Mike Bennie fills his glass with the best local beers, ciders and spirits.
Inspired by the delicious. Produce Awards, Mike Bennie celebrates the artisan stars of Australian drinking.
IT WOULD TAKE just one look through my beer fridge or liquor cabinet to see that Australia’s brewing and distilling industry has never been in better shape. I’m excited about fermented, distilled and brewed products of distinction with a focus on locally sourced produce, native botanicals, organic grains and foraged ingredients. There’s a burgeoning cult of producers doing just that – creating things I like drinking at home.
It’s a cultural shift and enthusiasm that has resulted in widespread interest, with breweries and beer brands in Australia doubling from around 200 to around 400 in just five years, and a headcount of more than 100 distilleries now serving up local gins, whiskies, rums, vodkas and exotic spirits.
Once seen as cultural cringe or sideshow to the megastar imports, Australian beer, cider and spirits are firmly on my radar, celebrated at my parties and picnics, in my nightcaps and cocktails. I’m particularly interested in those that fit the same kind of ethos as that celebrated by the delicious. Produce Awards, by raising aloft exceptional produce from the paddock, the dairy, the sea and the earth.
BREWING Beer and cider in Australia are thrilling. From gypsy-styled operations eking out small batches of creative, wild brews to the regional breweries who champion locally grown grain, there’s so much exciting drinking. As an inner west Sydneysider, I’m spoiled for choice, with Young Henrys a short stroll away, Grifter a slightly longer one, and Batch, which champions base ingredients from NSW farmers, a power walk away.
I’m liking that breweries have found a better balance in experimentation, with more judicious hop use to help drinkability, and a curiosity about wild fermentation and sour beers increasing the gene pool of brews. Wildflower Brewing & Blending is one of those stars, also in my ‘hood and brewing incredible beers, full of character and interest, from foraged yeasts. Extrapolate these sorts of examples across Australia and you’ve got a potent selection for the Produce Awards’ ‘In The Bottle’ selection, and that’s just beer.
Cider producers are growing their own, exploring the unique personalities of not only our well-known-and-loved eating apples such as Pink Lady or Granny Smith, but the English cider varieties like Yarlington Mill, Breakwell, Foxwhelp, Dabinett and Tremlett’s Bitter. Organic farming, as Willie Smith’s champions in Tasmania, is a breakthrough, and an encouragement for bettering existing, already-high-standard ciders.
DISTILLING Australians were once content to chase down the latest labelling of fancy, imported spirits. We had our bling-bling vodka endorsed by rap artists, our gin from prestige UK distillers, our fancy-pants single malts from Scotland. Big-name producers did lead the way in Australia with rum, but the currency is now in small-batch, unique distilleries with a sensitivity to their environment and a pursuit of character.
Woven into this uprising is a seemingly boundless interest in celebrating native Australian ingredients. Distillery Botanica sources from their botanically rich garden; Mt Uncle Distillery produces their Botanic Australis gin using only native herbs, fruits, roots and flowers; while Daniel Motlop and family of the Larrakia people now forage ingredients from their land, and produce their own gin enhanced by Australia’s natural bounty.