Mash Brewing is a gem amongst West Australian breweries for their ability to put out approachable, easy-drinking beers amongst complex and exciting seasonals all from a brewery small enough to be tucked behind the bar of their Swan Valley brewpub. Today marks the release of Sarcasm, their annually brewed and oxymoronically labelled Session Imperial India Pale Ale. At once both easy-drinking and intensely alcoholic, the 9.5% beer is a bitter, boozy, citrusy and piney two-batch release. We spoke to Mash’s new head brewer, Damien Bussemaker about the challenges involved in the latest iteration of Sarcasm Session IIPA.
Coming from a brewing position as Elmar’s, Damien joined Mash as Head Brewer just four months ago, and relishes the chance to work with a new range of styles. “It’s very different from Elmar’s here.” Says Damien, "Down there everything is brewed to German Purity Law, and it’s restricted to German styles. It was a good opportunity to nail all of those styles, but Mash is great because nothing is off limits, and you can use way more hops.”
The German Purity Law refers to a real law passed in Germany in the early sixteenth century which dictated that beer should be made out of only four ingredients: Water, hops, barley and yeast. The law was intended to maintain quality and avoid dodgy additives, but modern brewers, Mash included, have begun to use the law more as a guideline than a rule, “There’s not much deviation here, most of the beers do use just those four ingredients. But we will occasionally a bit of extra dextrose and sugar to boost the alcohol when needed.”
Sarcasm, is a beer made by taking many such aspects of beer brewing to their extremes, using much more hops, barley and yeast compared to their standard releases, the result is a much bigger and more powerful beer. Brewing to 9.5% alcohol means enough barley to completely fill their Mash tun, which Damien says makes the necessary stirring particularly difficult. Once mashed, Sarcasm takes about a week longer than their standard releases to ferment, during which additional hops are added in a process called ‘dry hopping'. “Sarcasm is designed to be just super hoppy,” says Damien, “You’ve got 30+ kilos of dry hops between the two batches, which makes it a challenge for the accountant to cost it, too.”
“All of the old Sarcasm releases have been really good, it’s not just another IIPA,” says Damien, noting that this year’s release will show his particular brewer’s thumbprint with an update of last year’s recipe including some new hops and malts, "This year there are a few different malts and a few different hops. There are a few new-age hops which we didn’t have last year, a bit of vic secret and a couple of traditional American hops.” These new decisions are informed by Mash’s other seasonal runs, and from brewing test batches in their smaller sample sized equipment, “We can run a test batch of 20 litres and see what each new hop brings to the table, and we made a double ipa last year which we’ve based a portion of the Sarcasm recipe off, more for volume than for types of hops.” says Damien, “Some of the American hops are piney, citrusy and resiny, some are fruity, giving pineapple, melon, mango flavours, but using just one runs the risk of being quite one-note.”
The popularity of Sarcasm, plus the decision to can it, further adds to the production process. Mash put out roughly one seasonal release each month and in most cases these require “One brewing day, one kegging day, and just a bit of nurturing in-between.” However, the canning process and multiple batches of Sarcasm further slow down the release process.
All of the work involved has resulted in a uniquely delicious beer with a load of hoppy character. Due to the large amount of hops, Sarcasm greatly benefits from being drunk fresh, and its seasonal nature and propensity for being snapped up by beer enthusiasts, only serves to ensure it is shown off at it’s best. Sarcasm is now canned, kegged and shipping to bars and bottle shops throughout WA. Check out Mash’s social channels for where to get yours.
We've never been much for showrooms, we prefer the studio out back where the metaphorical or sometimes literal sausages are made. We've spent time with local jewellers in the unassuming little workbenches where quarter-million dollar diamonds are cut, and we've spent more than our fair share of time in Perth's iconic Chris Huzzard Studio, a photographer's playground which does a wonderful job reminding us that only where the camera is pointing needs to be pristine. This fondness for transparency came about immediately when we stepped into the home of High Spirits distillery. Nothing is unclean or slapdash about the distillery, but the aesthetics of the workspace are clearly secondary to the product itself. You get the impression that this is where work gets done, and High Spirits distillery's first two products, a triticale Vodka and Gin, are testament to Mike Caban's dedication to putting out exciting and beautiful spirits.
High Spirits may well be the smallest distillery in Australia. Entirely family operated and funded, the distillery is less focussed on bells, whistles and gimmicks than in becoming a nurturing ground for Mike to use his chefs background in exploring and experimenting, all with a creative drive and a passion for great ingredients. "Ideas for distilling are what keep my brain ticking," said Mike, "Pretty much anything you can eat besides the obvious things like fish and steak, you can run through a still. And most will impart some sort of flavour. One thing I'm very excited about right now is making a ginger beer from scratch using wild yeast, and distilling that ginger beer. I've never done it before, it's still in it's infancy at the moment.”
Vodka and Gin
"It was obvious that gin and vodka were the start, owing to the ageing requirements of anything else."
The genesis of High Spirits came about four years ago as Mike and his brother attended a Cognac tasting night. "We started talking later on that night about what we could do, and a distillery was the obvious choice. I had a knowledge of stills from having a friend who worked selling stills. The seed was planted and over the next two and a half to three years we threw everything we had into it financially and scraped together what we could from family. I started out on the R&D straight away."
As Mike and the family went down the route of licensing and fitting out a distillery, they were fortunate to be approached by a farmer from Dumbleyung, "Our farmer only supplies a handful of producers, amongst them are a couple of breweries and an organic rolled oats producer. He grows to the principals of biodynamics and doesn't use any chemicals, instead, between harvests he lays ground cover crops to regenerate the nitrogen in the soil," said Mike. It was this farmer who suggested they try using the Triticale wheat/rye hybrid grain which is now the base of their vodka and gin.
"I distilled the Triticale and it was like nothing I'd ever tried before, not initially a good thing— it was very hard to work with, but the result was a game changer."
Apart from using the triticale grain, High Spirits distinguish themselves in making a Gin which is redistilled from their Vodka: At it's heart, Gin is just a juniper flavoured neutral spirit, and part of the Australian gin craze can be attributed to the availability of wholesale neutral spirits which many new distilleries import as the basis of their Gin. High Spirits make their Gin entirely from scratch, considering their Triticale Vodka as an ingredient just as important as each of the twelve botanicals they add. The ability to have control over every aspect of their process not only results in a product which is completely local and bespoke, and also one of the smoothest Gins we've tried.
