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Head for the Hills

May 8, 2014
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Here is some simple advice for craft beer drinkers who have landed in the South Australian capital: head for the hills. The Adelaide Hills, to be exact.

Within easy reach of the Adelaide CBD, this area is magnetising. In addition to being a renowned food and wine region, the Hills’ winding roads take you through heritage-rich townships and past a series of picturesque, country-like landscapes.

But it is the sprinkling of first-rate microbreweries – three of which brew on site – that grab our attention on this sunny, Sunday afternoon. Their differing settings, layouts and beer styles only serve to pique interest.

Our starting point is Grumpy’s Brewhaus in Verdun, just a 15-minute drive from the centre of Adelaide. A huge corrugated roof with bright yellow paint that boldly announces the establishment’s name seems indiscreet, yet the site’s facade gives little impression of this being a boutique brewery. And a fine one at that.

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Grumpy’s Brewhaus

A spacious outdoors setting proves a welcoming way of lapping up the sunshine, but the interior is most striking, evoking feelings of an old English pub. A glance at the tap range and a chat to Grumpy’s Brewhaus brewer Andrew Schultz supports the motherland connection.

“Predominantly, I like the English ales,” he says, adding the brewery usually contains five beers on tap that change seasonally. The ESB is particularly noteworthy.

Since Grumpy’s was established in 2001, Schultz says there has been a strong increase in patronage – some of which could be put down to its relaxing atmosphere and reputation for producing delicious wood-fired pizzas. Yet, more tellingly, the former home brewer and Hills resident of 40 years has noticed that people’s “palates have changed so much” and there is a growing interest that is entirely fixated on the beer.

While the Grumpy’s range is currently only available on site, Schultz says he plans to introduce a bottled line of his beers in the near future.

Next up is Lobethal Bierhaus. Located in the pleasant town that shares part of its name (that’s Lobethal, not Bierhaus), this is a fantastic find.

Contrasting with the quiet interior of Grumpy’s, Lobethal Bierhaus features a spacious beer hall with a lively atmosphere. And it appears the secret is out about this place – at least to locals and Adelaide day-trippers – as it is a struggle to find a vacant table either inside or outside.

The tap selection is impressive: eight regular beers including a pilsner, pale ale and a porter combined with four specialty brews. Seven of the eight regulars boast awards, although it is the seasonal double hop IPA that earns the biggest praise on this occasion.

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Lobethal Bierhaus

Banker-turned-brewer Alistair Turnbull, who opened the site in 2007, has a simple method for his liquid gold.

“Basically, I just make beer styles I like,” he says. “I like to appreciate a full character-style ale…well balanced, drinkable and a good social lubricant.”

Turnbull says his products flow through 25 to 30 beer taps scattered around Adelaide, while more than 100 wholesale clients ensure the bottled range reaches a wider audience across South Australia. A push interstate is not out of the question.

To treat the taste buds even further, it’s well worth sampling the delectable food on offer. Turnbull attributes part of this to his banking career, which afforded him a decade-long stay in New York as well as a stint in London.

It was during his time in the States that Turnbull not only discovered an increased affection for quality brews, but also an appreciation of food and beer matching. It was his belief that this was a model that could successfully work in his beloved Adelaide Hills, which at the time was just emerging as a food (and wine) region. Today, Lobethal Bierhaus’ strong emphasis on sourcing local produce for its menu items plays a part in the success of its food, too.

Next up is Mt Barker, which provides an absolute gem in the form of Prancing Pony Brewery. This feels like a classic microbrewery setting: located within an industrial part of this thriving regional centre, it relies on superb beers rather than scenic surrounds to draw a crowd. And its beer selection delivers big time.

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Prancing Pony Brewery

Using a once-popular technique known as fire brewing, Prancing Pony produces a series of punchy beers, including an attention-grabbing India red ale.

Head brewer and part-owner Frank Samson says fire brewing is an old technique that greatly enhances beer flavour.

“It is emulating what pretty much every little village brewery used to do a couple of hundred years ago before electricity and steam generators; they just had a wood fire under their kettle,” he says.

“It has one nice side effect in that you have a much hotter surface in contact with your brew and that creates more of the caramelising reactions you otherwise wouldn’t get that strongly if it was steam jacket or otherwise heated.”

Samson says Prancing Pony adopted and maintains this brewing method to “differentiate ourselves a little bit from the rest”.

He adds: “And we do believe it gives us a broader, longer flavour in the beer without making it heavy.”

Having only been in operation for 16 months, Samson says the brewery’s distribution is largely limited to the greater Adelaide area, but there are plans to take the range interstate and even relocate its premises to keep up with demand.

Gulf Brewery rounds out the Hills’ crafty options and is spotted in the crowd-pulling town of Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest-surviving German settlement. While Gulf Brewery beers are not brewed on site – rather in a southern suburb of Adelaide – many quality products can be sampled fresh from the keg at its cellar door. And Hahndorf’s collection of vibrant pubs makes this the perfect end point for those who wish to kick on.

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2 Responses to Head for the Hills

  1. Marc Glassman on May 17, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Great piece. I’m planning a trip to the area later this year and it looks like i now have a few more beers on my to-drink list. I’m particularly intrigued by the fire brewing technique. I’ll definitely seek out Prancing Pony so i can taste the difference for myself.

  2. Chucky on May 8, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I must say the only pulling power SA has had on me has been for its magnificent wine regions, but after reading this I think another wine AND beer roadtrip is on the cards. And hopefully we get to experience some of these truly craft concoctions at a local bottle-o sometime soon.

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