It is, without a doubt, the kind of thing that can elevate the small moments in life into something special. I’m talking about that period towards the end of a meal with mates: the food has been served and enjoyed and you’re relaxing around the table – talking, catching up, taking pure pleasure in each other’s company.
The food may have been perfect, and the barbecue might have been the ruse with which you enticed your guests over, but no matter how well you judged the time on the grill, how well matched the drinks, it’s the conversation that matters. The stress of cooking is gone, time slows down, and the world feels more relaxed.
It’s embracing such moments and championing what matters in life that lies at the heart of Melbourne’s Sobremesa Fermentary & Blendery. These are the occasions Casey Grieve and Hannah McErlane have always loved, which is why they chose Sobremesa as the name for their brewing company; while its direct translation is “over the table”, it refers to the Spanish tradition of relaxing after a meal, and felt like the perfect way to encapsulate their connection to the drinking and dining culture found in much of Europe.
While they launched their first beers in 2020, to understand the Sobremesa story you have to go back a little further. Given their farmhouse style beers can take many months to come to fruition, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but their origins can be traced back far further, along a path that suggests such a destiny was almost unavoidable for Casey.
He was raised in New Zealand’s most famous wine region, Marlborough, with his viticulturist father ensuring vineyards and wine have always been prevalent in his life. A passion for winemaking led him to study oenology – the science of wine – at university, but after moving across The Ditch to Melbourne, Casey moved into brewing at Bad Shepherd.
It was during the couple’s overseas travels that Casey gained firsthand experience in the kind of beers he wanted to make, however, and in particular time spent at Bar Hop in Toronto. The pioneering bar has introduced many to craft beer over the years, but for Casey it was the venue’s microbrewery – dedicated to saisons, mixed fermentation and blending – that captured his attention.
On returning to Melbourne, they set about putting their skills to the test and giving their passions a creative outlet. While Casey focused on the liquid, Hannah, who works as a nurse, channeled her love of photography and creativity into the brewing company’s marketing and branding.
For anyone who's a fan of small batch beers, Sobremesa operate at the smaller end of the scale. They brewed just 300 litres of their first commercial release, Our Daily Brett, which was followed by some 50 and 100 litre batches; at time of writing, Sobremesa releases tend to come no bigger than 500 litres at a time – all brewed at Kensington’s Bonehead, where Casey is part of the brewing team, before taking shape in a selection of French oak barrels.
Once they’re ready to be enjoyed, it’s unlikely you could want for any more information than Casey and Hannah share through social media or on their website. They happily provide in-depth details as to why a certain barrel was chosen, what malts were used, where they were sourced – largely Victoria’s House of Malt – or how much of an unusual ingredient was added and for precisely how long. It’s the kind of information people fascinated with barrel-aged beers like to devour; as fans of such beers themselves, they know just how much people want to understand the processes behind the liquid they’re pouring into their glass.
In comparison, their labels couldn’t speak more to simplicity, featuring artistic designs that catch the eye like well-considered tattoos. It’s a fair reflection of the beers, which typically present with a simple finesse – Sobremesa aren’t in the business of stripping the enamel from your teeth with waves of sourness.
Sure, each beer tends to be brought to life by multiple yeast strains and bacteria, and they tend to express funk and acidity too, but they’re also clean and fruit-forward, whether thanks to the use of Brett, hops or actual fruit. As such, even though the Sobremesa name refers to relaxing after a meal, their beers are just as suited to sipping in the park – for those who enjoy giving their palate something to work with, at least.
The acquisition of a canning line at the start of 2022 should also see their beers find their way into more such settings; it’s easier to set off for a picnic with a four-pack of cans than a couple of 750ml bottles, after all, and is a move that will help them on their mission to convince people that a can-conditioned, lower ABV saison can suit a multitude of moments.
The decision to call their business Sobremesa Fermentary & Blendery, with no mention of beer in the name, is a deliberate one too. The intention is to leave them open to exploring other passions in the future: natural wine, cider and fermented food. The hope is that, one day, all will be showcased under the one roof, alongside their barrels in their own taproom.
Good things tend to take time, and Sobremesa – whether we’re talking about the beers or the experiences that inspired them – are slow living proof.