"The idea is the build up a repertoire of spirits which we can knock off as time progresses.”
Mike told us he has little interest in looking out at the market for new spirits. Rather than a reactionary creation process, he is relishing the chance to experiment and establish new recipes to build a backbone for their new and seasonal releases. "Everything goes out to our close knit group of family and friends, as you can imagine, lots of people put their hands up for taste testing when you run a distillery.” Said Mike, “Everyone gets a sample of bottles, I don't include any of my notes, just have them write down their own subjective opinion, we develop based on that."
"I'm currently working on a few products at the moment, and we also plan on having a series of small batch seasonal runs, "I've got some really nice ingredients to play around with, one thing I'm really liking is vanilla from broken nose.” Said Mike. In the corner of the distillery is a small basket press similar to what you’d find in a small batch winery or cider house. It becomes clear that buying from High Spirits is an investment into Mike’s sheer excitement with the distillery at his hands, mitigated by his dedication to seek out feedback.
"I started High Spirits to start a tradition for my family, as well as to provide an income doing something that I loved and to satisfy my need to experiment. And to make something which adds to the market, not just another vodka on the shelf. Nobody that I know of makes triticale vodka. There are tens of thousands of distilleries out there, but I don't know of any other commercially available triticale spirit.”
Spirit of a Family Business
High Spirits have strong ties to Mike’s family who are all welcomed to weigh on in the company’s products and direction. The distillery is entirely family funded, with no external debt, and Mike’s brother works as the Co-Managing Director.
Continuing on from their family attitudes, Mike has ensured that the impact made by High Spirits is bespoke and considered even beyond the product itself, and this extends to choosing who stocks their item, and to choosing where their waste goes. Spent grain is a byproduct for distillers, but a valuable food for livestock. Mike was careful to pick a farmer who’s values aligned with his own to receive their spent grain.
Concluding on what a family business means to them, and what supporting family businesses looks like, Mike said, "The difference for us is that when you buy from a local producer you’re not paying a CEO, that money is paying a kids school fees, or filling up a family's car”
I doubt I'm the only one who's left their Christmas shopping a little late this year. I've always thought it's better to be busy than bored, and these holidays have been bountiful in the former. Fortunately: food is the best gift to buy late. Last minute food buys are often fresher and have a greatly lessened risk of being snapped up by a roommate or family member.
So here's a list of our favourite ideas, food, and food-related gifts for the special people in your life this year:
Raw honey and honeycomb from local producers is a prestigious gift in many cultures, but here in Australia it's often overlooked— A shame, as honey bees in Australia are the most productive in the world. We love honey and honeycomb from Honey I'm Home. And if you can make it into their Maylands store be sure to try a few of their honeys first to work out what's right for you.
Threeonesix do direct trade with a tea farm in Northern Thailand. What this means for you is some of the best tea available in Perth, all at a great price and all the sweeter because all Threeonesix teas purchased make a direct positive impact in providing safe and dignified employment in Northern Thailand. Threeonesix are even holding a popup retail store in Subiaco every saturday morning until Christmas, check out their Facebook page for details.
Spirits from local distilleries Whipper Snapper and High Spirits make us proud of the local spirit scene. Whipper Snapper's Crazy Uncle Moonshine and High Spirits' Vodka make for great summery mixed drinks. Whipper Snapper's Upshot features in our Mint Julep, a drink which will last you a whole summer afternoon, and as for the High Spirits Gin.. You guys are clever, you can work out what to do with that one this summer.
The retail shelf at Modus in Mt Lawley hosts a rotation of some of the best coffees roasted throughout the world. With all of the associated gear you'll need to make it.
Dormilona's famous Tinto and Blanco house wines are back in stock and at under $25, they're too good not to have. Snatch some up before they're gone once more!
If you're already a fan of the house wines, be sure to also check out the brilliant Bare All Wines label from L.A.S. Vino.
ERVCeramics are a line of beautiful, local and bespoke ceramic mugs, bowls and plates available in William Topp and Monde Design. They're surprisingly hardy and dishwasher safe for everyday use, whilst being striking enough to save as an occasion piece.
Cast iron pots and pans make great, heirloom quality gifts for new and experienced cooks. Cast iron radiates heat more than non-stick or stainless steel pans, allowing you to cook with high heat and still cook finnicky foods like chicken to a safe internal temperature. Many will even go straight from the stove to the oven, allowing you to combine the fast direct heat of the stove with the indirect, controlled heat of the oven. Check out Gumtree for low maintenance enamelled products from Lodge and Le Creuset, or try a new un-enamelled pan by Lodge or Solidtechnics.
Instant Read Thermometer
A good thermometer is a game changer in the kitchen, from ensuring you never anxiously overcook chicken, to rudimentary sous vide, to brewing finnicky green and oolong teas at the perfect temperature. Fast-reading thermometers like this one by Thermoworks are a little pricier, but don't run the risk of accidentally overcooking your food while hunting around for a correct temperature.
As food trends come and go, we're becoming more and more interested in the chefs, artisans and producers who take things back to basics. To fresh produce, simple processes, and great ingredients. All of this is why we're beyond excited to welcome Black Pig Deli & Co., the latest addition to Inglewood's growing Beaufort St strip.
The Black Pig Deli & Co. is the latest project by Adam and Marissa of Poach Pear. Similarly unassuming and exciting, the deli makes the perfect stop-in for a picnic or gathering, and amongst ready-to-eat foods is a repository of local and exotic ingredients sure to excite chefs and home cooks. We caught up with Adam to talk about the role of Black Pig Deli & Co. as a specialty store in Inglewood.
Everything You Can't Do In a Cafe
Before the deli, and before Poach Pear, Adam and Marissa were the owner-operators of Picco's Kitchen in Maylands. Adam is a chef of 22 years, and Marissa has a background in Marketing for food businesses. They started Picco's Kitchen in 2010, and after a brief introductory period their artisan foods company, Poach Pear emerged from within the cafe.
"We used to make our own pate and charcuterie, I tried to do as much as I could myself," said Adam, "People asked to buy the pate and we started jarring it up, making maybe half a dozen jars and selling them over the counter."
