High Country Hops is Bridge Road Brewers' annual celebration of the hop harvest in Victoria’s High Country. Each year, the festival invites the region's brewers to showcase their beers, including those brewed with hops rushed straight from bine to brewhouse.
For its fifth iteration, Bridge Road founder Ben Kraus decided to extend the invitation a little wider, inviting a few brewers and a winemaker to the Beechworth brewery for a collaboration and beer camp. Well, Beer Glamp to use its official title, to avoid any confusion with Sierra Nevada's annual event.
“It’s an opportunity to get some different minds and people together to collaborate on some beers," Ben says, "and it’s a little different to how a normal collaboration might take place."
Those invited to glamp in yurts set up in the historic town are winemaker Patrick Sullivan, Sam Hambour and Duncan Gibson from Hop Nation, and Topher Boehm from Wildflower. Ben says he invited them to the brewery not just because he was a big fan of what each does, but also because he figured they’d bring unique ideas to the table.
“I’m really keen on what Topher’s done and how he goes about what he does,” he told The Crafty Pint. “I think what he’s doing is kicking off a whole raft of people doing similar things.”
He also believes Hop Nation approach brewing in their own way, whether through the Footscray operation’s Site Fermentation series of blended beers and wines or the terroir-focused Market NEIPA.
“The Market beers are a really good take on how to engage with their environment, even when you’re in an urban environment,” Ben says.
Everyone taking part in the camp is either a winemaker, a brewing ex-winemaker or a brewer who makes wine too, yet the beers they conceived together are notably lacking in grapes.
“There’s no pre-written script of what beers we are going to make," Ben says. "It’s more, 'Let’s talk about what we have been thinking about doing and what we haven’t done before.'.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about not starting with what we need to make, or what we need to sell, but more focusing on us catching up and spending time together into a certain place.”
The two beers, which will be released together, are contrasting: one loud style versus a more restrained beer. On the first day,they brewed a New England IPA loaded with two experimental Kiwi hops, 4336 and 9009, plus Australian Galaxy and Vic Secret, then fermented with a mix of Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces strains.
By comparison, the lager created on day two might seem far more straightforward but it does help capture what the collaboration is all about: showcasing beer's provenance. The malt bill is mostly made up of Voyager’s Schooner malt, with some raw spelt in there too, with the East Kent Goldings hops freshly picked from Ben’s backyard.
In agreeing to be part of the first Beer Glamp, Patrick was keen to get this sense of location across in the beers.
“With brewing it’s all about artefact, about what you do, rather than a time and a place or a season,” he says. “I’ve been trying to bring the perspective of being less like that and bring it more towards what we do in winemaking.”
Patrick says it's been a learning experience too.
“It’s about what you take away from it,” he says. “Talking to people from a completely foreign discipline that bring these ideas to you.”
High Country Hops runs on March 30 and 31 at Bridge Road Brewers.