First published on 13 Jan 2012. Updated on 13 Aug 2012.
Sprawling vineyards, award winning shiraz, breathtaking scenery – all things that come to mind when you think of the McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia. But what you may not know is that lately McLaren Vale has also been producing some great craft beers.
For the last 12 months Jeff Wright has been heading up the brewing team at McLaren Vale Beer, formulating and brewing some unique and complex boutique amber draughts.
Originally a viticulturist by trade, Wright was growing grapes for McLaren Vale wines when he decided that beer was where his heart lay. "I've been home brewing for quite a few years… I suppose it's where the passion was".
He doesn’t hesitate to admit that beer crafting was also where the cash was. "I decided to lean towards an industry on the increase. I can see [the craft beer market in Australia] being in quite a rapid growth phase, following on from the US and New Zealand markets."
And he seems to have a knack for it. Not even a year after Wright joined the team at McLaren Vale, two of their four brews are being made to his own recipe - the Vale/Dark, which is an American dark lager, and Vale/IPA, a hop-dominated Indian pale ale that Wright describes as a 'tropical punch bowl' of a beer.
You may be familiar with the Vale/Dry, Australia's first unfiltered dry lager, or the Vale/Ale, McLaren Vale’s most popular draught, and if you're lucky you'll get a chance to try a fifth brew that is having a limited release from mid-January. Vale/Wit, a Belgian wheat beer with hints of orange and coriander, is the first of its kind according to Jeff. "There are a few Belgian wheat beers out there, but none that have a large presence in the craft beer market in Australia."
While there isn’t anything wrong with drinking mass-produced beers, Wright says there's more passion and love going into craft beer than what's produced by today's 'megabreweries'.
"A lot of the large brewers have more of a factory process, while a boutique brewery will stay small and show a little more love to the whole process. There's more time and care involved, compared to what the big guys put out."
According to Wright, a big part of what separates craft beers from the mass-produced brews is not taking any short cuts. At McLaren Vale, they like to start from scratch. "All our beers are 'all-grain beers', meaning we actually mash down the grains at the beginning to release the sugars that come from the malt, and add additional hops to give it flavour and aroma." A cheeky short cut that some of the 'megabreweries' often take is the addition of adjuncts - "Additional sugars, just cane sugar or corn sugar, gets added to beer, so it's pushed out quickly without the same amount of hops that we put in. Hops are pretty much one of the most expensive ingredients in beer. We'd rather put out a beer that's good and have to adjust the price around it, as long as it's within reason and our consumers are happy with it."
And the best way to enjoy a Vale/Ale? "I know some people like it out of the bottle, but pour it into a large glass and sit back in the sun. It's really a barbecue beer, so enjoy it with friends."