The pates and terrines proved a hit, and Adam soon found his product under the eyes of Blue Cow for export in the Eastern States,
"A Blue Cow rep came in for breakfast and asked if we made bigger amounts. We did some samples and originally were only planning on wholesale. We made up some logs and jars of pate and they did a full tasting and liked them, then said 'we want to see your retail range', I didn't realise it would take off." Said Adam.
The sudden growth of the Poach Pear brand was enough to necessitate moving out of the cafe and into their own dedicated space. Adam was making between five and ten logs of terrine each week after finishing at the cafe, and not getting much sleep in between. They decided to sell their cafe and move to a kitchen in Caversham, and weren't long before moving from Caversham into the even larger commercial kitchen in Bayswater which they now occupy.
"Pretty much right after selling the cafe we decided we wanted another shop-front. We couldn't base out of the industrial part of Bayswater we were working from, and that's when we started looking into a deli.” Adam told us, “I saw the shop was for lease during the night markets, but didn't initially look at it. During the beginning of this year, we were talking to one of the vege growers and I found myself staring, noticing that it was still for lease. We met the agent the next day and had the shop within a week."
Since he doesn’t have to prepare food to order, Adam uses the extra time the deli affords him to expand their lines with more charcuterie, preserves and chutneys exclusive to Black Pig Deli & Co. They have an expansive cheese fridge and make fresh terrines which they slice to order. Now that the deli is finally here, Adam says they’re not turning back, "We knew at that stage that a deli in the cafe might work, but now we've started the deli, I'm in no hurry to go back to a cafe.”
Black Pig Deli
Regarding their name, Adam says “Black pigs are a traditional old pig, they're a rare breed, the original idea actually was 'rare breed,' but black pig rolled off the tongue a little better. The '& Co.' comes from all of the growers and artisan producers we've met over the year, and who we can feature."
Adam says he and Marissa took inspiration from the old butchers shops throughout Europe, “We always wanted a black ceiling to focus everything on the shelf. We love black and white, it's our thing, and we wanted an industrial look, with a little bit of wood mixed in to warm it up."
At the moment, their shop is about 40% Adam, and 60% ‘Co.', but he is aiming to bring things around the 50/50 mark. For his part, Adam is interested in preserving old techniques and traditions. His foods are simple but well made with local ingredients. “It's our own herbs and a lot of our own citrus. The preserves are all from local farms and growers. Whatever they have in season we grab, and if we can't sell it, we preserve or pickle it.”
Adam works closely with local butcher Paul Marinovich, a second generation butcher Adam remembers from his childhood. “He's a Croation-Polish butcher and I had Polish grandparents, so we used to go there quite a lot.” Adam relishes the ability to bring food back to basics and to simple local origins, telling us, “People will always go back to comfort food, the food they had around their grandparents. If you travel enough you notice the rest of the world doesn’t really follow food trends, you can go to Italy and have a tomato sauce which will just blow you away, and it’ll just be vine ripened tomatoes from across the road, garlic grown by their neighbour, they don’t complicate things.”
The ‘& Co.’ in their name was important to Adam and Marissa as it represented the many producers they work with and support in their new position. Adam and Marissa have found exciting foods from local, national and some international producers, many of which are completely new to Inglewood and some which are even new to all of Perth.
"There are a few things which aren't from WA or Australia, just because I like them. But for the most part the more local, the better." said Adam, "We've also gone about sourcing really good dry ingredients like a larder would. Things I've struggled to find as a chef. People are always hunting for certain ingredients, and we wanted to use our local position in town to be able to give them those options.”
Amongst the products which are exclusive, Knutsford Gourmet custom lavosh and cheese crackers are made specifically for the deli. Pure Naked Honey sell their honey in Bormioli Rocco jars exclusively to the deli— and Roger has even installed hives on their roof. Kokopod chocolate also have exclusive ranges for the deli, and a range of exclusive boards and cheese/pate knives from Heartwood Timber, just out of Bunbury.. Amongst their exclusives, many exciting local players fill their shelves including Dingo Sauce, 66 Barrels, flowers from A Little Bohemia, and fresh loaves from Bread in Common delivered at 10.30 each morning.
"We want to have products which chef's might buy and which you can't always get in a supermarket,” said Adam, “And we have a really good testing regime, we're happy to test anything we like, and sell what we like in the shop.”
It’s now been a month since the deli opened on the 2nd of October, and Adam and Marissa couldn’t be happier with the response they’ve received from the Inglewood locals. "Having the locals support has always been our main goal.” said Adam "We've had a lot of people come in and say 'we've been waiting for something like this,' It's nice to hear those things, they mean we're on the right track."
While they’ve made a splash in their current entity, the Deli is not the only step Adam and Marissa have in store, with plans to expand and to offer even more local and specialised foods to their customers. "We want customers to tell us what we want, we’ll go find it,” said Adam, "You have to be flexible, you can't just tell people what they want."
Tea with Significance
Nathanael Foo, the founder of threeonesix Tea is different from a lot of the people we talk to here in that his business didn’t start with an idea or a passion for food but rather a social impact model and a place. Nat had taken a three month volunteering trip learning about human trafficking in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, worked in an anti-human-trafficking organisation in San Francisco, and completed an MBA in Copenhagen, and found himself in Northern Thailand with a list of possible industries and an idea for an impact model. Nat paid a local to drive him around Northern Thailand and help translate as they hopped around farms looking for inspiration.
Nat stumbled upon a farm which met all of his needs: A USDA certified organic Tea farm set up with the mission to create safe, dignified employment for local people. We spoke to Nat about creating a direct trade business model which gives consumers access to creating positive change, and all while enjoying quality tea at a great price.
“I know the names of the pickers, I’ve plucked some of the tea myself , and most importantly I’ve had meals with tea workers . I don't tell them what to do, I don't tell them what price to charge me, all I need to do is support them in doing what they do well - produce good quality tea through a safe and dignified manner”.
The threeonesix Model
Despite their many similarities, the production process between tea and coffee are very different. Coffee cherries are plucked, delivered to a mill, fermented, dried, sold and roasted. It makes sense for people along the supply chain to take some of the profit as they're contributing to the value of the product. In tea, however, everything from growing and picking the leaves, to delivering the rolled up, oxidised, roasted teas Nat sells, is performed on the farm. “The farmers are doing 95% of the work, they're not just experts in agronomy , but in roasting and how to oxidise the tea, what's left is just marketing, sales and logistics.” said Nat.
