wow that Home Hill wine was exceptional, you guys are doing some great stuff down in Tasmania.

More:
Stone & Wood Brewing leads third wave of independent craft beer

Author: James Atkinson

Accomplished freelance journalist and copywriter specialising in the food, drink, travel and hospitality arenas. Australian International Beer Awards 2017 Media Award Winner and Certified Cicerone®. Founder Drinks Adventures podcast.

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