In the old wine country of Orange, in the heart of New South Wales, Pioneer Brewing has started showing off its own brand of fresh, local produce, combining broad stretches of farmlands with a brewery. Situated between Cargo and Cudal, the team behind Pioneer has set out to grow its own barley, wheat, grains and rye with which to create homegrown brews delivered to locals straight from the land.
Swapping the mysterious depths of the ocean for the rolling Australian countryside was a natural decision for owner Pete Gerber (pictured below) when he saw an opportunity to turn his passion for homebrewing into a full-time career.
“I was working nationally and internationally as a subsea engineer and I was hounded by my wife to find a career I was passionate about and could come home [from]," he says. "We have a young family, I love farming, so I thought farming and brewing sounded like a great choice.
"In all honesty, I don’t think in the beginning she thought I would actually go through with this dream.”
Now open for business and living the dream, Pete and wife Tamara have put everything into running their farm-based brewery, with Pete's background in mechanical engineering coupled with his enthusiasm for making beer allowing him to turn his passion project into a full-time gig.
“[I was] a home brewer at different stages over the years," he says, "coupled with some short course training, however, probably more so, I loved travelling and visiting breweries, meeting people within the industry all over the world.
"My mechanical and engineering trade background meant the hardware and processes involved were just so interesting, hence researching and learning just was a really natural tunnel to head down.”
The latest in a small but growing number of farm-based breweries – see our article on Van Dieman's first estate ales –the plan at Pioneer is to cater to beer drinkers from all walks of life. One of the five beers released to date, their Amber Ale, is made with barley grown entirely on their land while others feature varying proportions of homegrown grain too. When asked about the dream of becoming fully self-sufficient, Pete says: “Very much so; that would be the dream.
"We are already tossing up what varieties will be planted next season. We intend to edge in this direction each year as we learn more about our production schedule and needs.”
Working with Voyager Craft Malt to turn their crop into malt for brewing was a no-brainer for Pioneer. Voyager has already worked with a range of breweries across the state – and elsewhere – including partnerships with Batch Brewing and Wildflower, the latter of whom recently created the first beer made with all NSW ingredients, Waratah.
Speaking of their fledgling relationship, Pete says: “When researching our options for malting, we got to know Stu from Voyager Craft Malt and the search was over. Located in regional New South Wales, running a family business much like ourselves and [they] are just great blokes, it was not even a decision to be made.”
He says their first hop crop is under way, they've got 250,000 litres of rainwater storage and, next year, plan to add another 285,000 litres of storage capacity.
"Then," says Pete, "we just need rain.”
After an unseasonably dry spring, he has a backup plan in place: “Our risk strategy if it is a dry year, pardon the pun, [is] we will process our drinkable on farm water. “
The farm is also set up to be environmentally friendly, with a steady increase in green energy use.
Pete says: “Within two years we intend to be using solar for as much of our needs as possible. We have twice as many acres of crops in at present than we did last year. Hopefully, the season treats us well in these final weeks before harvest.”
With so much space and raw material to work with, how far does Pioneer see its reach extending?
With plans to roll out the canned range nationwide, he says: “Most certainly, our vision is to supply interstate; we are focused on getting things right locally and crawling well before we walk.
"Our planning is largely about being able to manage quality and consistency and ensuring distribution channels work well for our product from Central New South Wales is key for us.”
As for the vibe in the taproom?
“Think farmhouse industrial, rustic and no fuss," he says. "Community is one our four business pillars; our core vision is for our local community and visitors alike to be able to turn up and engage in a conversation because it feels easy to do so. As a society, we have lost the village concept and our wish is to recreate that to some degree.”
Serving beer locally is important to Pioneer, and working to re-establish that community connection within their brewery is the first step. Breweries can sometimes face resistance when first opening their doors, but Pete and Tamara have enjoyed a warm response from the local community.
“We are humbled by the welcome we have received locally to date," says Pete. "Everyone we have come across locally has been encouraging, up for a chat about the project and we are really open to the brewery being part of our community's story and a location they want to share with their friends and family, a place where the locals enjoy visiting all year round.
“We are so busy as a society and we want our taproom to be a meeting place, especially for our local farming community, [the] broader central west New South Wales population and visitors alike. Our taproom will be surrounded by landscaped gardens and lawn areas and we are fortunate to offer the most amazing sunsets right from your bar stool.”
Pioneer Brewing is found at 339 South Bowan Park Road, Bowan Park.
About the author: Hannah Louise Grugel is a craft beer-loving, Little Hop-blogging writer living in Sydney.