But even though the tea is already finished, the farm and tea pickers often sees less than 1% of the profit made in the sale of their teas. The remainder is eaten up by tea auction houses, blenders, buying agents and retailers. "It's probably not surprising then that a huge amount of people in the tea industry don't make enough money to meet their basic needs.” said Nat.
"It's easier to produce a product without as much ethical consideration, and to donate profits away. We make sure that every single step leaves a positive net social impact. We can keep profits because the social impact has already been made. We've supported safe and dignified employment opportunities, and we can still donate profits back into the farm as a trade premium or for particular projects like a school in the community. We have that possibility.”
threeonesix’s ethical considerations extend even to Perth, where Nat is careful to price his tea to be as accessible as it can be. “I think it’s quite unjust that people of a lower social economic means can't support socially minded products. Ethical products quite often come with a premium, and to help this I price match comparable tea companies as much as I can.” Said Nat.
The specific details of Nat’s business venture in Northern Thailand didn’t fully form until he tried the tea from the farm from which he now sources. He was not yet particularly involved in tea, but tried their product and decided that he had to work with them, he is now diving head first into the world of tea.
“With a good enough product you can get really nerdy with it.” Said Nat, "There are so many different ways of doing it and presenting it, and I still have so much to learn about tea even after the last year and a half really studying it"
The threeonesix range consists of eight teas ranging from Oolong, green tea, black tea and herbal tea. Whilst the range is modest, each tea is of exceptional quality and many would surprise even seasoned tea drinkers. The English Breakfast, for example, does not have any tannin, the cottony, puckering feeling present in black tea in teabags. The GABA Oolong is of particular note, a truly unique and complex taste profile, it is processed in nitrogen, the tea preserves the GABA neurotransmitter which is present in tea and rice, but is usually destroyed through oxidation. GABA is helpful in concentration, and so the tea pairs well with working or studying.
"The quality is good enough that we don’t need to colour or flavour artificially. The Peppermint, for example is real peppermint without oils or flavourings, which gives it a balanced and naturally sweet profile which a lot of people find quite surprising” Said Nat.
Nat and his staff package and label the tea personally, which gives them the chance to see the quality of the tea themselves, and means they can pull out any leaves which might not have rolled up or a twig which may have fallen in, where in a larger operation these may be ignored, and end up in the final product.
"It’s literally Farm, to me, to you”
“My passion is to eradicate inequality and injustice," Said Nat, "it's quite broad, and quite universal, exploitation and human trafficking have always made me feel strongly, and there's a lot of that in things like tea.”
Nat chose Northern Thailand knowing that it bordered Burma and Laos, two developing nations from which people often enter Thailand as economic refugees— People leaving their home country to escape living in poverty. In addition to these people are a number of ‘Stateless' people living in Thailand, who are not biologically Thai but have lived in Thailand for generations, these stateless people are allowed to live in the land but don't have the rights of a Thai Person. They don't have rights to health care or education and they can only look for employment within the district they were born in.
"The sad thing is that when there is a high supply of vulnerable people, traffickers see that as a big advantage for cheap and free labour. They take people and exploit them in many industries including seafood and the sex industry.” Said Nat, “The more you learn about a social problem, the less you act out of guilt or benevolence and the more you want to study it further, to look into initiatives that target upstream factors and create long-term change. I thought why don't we go in that area and support somebody who is already impassioned about providing safe, dignified employment to people who are sociologically vulnerable.”
Nat was lucky enough to find a farm who’s values aligned with his own, and which was producing excellent tea. Not only does the farm grow and process all of it’s tea, but it also grows food for the workers and other crops to compliment tea: "It’s a testament to their thoughtfulness, all tea comes from the same plant, and the harvest and growing of tea only goes for four months of the year, but they’ve started to grow other things which compliment their tea during the downtime like jasmine, ginger, peppermint and osmanthus."
Perth is home for Nat, but Perth also lies in the Indo-Pacific region, a region where two thirds of people in modern slavery are found. It is in the same time zone as many of these nations, and has free trade agreements with many. After feeling “not so much homesick, but certainly sun-sick" while living in Copenhagen, there was no question that Nat would return to Perth to create threeonesix . The company launched last August and is, currently in it’s pilot phase. "Perth is a hard place to sell right now. There’s a lack of expendable cash and the mining bust, and most people don't drink high quality tea, but people do want to feel connected to what they buy, and Australians have values which drive us to support meaningful causes,” Nat Told us, "The closer you bring the people don't the hard work to you, the consumer, the more you start to empathise and care for them, and the more likely you are to change your consumer behaviour."
Nat says he did prove a few expectations, and discovered that Tea has got to be packaged nicely. His focus now is on educating Perth on his brand, his tea, and the impact they can deliver with something as seemingly simple as buying and drinking quality tea.
“Some think it's a marketing scam. I can understand that - many companies use social good spin to differentiate, inevitably causing customers to become skeptical. This doesn't perturb me, because I know I'm not doing that. I've spent five years of my life learning and working in the field, and now am confident that I know what I'm talking about. We stand for safe and dignified work which reverses exploitation, and a great, healthy, high quality drink. We’re hoping we can educate people on both aspects."
Funky flavours, left-field labels, a new vocabulary of terms, and blends you’ve never heard of. If you’ve been to a good bottle shop or a trendy bar recently you’ve probably noticed a number of new wines appearing which look, sound, and taste like nothing you’ve tried before. The world of natural, minimal intervention, and lo-fi wines is steadily finding a foothold in Perth, and to demystify these new styles, techniques and labels we got together with Budburst’s owner and sommelier Rachael Niall along with winemakers Matt of Freehand Wine, Yoko of Brave New Wine and Michael of Yelland & Papps.
What is Natural Wine?
Natural wines actually follow a specific set of conventions, Rachael told us that "In the most simple way, Natural wine is wine from organic or biodynamic grapes, made in a way where nothing is added and nothing is taken away. This means no chemicals are used in the vineyard, no inoculated yeast is used for fermentation, there is no filtration or fining agents, and absolutely no added sulphur (traces of sulphur will arise naturally). There is not yet a legal definition for natural wines, but I find the 'Charter of Quality' for the RAW Wine Fair to be the best guide on restrictions and allowances ” The resulting wines can be said to have a vitality and a liveliness which can’t be found anywhere else.
