For those of us who don’t live there, a spin in the Adelaide Hills is often followed by a self-inflicted arse-kicking.
We rue not having returned sooner.
And the evolution of this undulating track happens as you watch – and taste.
For fine drinks lovers, it represents fertile, sacred ground. The region stretches out from Birdwood and Mount Pleasant in the north-east down through Lobethal and on to Uraidla, Oakbank, Hahndorf, Balhannah, Mount Barker and Mylor at its middle, and yawns south-east through Clarendon, Macclesfield and Meadows, finally tipping out at Mount Compass.
Its infinite sun-dappled corners, flora, fauna, fresh air and fascinating producers are a given. But the Hills’ most consistent trait is a quiet confidence. And through old-time respect for provenance, some lost traditions are new again.
“I’m somewhere between Germany and America,” Mylor farmer and brewer Stuart Binnion, of Fresh Hops Co-Op says.
He’s talking about the stunningly aromatic rhizomes on his four-acre solar-powered plot. But his reckoning fits all the Hills’ diversity.
In Lobethal, Bierhaus owner/brewers Alistair Turnbull and wife Rosie are in their eleventh year of returning beer history to the town, as well as employing 23 people at the brewery/restaurant.
Alistair honed his skills in America after a career in banking. Their story is overseen with a knowing gaze from Friedrich Kleinschmidt’s portrait in the brewhouse. He emigrated to South Australia in 1837, built the town’s brewery in the 1850s, and had hop kilns and teams of pickers. In the old picture, he holds hop cones that can still be found wild in the Hills more than 150 years later.
Other German entrepreneurs, Frank Samson and Corinna Steeb, raise eyebrows with big-hitting flavours in Prancing Pony beers at Totness, adjacent to Mount Barker. They are world-beaters since winning Supreme Champion for their India Red Ale at London’s International Beer Challenge in 2016.
Their mark-making is being continued by a younger generation. Ewan Brewerton, of Mismatch Brewing Co., is part of a new union with Ashton Valley Fresh Juices, The Hills Cider Company, and another world-beater Sacha la Forgia (78 Degrees gin), of Adelaide Hills Distillery, all based near Nairne. Their massive, interactive farm project is set to reinvent statewide drinks tourism.
Longtime Lenswood collaborators, generational apple grower Michael Stafford and awarded cidermaker Warwick Billings, have made waves for years with Lobo bottles from mild to mad. And their apple brandy? Frickin’ heck!
Over at Hahndorf, names were made on steins of German beer in town and at Grumpy’s Brewhaus at its edge. Now it’s also home to Gulf Brewing and Ambleside Distillers. Gumeracha has Applewood Distillery. Basket Range has Wicker Man Cider. Verdun has Sidewood cider. Houghton has Rusty Bike cider…
In Balhannah, Left Barrel brewer Brad Bown is bringing back the ancient speciality of barrel-fermented beers – sours, seasonals and session ales.
And now Uraidla dares you to make a day of the town. Hit the Uraidla Brewery and bakehouse for a late breakfast, a local spin for some beaut scenery and back to the adjoining eclectic renovations of Uraidla Hotel for long lunch and ripper tap beers, including its own.
Yeah, the Hills are alive. And, yep, there’s more goodness to soak in. Taste in moderation – but go back often.
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 @beerjourn
What’s your favourite South Australian brewery? Let us know in the comments, below.