Mike Gribble is your new spiritual guide in the world of brewing – and a Fritz columnist to boot – and he’s talking us through the latest beer buzz.
Respect for the bees. It drives Tom O’Reilly to ferment the nectar that will have sippers buzzing, especially if you crave something cool that’s not beer, wine or cider.
His Sunlight Liquor, in partnership with beekeeper Eddy Collett, gives flight to a new rendering of the notion of terroir. It’s fermented in Tanunda but its key ingredient is winged in to hives all over the state: orange blossom from Renmark; gums red, blue and pink from the bush; and so many more. Each can, Sparkling Orange Blossom or Gums ‘n’ Roses, imparts a unique sense of place. Their subtle but engaging olfactory effect and surprising touch on the palate is so country fresh.
“It comes through sets of wings and pairs of hands and it’s hard work, with beekeepers travelling and camping out for weeks with their hives,” says O’Reilly, perched against his 20kg buckets of gold. “That’s why I try to do the best I can with the honey.”
Barossa Valley Brewing, where O’Reilly works in a trio of brewers on such awarded beers as Hop Heaven IPA, is a link in a chain of happy happenstance for the 28-year-old brewer. He and Collett, 29, both resonating on the wonders of botany as “plant geeks”, studied microbiology at uni in Canberra. Both drank O’Reilly’s home brew by necessity, and both set out on travels: one with beer, the other with bees.
But O’Reilly, working on the family beef cattle farm on the Northern Rivers, New South Wales, couldn’t ignore a gut feel. His father suggested a beer tour at Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood. The brewers dug his vibe and he started that week on the bottling line, moving to brewing, then the substantial and proud eco waste systems. Taking leave after two years to travel, he and Collett converged on a wedding where O’Reilly’s mead had Collett inspired as a “value-add” to his honeys and those of fellow keepers such as the Gilberts at Laura Gardens Beekeeping.
Later O’Reilly stopped at Cape Jaffa Winery to help on vintage. The Hoopers wanted him to hang around and design a beer, now known as the quick-selling Cape Ale. Next stop Tanunda, to develop his and Collett’s Sparkling Orange Blossom as a contract brew. And what timing – Denham D’Silva asked him to replace a departing brewer. Now its BVB beers by day (to pay the bills) and Sunlight Liquor by moonlight – for the love of bees and honey.
Mike Gribble (aka Beerbuzz) has journalismed for 30 years. From racehorses to rock and rum, he’s covered it. Two years ago he decided to stop shaving and really start living. And here he is at Fritz. He writes about (and consumes a lot) of beer. Find him on Insta at @beerjourno
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Photos: Naomi Giatas
Video: Aaron Nassau