Matt of Freehand Wine says he saw Biodynamic viticulture as the next step forward in their winemaking back in 2008, and that Natural Winemaking practices followed shortly after. "The main benefit to Natural Wine has to be transparency of process.” Matt told us, "Nothing added means nothing but grape juice. This will always produce fresher, more unique, honest, interesting and seasonal wines (if the fruit is good!). Every Natural Wine is an individual."
"The inherent and essential "small batch" nature of NW precludes the economies of scale that larger-batch wineries operate with. We all know handmade looks, feels and tastes better. Wine is no different.” Said Matt.
Natural Wine may look like a new fringe movement, but Yoko of Brave New Wine was quick to point out that many of the practices are the original methods and processes for wine, "Nothing we do in the winery is anything new, really. That’s the thing about this move toward lo-fi. Minimum input winemaking is just a return to age-old technique."
Natural, Minimal Intervention, Lo-fi, oh my!
Since Natural Winemaking follows a pretty strict set of conditions, the term is often used as an umbrella which includes wines which adhere to most but not all of these rules, wines which use biodynamic fruit, wild yeast, and only a small amount of sulphur at the bottling stage can be called Minimal Intervention, Small Batch or Lo-fi wines.
"There’s a very blurred line between minimal intervention and natural wines,” Said Rachael "minimal intervention wines follow the process of no additions and nothing taken away, but the winemaker will still add some sulphur at the time of bottling just for preservation. Most of the wines here at Budburst are made in this way.”
Of the Winemakers we spoke to, Matt told us that Freehand self-identified as Natural Wine, telling us "Freehand wines are made with zero adds, in small batches from fruit we grew in our vineyard with help from biodynamic preps, picked on fruit days and bottled without any manipulation either minimal or otherwise.”
Yoko was more reserved, and whilst many wines from Brave New Wine are often placed amongst Natural Wines in bottle shops and wine lists, they do not use the label: "We sit somewhere in the middle, and have rarely felt comfortable calling ourselves “natural’ wine makers. We prefer the term lo-fi. Some of the vineyards we source from are managed organically, some are handled conventionally, we use some new oak, and we add minimal sulphites to our wines.”
Also different but sometimes included under the same umbrella are owner-operator wine labels: Wineries and wines which are singular, personal expressions by winemakers. Michael of Yelland & Papps makes wonderful and highly regarded wines, half of which are made in a minimal intervention style, and half which have added tartaric acid depending on vintage conditions. "We are not pigeon holed into any category,” said Michael, "we just do what is needed to make the style of wines we love.” For Michael, the additions of sulphur and acid to some of their wines has “Minimal cost,” explaining that, “for us, the benefits in using SO2 and Tartaric Acid are to contribute to making clean, balanced wines that are enjoyable to drink now or in 5-10 years time,” Their experimentation with new techniques, varietals and styles is a great example that the growing increase in natural wine production is not an ends in itself, but a larger trend toward high quality, bespoke and interesting wines for everyday consumption.
Aversions to Sulphur
The most noteworthy and the most contested aspect of Natural winemaking is the addition of Sulphur. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a preservative used in winemaking first explicitly mentioned in 1487. Sulphur kills yeasts and bacteria and protects wine from oxidation, and is used extensively in conventional winemaking in order to avoid potential for spoilage.
Rachael didn’t tell us that sulphur was expressly a bad thing in wine, "Whilst I prefer lofi wines, I'm not anti-sulphur by any means. If I owned a vineyard and had one time each year to make wine, I'm not sure I'd have the guts to go 100% natural, it's risky." However, she was quick to point out that things can get excessive, “Some companies use sulphur before you even get into the winery, they’ll pick and put all the grapes into big buckets and sprinkle sulphur straight away. Then sulphur can then be added before pressing, after pressing, at the end of fermentation, and at bottling.”
Excessive use of sulphur is detectable in the wine, Rachael told us "Anyone who works with wine can smell sulphur straight away, it generally overpowers the fruit, and you'll often hear people say ‘this smells like a headache'.” Other issues are more ideological, Rachael says people often liken natural wine to a living creature, and in using excessive sulphur you’re “Changing the true nature of the wine.”
Sulphur is not all bad however, and in small quantities can be useful or even essential in preventing spoilage. Most minimal intervention winemakers will use no sulphur throughout the vinification process, and only add a tiny amount at the point of bottling. This gives the wines a better ageing potential, and lessens the risk of any unwanted flavours or faults developing in the bottle.
Redefining Wine ‘Flaws’
Alongside using less sulphur, natural winemakers have begun reinterpreting the conventional perceptions toward flaws in winemaking. Flaws including cloudiness and oxidisation, and as far as more challenging flaws like Brettanomyces and Volatile Acidity.
Rachael can recall a number of instances throughout her career as a sommelier and bar owner where cloudiness has been unjustly perceived as a flaw. In one case, a patron at a restaurant she worked at insisted that a very expensive wine was faulty because it was not clear. The wine tasted perfect, and Rachael knew it was exactly as the winemaker had intended, but the patron could not be convinced. In another instance she saw a wine professional dismiss a local winemaker’s range before anyone had even tasted it.
Cloudiness comes from a lack of fining and filtration, processes which strip the wine of insoluble matter. In some times this is helpful and even necessary, but the cost is that flavour and character can be lost in the process. Fining processes such as filtration through egg whites or fish bladders, besides sounding a little unpleasant, can also make the wine unfriendly to vegans.
Oxidisation is another redefined flaw which Rachael finds particularly interesting. Oxidisation can come from from the winemaker deciding not to top up the wine in their barrels as it begins to evaporate, or the wine can be forcibly exposed to oxygen. The resulting wines can be citrusy, salty, and even briny. Sherry is made in this way and people often taste ‘sherry characteristics’.
"I feel like there’s a bit more leeway for how much oxidisation can be seen as a positive attribute. From a venue point of view, they can stay fresher for longer. Because they’ve already had a bit of exposure to oxygen, they stay at a similar level of freshness and don’t fall over as quickly as wines which are made with a lot of sulphur and fermented in stainless steel. For example, Sam Vincuillo’s wines can be open for three weeks, they’ll change in that time but not in a negative way.” If you’re a slow drinker like us, the prospect of a wine which will last weeks rather than days once opened is a huge selling point.
