Beer and cabriolet

Alistair Turnbull guns his 1929 Chevrolet roadster through the Adelaide Hills, his vintage cabriolet proving surprisingly perky for its age. In fine weather, with its top down, his venerable yet elegant vehicle is a spirited choice for a Sunday afternoon romp.

Locals wave from shady verandahs as we career past apple and stone fruit orchards. We’ve left the village of Lobethal to zoom along narrow lanes and past hedgerows. Turnbull is hunched over the steering wheel, a huge grin on his face, enjoying the throaty growl of the feisty 79-year-old engine.

Having such tremendous fun seems infinitely more pleasurable than anguishing over matters of distressed equity or the peculiar financial woes of various eastern European countries. That was Turnbull’s lot as an international banker in London, a life since left far behind following his radical swerve in occupation, location and direction.

Together with business partner Phil Jones, another former banker, he’s instead put his money down on fine-tuning the art of craft brewing and redefining matters of taste in South Australia.

Their Lobethal Bierhaus is the vanguard of a small revolution that’s adding extra dimension to local tourism. New microbreweries are popping up in attractive locations around the state and their obvious appeal suggests that craft beer is fast becoming the new wine.

Banking on it

Turnbull and Jones have been mates since their Adelaide school days and, during their banking years, kept in touch despite different career paths in the US and Europe. When they decided to call it quits and seek a better life, they both chose to find it back home.

With winemaking oversubscribed in their home state, they instead decided their future lay in microbrewing. “Most of our critical research had already been done at various bars around the world,” quips Phil. They completed a brewing course in America, established Adelaide Hills Craft Brewing and set up the Bierhaus in a former wool mill in the village of Lobethal, about an hour’s drive from Adelaide.

By focusing on a hand-crafted, quality product they’ve applied proven wine-making principles to their brewing, along with similar marketing skills. One wall of their all-grain brewery is glass so it operates in full view of customers dining in the adjacent 80-seat restaurant, or tasting beers at a long wooden bar built using the old mill’s floorboards.

Apart from becoming a top visitor attraction, the Lobethal Bierhaus has restored the village to its rightful place in Australian brewing history. The Bierhaus is on the site of a brewery established in 1850 by F W Kleinschmidt which operated for 20 years.

That brewery subsequently became the Lobethal Tweed Factory then the Onkaparinga Woollen Company, which closed in 1992. The historic red brick complex is now also home to several cottage industries, two boutique winemakers and the site of the popular Heart of the Hills weekend market.

The Lobethal Bierhaus has five beers on tap, four of them also available in six packs. The India Pale Al and Bohemian Philsner are wryly named after the two brewers. There’s also a Hefeweizen, a Pale Ale and Red Truck Porter, named after the vintage Bierhaus delivery vehicle.

Small treasures

Another ancient truck stands out front of the Barossa Brewing Company at Greenock, a tiny village north of Adelaide. This tiny brewery in a quaint sandstone building that was the 1860s Wheat Store is where the impressively bewhiskered Darryl Trinne and his partner Gaye Wiegand brew a trio of excellent traditional-style beers. Their Miller’s Lager is a Bavarian style golden lager, the Greenock Dark Ale is a Porter-style and the Wheat Store Ale is a fruity Hefeweizen-style made from half wheat and half barley.

The old store is filled with gleaming, stainless steel vessels hand-tooled by Darryl who, when not busy shovelling hops and malt, makes equipment for various Barossa wineries. This miniscule brewery is open to the public at weekends only, but should you pass through Greenock at other times you can taste the beers at the local pub.

Denham D’Silva and Fergus McLachlan are two more bankers investing in fine beer. With professional brewer Stefan Walker they’ve established Barossa Valley Brewing in a disused section of the Chateau Yaldara Winery at Lyndoch. Their latest venture is an Organic Ale, launched this June, but first up was Bee-Sting beer, “brewed with honey for additional character.” These beers are currently available at select Adelaide pubs.

About an hour’s drive south of Adelaide is the popular holiday haven of Goolwa, which is not only an historic Murray River port but yet another South Australian town with an esteemed brewing heritage that dates back to Dutton’s Brewery, in operation from 1865 and 1895.

This heritage has been revived by Simon Fennell and Gareth Andrews. Their Steam Exchange Brewery occupies the restored railway goods shed on the Goolwa wharf. The shed was built in 1879 and relocated to its present position in 1914, but had stood abandoned for years.

Simon’s earlier experience was in the Coonawarra, where he produced award-winning ale at the now defunct Lawrence Victor Estate brewery. The Goolwa microbrewery’s flagship Steam Ale is a special blend of three malts and American hops. The Steam Exchange also makes a Southerly Buster Dark Ale, a Stout and India Pale Ale. The cafe-brewery door, open daily, is one of the port’s most popular attractions.

The Clare Valley provides another fascinating small brew tale. Since Lion Nathan bought the Knappstein winery it has installed a microbrewery and now makes a Reserve Lager. It’s the first beer brewed in the valley since 1916. The lager is made by winemaker Paul Smith and has been described as “the beery equivalent of gewurtztraminer”. It’s available at the cellar door and nationally.

The latest microbrew news includes the Gulf Brewery in Adelaide, established by Peter Fitzsimons. His Fish Tale Pils, Pilots Light, Humpback Pale and Kitten 9 Tails now feature at the Grange Hotel in Esplanade Street and the Jolly Miller in Hindmarsh. Further afield, near Warooka on the Yorke Peninsula, Justin Murdoch of Yorke Brewing will soon launch his Shipwrecked Ale, described as “a strong bold mysterious brew best enjoyed in moderation”.

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