Sailors Grave Brewing
The term ‘Craft beer’ in relation to Orbost, Victoria is not something many Australians may have heard. However, if we go back into the country’s blogs and Untapp’d records we discover some extraordinary results that provide a picture of what the people of the deep sou’ east, as well as tourists and travellers have long witnessed and enjoyed, and how it refutes the notion that Orbost was only a catchment town for regional macro brewery reps and the farthest flung rural reps for smaller breweries, lost and passing through.
When Melbournians and Sydneysiders began their classification of all the beer styles and varieties available to them, they decided that five activities signified the development of a taste for craft beer1: visiting local breweries, patronising (in both sense of the word) specialist bottleshops, talking endlessly about new styles and brands, tracking down and sampling non-replicable and unique brews from overseas for bragging rights, and evangelising their discoveries. But those of an urban-centric model of craft beer consumption may have missed some of the offerings coming out of smaller regional centres under the mistaken assumption that innovation, passion, skill and craftsmanship is somehow absent from rural communities.
Dating as far back as 2016, we see the people of Sailor’s Grave producing flavourful and exceptional beers from atypical, predominantly locally-produced and also foraged ingredients. From mandarin Berliner weisses, to grisettes, to sea urchin goses, they have certainly not shied away from exploring the space. Some Guy (probably) went on to say:
‘Fuck me, sea urchin in beer? And what the fuck is a grisette?’2
Their Dark Emu pours fizzy, a dark, coppery amber. The smell is immediately and unmistakably lager. There are echoes of doppelbock or Vienna dark lager, in the lightly chocolatey malts that round off the edge of the crisp, refreshing notes with an almost fruity sweetness, and the bitter finish of, well, a can of bitter. Most on display was a unique grain bill, comprised of some standard dark and lager malts, but also notably the mamadyang ngalluk (laughing grass in the original Yuin) and burru ngalluk (weeping grass). The maltiness was, perhaps unsurprisingly then, of most interest in the body of the beer. It had a grainy characteristic reminiscent of green grass, a herbaceous lightness not lent to the beer by the hops as might be usual, but instead these roasted native grains, added not for their useable sugars as with most malts but rather added to a full malt bill as one might add aroma hops. They seem to impart a slight fruitiness, like cranberries or cascara (coffee berries).
Put against the lightly dark malt backbone, which tends towards the nutty and the slightly sweet, in the form of brown bread or malt-loaf, it gives an impression of complexity very similar to a pour-over coffee, where roastiness butts up against vibrant fruitfulness. A drop worth a look-in on, and if you never read the book it’s based on, you probably should go do that too.
This was a very difficult review to do as a pastiche. To find the right tone – to not come across as condescending, patronising, racist or elitist was curiously difficult to do. To strike that balance – respectful of a great author and their important work, a great brewery and their work, and a beer I enjoyed frankly more than I expected to3 was more of a challenge than I expected, even as someone who would consider themselves to not exemplify any of those characteristics. Many an opening line was struck, only to be dashed out. More than a few opening paragraphs too were tortuously composed, only to be frustratedly deleted. It was a good reminder of the presence of privileged white guilt, as well as urban elitism, and offered reflective contemplation thereon. But I will say if, despite my best efforts, the post here smacks of any of those things, or seems to be in poor taste, I would like to apologise – such was not the intent of the work.
1) Citation definitely needed
2) What indeed?
3) I personally find dark lagers tend towards having the worst bits of both lagers and dark beers – not crisp enough to be refreshing, not rich enough to be satisfying, just sort of… *shrugs* meh