Exciting New Styles
"I feel like people have become more confident in their drinking choices over the last few years. Rather than wait for someone to tell them what they “should be drinking” according to a medal in a wine show, or points given by a wine writer, or some preconception (“I don’t drink chardonnay” for eg), they are now happy to try a wine and make their own mind up. Is it fucking delicious? Am I enjoying it? Is this wine inspiring some hearty conversation? If the answer is yes, then the wine is a goer! People will drink unfiltered, chunky wine. People will drink fizzy, funky wine. People will drink whole bunchy, spicy, reds. People will drink skinsy white wines made very much like red wines. IF. They are delicious.” - Yoko
Whilst very little in Natural and Lofi Winemaking is truly new, the movement has shone a light on a number of interesting and lesser-known styles, including:
“What is orange wine? Orange wine is delicious”, said Rachael. The skin contact wine is like a reverse rose, made by putting white wine through the processes generally reserved for red wine. The extended contact between the grape juice and it’s skins in orange wine gives the wine phenolics, texture, tannin and colour. Think red wine mouthfeel with unmistakable white wine flavours. "Like any method, there are certain levels which you can pull back from,” Said Rachael, You can have skin contact ranging from a few hours to forty days.”
Whilst we love a typical, funky orange wine, one of our favourite styles made by natural and minimal intervention winemakers are the white wines with just a small kiss of skin contact, making for a heavier, funkier and overall delicious white wine.
Pétillant-naturel is a method for sparkling wine which predates Champagne. Where in champagne a second fermentation is induced by introducing more sugar and yeast to fully fermented wine, Pet Nat is made by bottling wine before the primary fermentation has ended. The yeast continues to create alcohol and carbon dioxide in the pressurised environment of the bottle, and it is up to the winemaker to decide whether to disgorge the residual lees or to leave them in the bottle (Lees are the leftover particles from yeast, they are harmless to drink and can give wine texture and a toasty aroma). Since the fermentation has finished in bottle, Pet Nats are by definition unfined and unfiltered.
Despite being older, we think of Pet Nat as a funky younger sibling to Champagne. Losing some points in refinement but making them all up in being bold, fruity, and fun. Look for their trademark crown seal, and drink Pet Nat on the porch on a warm summer’s day.
Blending is nothing new in either conventional or minimal intervention winemaking, but smaller winemakers have experimented with new and lesser known blends. Examples include L.A.S Vino’s Albino Pinot, a flip of the 80/20 ratio of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which defines most champagnes, pressed into a clear, rosé style wine and botanical infusions like Brave New Wine's Wonderland and Dreamland botanical rieslings. The Wonderland riesling infused with native West Australian botanicals is exciting, bright and like nothing else in the market, and won them the Danger Zone award for ‘Most Adventurous Wine' at the 2017 Young Gun of Wine Awards.
Where to Start
If we’ve piqued your interest, you’re probably wondering where to start. The strong flavours from unfiltered wines may be surprising at first, so we find trying a bunch of wines at once to be a great start. Natural Wines really stand out amongst other wines and each other, so tasting events like the Budburst Wine Parties are a great place to start.
We love the whole range from the three producers we’ve featured, but our favourites are the Semillon from Freehand Wine, the 'Pi Oui' Pinot Noir from Brave New Wine, and whilst not a self-identifying minimal intervention wine, we think every wine fan should stock a bottle of Yelland & Papps’ Pinot Blanc, a white wine which suits any company and occasion.
Both Freehand and Brave New Wine put out delicious Pet Nats, and Brave New Wine make our favourite orange wine in their ‘Klusterphunk’ Chardonnay.
Rachael’s picks for Natural Wines were the ranges from Sam Vincuillo in Margaret River, and from Latta in Victoria. Budburst showcase great Natural and Minimal Intervention wines by the glass and the bottle. We also love picking up wine for home from The Re Store, The Wine Thief, and Mane Liqour.
Budburst are located in 406 Oxford St, Mount Hawthorn and open from 4pm until Midnight Tuesday-Saturday. Look for Brave New Wine, Yelland & Papps, and Freehand wine at good bottle shops, bars and restaurants.
We’re confident that bees are an important part of our ecosystem, but as consumers, we’re not always sure whether buying honey is helping, or hurting them. We spoke to Blaine Campbell from Honey I’m Home about terroir, sustainability, and honey, in order to find out how to get the best quality produce in a way which was sustainable and delicious.
Honey I'm Home
After beginning their beekeeping careers in 2010, Blaine and her husband Tristan suddenly found themselves with a huge influx of honey, they had more than they could give away to friends and family, and took a friend’s suggestion to sell at a local market. Seven years later, Blaine has just last month given up their last remaining market space, and is celebrating the second birthday of their Maylands store. Their store showcases West Australian honey from several hives of their own in addition to 5-6 similar sized producers, and 4-5 local retirees who keep their bees as a hobby but in some years still produce more honey than they can give away.
One side of the store is dedicated entirely to honey "just as the bees make it", whilst the wall opposite hosts gourmet lines including infused and whipper honeys alongside beeswax products. They even work with a local gelato maker to sell honey gelato in store. Working small and local allows Blaine to be sure that the people they represent in their store have similar values to their own, they can be sure that the apiarists they buy honey from are following similar beekeeping and hive management practices to their own, and that the artisans and producers they collaborate with are using local ingredients wherever possible, and employing sustainable practices.
Even the staff at Honey I’m Home are encouraged to live and breathe bees, “You can always talk to a beekeeper in our shop.” said Blaine "We try to get all of our employees into the hives so you can bring your ‘burning bee question’ to the shop at any time.”
All of the honey at Honey I’m Home is raw and filtered only though mesh bags to remove any large chunks of wax. The resulting honey is nuanced and complex, tasting almost nothing like the honey you’d find at a supermarket. Blaine and the rest of the crew are more than happy to have you taste each of their honeys which vary remarkably from their different locations and flowers. "We’re primary producers, and so we’re dependent on what happened a year ago, even up to a decade ago.” said Blaine, "Things like soil, climate, topography and species variation all contribute to the honey.”
As there is no processing applied to the honey from the hives to the store, their honey is more likely than their commercial counterparts to crystallise. Crystallisation is a natural and reversible process which happens to all honey over time as the sucrose content begins to build lattices. Honey has an unlimited shelf life, so Blaine urges consumers not to throw out their honey when they see a few crystals.
The bees from which honey is harvested are European species which have evolved to create as much surplus honey as possible in the three months of European summer, in order to survive the nine months in which it is too cold, wet and windy to fly. In Australia, we are lucky to have a much longer period of fine weather, and because of this our honey bees are the most productive in the world.
