Just before Christmas last year, we brought you news of a brand new brewing company in Australia that was preparing to release its first beer into the world. Since then, the La Sirène Saison has gone on to win praise from all quarters as a great Australian recreation of the classic European farmhouse style. When we spoke to co-founder Costa Nikias back then, he said their second beer was in development, but would be some time away. That time is now and, not only is beer two here, but it comes hand in hand with beer three.
The intention was to unveil their Wild Saison first with a Farmhouse Red Ale to follow later. However, after much tweaking, Costa and fellow brewer James felt they’d both reached readiness at the same time and, as of today, you can get your hands on them at Slowbeer and the Raccoon Club in Preston. The former features a slightly tweaked recipe from the original Saison – different hops, for example – and the addition of a strain of Brettanomyces to give it a wild, tart and somewhat funky character; the latter features a completely different malt backbone, but the same saison yeast strain they imported from Europe for their first beer, to create a beer that’s darker in colour and has a richer, sweeter malt flavour.
“We started working on the Wild Saison last November,” says Costa. “We’d seen what was happening in the US and had tried some [beers of that style] but thought we could do it better. We wanted to create a saison that was still balanced and tried a number of different strains [of Brett] and after two or three attempts worked out what level would be somewhat harmonious.
“The Farmhouse was a funny one as we started working on it in February before all the red ales started coming out. Coincidentally, the beer was ready now so we thought we’d release them together.”
Both beers are in keeping with their stated intentions from day one: that La Sirène would be a farmhouse ale specialist. All three beers are based on the same yeast strain they hunted down in France while developing their business venture, while plans for a fourth beer follow the same path, most likely a Biere de Garde.
“After I returned to Melbourne in 2003, Costa, myself and a guy from Portland, Oregon, started brewing together and for whatever reason we started brewing these styles,” says James, a micro-biologist who is responsible for maintaining the health of their yeast. “Before we started home-brewing together, we were drinking together and these were the kind of beers that we would normally be drinking – as much as you could get them in Melbourne back then anyway. When we started La Sirène, it made sense [to keep brewing them].”
As for his key role within the partnership – that of keeping their yeast strain happy and hungry – he says: “It’s like looking after a baby. You can’t forget about it and hope that it’ll be alright. I definitely call on my skills as a microbiologist to take care of the yeast and ensure fermentations are healthy. Breweries definitely need that skill or someone around the brewery with those skills to make sure everything works out alright.”
Since launching at the end of last year, they’ve increased their brewing schedule to every three weeks – and are still traveling to Jamieson’s Brewery to do so. They’ve refined the original Saison too.
“It’s about trying to master a few styles,” says Costa, who used to work for Bass Phillip in South Gippsland, home of some of the world’s most respected pinot noirs, before moving into the brewing industry. “Farmhouse beers are our babies. Coming from a wine background, I really appreciate the complexities and elegance that wine tends to display, especially in pinots. We are trying to bring some of that into our beer.”