There are few towns in Australia that seem as fitting a location in which to build a brewery as New Norfolk. The small Tassie town doesn't just sit beside the River Derwent but also counts one of the country's largest hop farms as a neighbour too: Hop Products Australia's Bushy Park home.
As a fifth-generation farmer, even from a young age Nigel Graham (or Nige to most) was long enamoured by the crop which is so closely tied to beer. In 2019, he finally convinced his friend, Elias Eichler, to start a brewery in New Norfolk, adding to the region's small brewing scene: Eleventh Order Brewery are also based in the town with farmhouse brewing pioneers Two Metre Tall found just down the road.
“Elias and I met over 20 years ago working on a blueberry farm down in southern Tassie," Nige told The Crafty Pint.
"Then we both went on separate roads of life, travelled lots and lived in different countries for a while.”
The pair of them reconnected around six years ago when Elias – who had been living in Norway white water rafting – caught the homebrewing bug and started chatting about it to Nige, who had been homebrewing for close to a decade himself at that point.
"We really rekindled the friendship over brewing and beer," Nige says. “Somehow I talked him into opening the brewery.”
The space they found for their new brewery is an impressive old factory that was once part of another famous part of New Norfolk: the Royal Derwent Hospital, which was originally called the New Norfolk Insane Asylum. It had operated as the hospital's repair workshop, with old mechanical parts still very much present when Nige and Elias moved in.
That was in October 2019, and although their initial idea was to focus on operating as a brewpub, the pandemic that was lurking around the corner meant they ended up releasing cans first, while working on the taproom whenever they could find the time, and largely doing all the work themselves.
“Our business plan became useless overnight but we commissioned the brewery and started to put the beer into cans in winter 2020,” Nige says.
“Having that lockdown enabled us to chip away at the building in our spare time, which did kind of work in our favour.”
They say patience is a virtue and Welcome Swallow certainly supports the theory as the mates have built a mighty fine taproom, one flooded with light pouring in through tall, wide windows. Most noticeable, however, is the sheer number of plants filling the joint – the venue is less plant-filled than plant saturated, with plants popping up wherever you turn.
Nige points out they're a good fit for the brewery: “They’re storing our carbon and they’re very happy; they make people happy too."
With Fresh Hop Festival returning to Tassie's home of hops in a few weeks – for which Welcome Swallow have brewed a hazy IPA featuring Eclipse and Enigma – we asked Nige to tell us more as part of our long-running Who Brews...? series.
Who are you?
My name is Nigel Graham. I was an organic farmer on our fifth-generation family farm here in the Derwent Valley. I am a self-confessed dreamer and idealist that hopes to get a hand back in the dirt one day. I spend my days cleaning, brewing, cleaning, daydreaming and getting distracted by people wanting to drink beer.
Elias Eichler is the other half of the Swallow. He runs a white water rafting company over the summer months and instead of sleeping he takes on brewery-related tasks. He is a no-nonsense realist that spends a lot of time behind a computer and driving while listening to podcasts.
Where do you brew?
We brew at the Welcome Swallow, which is located at 99 Ring Road, New Norfolk, Tasmania.
Why do you brew?
Firstly, we brew because we love it. The science, art and alchemy, the tears and the sweat! We are in pursuit of the Holy Grail of beers… it may take us a lifetime. The endless possibilities from grains, hops, yeast and processes is what keeps us excited as brewers and it's that motivation that has allowed us to brew pretty much a new beer each brew for the last 18 months. It’s a little scary to shoot from the hip each brew but it has taught us so much.
Another great inspiration to brew for us is knowing we will get to share our beers with the folks that visit our taproom. A lot of work has gone into creating a great space to forget the world's worries and have happy chats with old and new-found friends over a few delicious cold ones.
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
There have been plenty of beers that have increased my appreciation of beer but I think the seed of brewing may have been sown in my childhood.
Growing up in the Derwent Valley, home to the famous Bushy Park hop fields, I can still remember from an early age sitting in the back seat of the Fairlane, driving through boundless fields of these crazy plants, towering into the sky, and upon my quizzing being told they are hops and they make beer.
Growing up on a farm I knew apples made apple juice and oranges made orange juice… how on earth could those little green things make so much beer?
When my father was given a Coopers beer kit for a birthday present, I found it fascinating… He brewed one beer and it was really bad so the kit and bottles of beer were dispatched to the shed and forgotten… Well, not totally forgotten by my brother and I.
Many many moons later, I brewed my first beer in that same Coopers drum… the beer was a bit better than Dad's. And so it began.
Then after many many years, I somehow talked Elias into it… I told him it would be heaps of fun haha.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
It's local folklore of old timer farmers here in the Valley that the return arrival of the first “Welcome swallow'' is the first true day of spring on nature's calendar. Sometimes they are early and we get an early spring or a late spring when their arrival is late.
The name is a nod not only to my long agricultural roots and Elias’ nature based adventure background but also reminds us that beer is an agricultural product that begins its life in the soil of the farms. We love to support sustainable agriculture where we can and get a real kick from the raw ingredients.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
I think at the moment our fresh hop beer, brewed with Voyager organic malts and hops grown just 15 minutes up the road, would best represent our passions here at the Swallow.
Angel Tears, our Berliner Weisse style ale refermented on organic raspberries I grow on the family farm, would have to be up there as well… And all our hoppy beers – we love our hops!
If you could have any person in the world join you on a brew day, who would it be, and why?
Considering it's a brew day, I would love to have Shaun Hill from Hill Farmstead onsite to pick his brains… If he can't make it, Elias will do haha… we work well together.
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Our music choice varies immensely. It could be Nigel at the top of his lungs, out of tune and timing, killing 80s love songs, or as varied as Shpongle to Tom Waits and Tim Buckley or funk and soul to rock to trip hop and of course… Journey.
“Don't stop believing” is the brewery anthem.
But yeah… lots of singing.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
Mostly Welcome Swallow beers at the moment. I currently spend nearly every waking hour at the brewery and have no exciting bottlo options in the immediate vicinity. We did have a nice stash of Wildflower in the coolroom recently that went down very well.
I need to get out more!
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
I cannot comprehend choosing just one.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
Deeds' Into The Fray was a very enjoyable experience and I've had some nice beers from Range recently too.
Wildflower Table Beer blows my mind every time I drink it – there's so little alcohol yet it's so fulfilling.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
Definitely more barrel-ageing for both clean beer in spirit barrels and mixed culture concoction; we may need a separate space for those though.
Where can people find your beers?
The best place is on tap at our taproom or you can find us on tap or in can around bars and bottlos in Tassie.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
At the moment it's hard to look beyond the next couple of months but hopefully our brew length and capacity will be a little larger than it is currently. We would love for our taproom to continue to grow as a destination. We feel there may be a happy place: not too big but a bit bigger with better efficiency than where we are now.
You can visit Welcome Swallow at 99 Ring Road, New Norfolk. Find it and hundreds of other good beer venues in the free Crafty Pint app.
Find other Who Brews features here.