"The biological imperative of a honey bee is to make as much honey as they possibly can. When there’s a lot of honey to bring in, they just keep bringing it in, and if they fill up a hive or a tree hollow or your chimney, they split up and make another hive and make more honey. The only way to deprive them is to leave them without enough honey over winter."
“We don’t process our honey, so the hard part is getting the bees to the stage where they’re ready to give honey to us.” Blaine told us. The tools and processes of beekeeping have changed remarkably little in hundreds of years, but modern beekeepers are able to use sources like Google Maps and FloraBase where they would previously have to rely solely on local knowledge. “We’re a bit more flexible in that we're farmers without farms,” said Blaine, “If there aren’t any flowers in one place we can move elsewhere.”
How We Use Honey
Since discovering Honey I’m Home, we’ve found ourselves using more honey than ever before. Their the Maylands store is just 50 metres from The Woodfired Baker, and their honey shows beautifully on a slice of sourdough rye. We’ve taken to stirring honey into our ‘Cure All’ Chai and making a honey syrup for cocktails like the Bee’s Knees. Our favourite use for raw honey has to be putting an open jar or a piece of honeycomb on a cheeseboard, honey gives beautiful floral notes to soft cheese and cuts through the mould notes in blue cheeses.
We met a lot of winemakers over the course of this Grape To Glass series, and one aspect of winemaking we really came to appreciate the informal and lo-fi approach found in a lot of new boutique winemakers, we found that nobody embodied this aesthetic and philosophy quite like LS Merchants. Started in 2013 and making their official debut in 2015, LS Merchants are a small, young wine label run by winemaker Dylan Arvidson and his partner, marketer and administrator, Taryn Hogan. They put out very small batches, often just a couple of barrels of any release, of wines which are fun, friendly and unpretentious.
Dylan and Taryn even set out to bring a little grounding to tasting notes, the poster for unapproachable wine: They brought along a bag filled with produce, spices and herbs, giving the crowd a tangible example of the aromas Dylan believed he found in their wines. Taryn told us that the first instalment of their aroma kit came during a local ‘battle of the winemakers’ competition in Margaret river where winemakers held side-by-side tastings and sold their wines by the glass at the bar. The couple had just made a rose and they handed out strawberry and cream lollies as a trump card.
LS Merchant’s branding is immediately striking. Their labels manage to be fairly minimal all the while showcasing local artists in a form of collaboration. The LS logo was drawn unprompted by Taryn one evening, and Dylan reports seeing it and immediately deciding that had to go on a bottle. The ‘Merchants’ in LS Merchants represents their faith in those around them, from their ability to source grapes from all manner of different growers, to their collaborative labelling.
Dylan and Taryn
Friendly, down to earth, and prone to giving their wines names like Red Drank and Da Bois, Dylan and Taryn were lovely and fascinating. When they arrived at Grape to Glass, they had spent the day jumping between bars and wine stores, and had been pleasantly surprised by such a unified positive response, and by having sold half of their entire stock of Malbec already that day.
Dylans winemaking journey began as a highschooler in Geelong when he met a winemaker and found himself impressed by the winemaker’s lifestyle. “I thought to myself, I like travel, I like wine.. I like goon”. His ambition was almost cut short however when he snuck his way into a sensory course at seventeen and tried fifteen wines, all of which tasted like lemon and little else. Dylan kept at it, however, travelling extensively throughout his winemaking career and ultimately settling in Margaret River, and exciting prospect not out of the country, but seemingly a world away from his roots back East.
Made in very small batches, often just a barrel or two, LS Merchant wines are boutique, interesting, and often sell out almost as soon as they are produced. We began our evening with the Da Bois. Dylan had made a successful Fumé Blanc in 2014, but when he returned in 2016 he found the Fumé label had gotten a little catchy. He began looking for another french word for his barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, and stumbled upon ‘Bois’, the french translation for wood. This fun little wine is incredibly light, easy summer drinking, as Dylan said “Take it to the park, take it to a nightclub, its Da Bois, it can go anywhere.”
We rounded off the whites with the Vermentino, a similarly smashable, spritsy and citrusy wine, with a little more weight and nuance. The wine had been bottled just two months beforehand, and we couldn’t get enough of the beautiful, crisp wine.
Moving onto the reds, we tried their Malbec, a surprisingly deep and chocolatey wine with liquorice notes. Finishing the official tastings with their 'Red Drank’ red blend, a wine Dylan had blended ‘almost entirely by instinct,’ and which ‘just sort of happened.’ The Touriga Nacional forward Red Drank had us craving Italian food to go with its refined, crunchy flavours.
Taryn and Dylan brought one last wine, their Mataro, an elegant and delicious wine, so delicious we found we’d finished ours almost before we’d written any notes.
Grape To Glass
This Grape To Glass took over the beautiful Young Love Mess Hall, a beautiful little space which floods with natural light during the day, then falls into a cosy warmth during the evening. We took over the entire space, and feasted on delicious cheeses and bites whilst making the most of the charming space with a bunch of lovely people. This beautiful evening was a great way to close out the first series of Grape To Glass. If you’ve come along, we’ve had a great time with you, and if you missed this round, we do hear word of a second series coming along soon.
When a trendy and polished cafe opened in Maylands, we saw the word ‘woodfired’ and were immediately curious. When we tried their immaculate sourdough rye we were sold, but nothing could have prepared us for our chance to see baker and owner Andrew Ritchie’s baking process which involves an enormous century old oven, binfulls of reclaimed jarrah, and absolutely no shortcuts.
The Woodfired Bakery
Around the year 1920, German baker Georg Rossbach had the oven built by the Australian company Metters Ltd. The oven is an enormous brick structure the size of a small bedroom, it is insulated with sand and closer resembles a brick shed than a contemporary oven. On the outside edge of the oven, metal reinforcing struts have bowed out from years of intense heat expanding the oven. For many years Georg Rossbach and his son baked bread while his wife and daughter became the first women in WA to deliver bread, riding a pushbike throughout Maylands and out as far as Balcatta.
The Rossbachs were interned on Rottnest island when the second world war broke out, and leased out the bakery. They returned after the war ended and sold the bakery not long afterward. The bakery was sold several times thereafter and it’s last owner, Ted Aldridge, retired and shut up the bakery in 1967.
Experienced in using similar ovens, and disappointed to see more and more wood fired bakeries shut up shop, in late 2010 Andrew Ritchie decided to look for a wood fired oven of his own. He figured a bakery wouldn’t show up too far from an old city centre, and so wouldn’t be far from the train line. Being from Darlington, he followed the Midland line, and after passing a few ovens which had been demolished or repurposed, he eventually stumbled on a cafe which were using their back room as a gallery space. In this gallery space was the oven Andrew had been looking for, and after striking up an agreement with the cafe owners and three months of restoration, Andrew completed his first bake in 2011.
Andrew spent some time baking for farmers markets and direct to wholesalers, he struck up a deal to sell his bread at the cafe which hosted his oven. But the end goal was always to sell out of his own place. This May, some 50 metres away from the bakery, the Woodfired Baker cafe opened.
The contemporary fit out of the cafe may be deceptive at first but the staff proudly detail the rustic process. The design of the shop was made possible by Andrew putting his trust into talented people, happening upon a craftsman and designer who both saw eye to eye with his ideals. The history of the bakery is detailed on the back wall of the bakery beside a large sepia tone picture of Andrew using the oven in it’s current state.
The biggest seller in the cafe is the bread, but amongst it is a series of beautiful pastries. There are no cronuts or fad foods in sight, but classic, well-considered foods done right. We’d be remiss, too, if we didn’t mention that the coffee, roasted by Pound roastery, was well prepared and delicious.
“Anything which is being added by commercial bakeries, is being added to speed things along,” said Andrew. His bread making process involves just four ingredients: Flour, Water, Salt and a wild yeast colony which Andrew has been cultivating since 1998. The process begins with Andrew and his team milling their own West Australian Rye, their traditional stone milling process leaves in many of the fibres and nutrients which are filtered out of commercial breads, resulting bread is not only lighter and more textural, but better for you.
In the early days of the bakery Andrew made everything himself and was “Running around like a yoyo”. Now putting out over 1,500 loaves a week, he’s been able to employ other bakers including Dimitri, his talented patisserie chef. Much like the breads, their desserts and pastries follow traditional methods with no shortcuts. You won’t find any cronuts or sickly sweet fad foods, just simple, rustic desserts done well.
In fact, when we asked about fad foods, Andrew’s rebuttal seemed to perfectly sum up everything we loved about the Woodfired Baker, and everything we look for in the producers we seek out: “You don’t need anything highfalutin or gimmicky, If you do things well, people are going to come back.”
Ministry of Clouds
Bernice and Julian are the winemaking duo behind the McLaren Vale label Ministry of Clouds. Having had "No relatives to leave us grapes we didn’t like,” they relish in the freedom to source grapes throughout their home in McLaren Vale, the Clare Valley, and as far as Tasmania.
Both self-professed control freaks, the name of their label comes from a motto and their own ‘life lesson'. Ministry represents the control they demand in their joint 30 years of winemaking and marketing experience. Control which is even more present when making wine under their own names. Clouds, which are ever evolving, represent the risk, their future, and freedom, and remind them that even under the most stringent conditions, grapes are always a bit of a gamble. The name Ministry of Clouds is their resolution to keep the certain and the uncertain in check with one and other, and "at the end of the day, to just have a glass of wine and relax.”
The Ministry of Clouds label came out in 2012 with six wines, a surprisingly large range owed to their decision to make a clean break and never have to divide their attention between working their own label and working for others.
Bernice and Julian
Friendly, camera shy, and hilarious. Bernice and Julian were the life of the party. Julian introduced their wines by saying that “Everything we show you tonight is funded by a mortgage on our house," and, "Our dog back at home hopes you love it.” We did.
Bernice told us that before working together, she and Julian had made “Quite fierce competitors,” in the wine industry. The two were frank about a lot of debate going on in the process of their winemaking together, all in order to ultimately come out with the sort of wines they are proud to sell and love to drink.
Something which both Bernice and Julian stressed was the relationship between wine and sense of place, they spoke about the soils, climate and elevation of the numerous vineyards from which they sourced their grapes, and found themselves fond of the tendency for old world winemakers to celebrate not who made their wines, but where the wines were made.
While their grapes come from different locations, their wines all show a similar desire and direction and each of the wines we tasted were acid-forward, light, complex and dry enough that each sip had us ready for the next. They stood in stark opposition to the number of blubbery, ‘shapeless' wines which can come to dominate Australian wine stores.
This Grape To Glass kicked off with their Riesling, a punchy, citrusy number which we couldn't get enough of. Julian told us that riesling was a very transparent grape which shows you where it’s been grown. Because of this they are sure to only pick as high quality fruit as they can get, and from vineyards they are very proud of. In this case this includes one very old and high grown Clare Valley vineyard they are particularly proud of, and from which they take the entire crop.
Moving onto their reds, we began with the Grenache, "Grenache delivers what Pinot promises" said Bernice, before adding "I have to be careful saying that in Victoria, because they do some amazing Pinots." We found the Grenache full of refined berry flavours, both was subtle and beautiful. We followed with their Tempranillo Grenache, a light, chuggable blend which we could see ourselves drinking all night. Bernice told us that they often work backwards from wines that they love, and this particular blend was born of a holiday in Europe and one particular night of drinking gin and red wine until the early morning.
We finished the night with their Shiraz. Unexpectedly refined and subtle, we were taken back to when fellow South Australian Winemaker David Bowley of the Adelaide Hills distinguished his wine as "Not your dad's shiraz," and indeed this too had none of the boisterousness which has come to define so many run-of-the-mill shiraz wines. A portion of the grapes which form this wine were grown in the couple's own recently acquired vineyard, the dry grown, low yield, high intensity vines are from their acquisition which they "Couldn't make it taste juicy and ripe even if we wanted to," are blended with Blewitt Springs Mataro grapes which sit in a deep sand and provide fragrance and lift.
Grape To Glass
We spent this Grape To Glass event in the laneway whiskey bar Helvetica. We've always loved the brilliant Scotch selections and the dim, moody lighting at Helvetica, and were delighted to be taking over the upstairs area for an intimate wine tasting. The staff were lovely to us, and the food delicious. We had nothing but good times.
This was the penultimate instalment of this round of Neighbourhood Event Co.'s Grape To Glass series. We finish off with LS Merchants at Young Love Mess Hall on September 21st. We hope to see you there!
See the rest of our coverage of Grape To Glass.