Flavours from the deep
Expressing and exploring the local culture and environment in beer
Photos: Sailors Grave
Monday 28 December 2020
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There’s something a bit magical about Sailors Grave Brewing, like the old mariners’ tales that inspired its artwork and, arguably, its whole outlook. Based in a formerly derelict butter factory, on the banks of the Snowy River in the township of Orbost, Sailors Grave is essentially a farmhouse brewery, run by husband and wife team Chris and Gab Moore.
In a previous life, the Moores were successful restauranteurs in the super-cool Darlinghurst neighbourhood of Sydney, before selling up and moving back to the far south coast to start a family. Their own brewery venture was always part of the master plan, so the pair spent several years taking short tours of the US, visiting rural breweries they admired and making careful notes.
This groundwork seems to have paid off. More than 200 miles east of Melbourne, Sailors Grave wasn’t exactly at the heart of the action, and launched at the peak of a flurry of other new breweries. Yet it managed to stand apart from the pack, catching the attention of beer lovers who are after something new and authentic.
Its beers seem to be a way of expressing and exploring the local culture and environment. They’re often unusual and, Chris freely admits, can sometimes be “challenging”, but always offer drinkers a layered, complex, nuanced journey of flavour and aroma.
The first beer in a long series of seasonal releases was a mandarin Berliner Weisse, brewed in collaboration with a local farmer who they got chatting with on Facebook, shortly followed by a saison using ingredients from Gab’s family farm. More recent projects include a collaboration with famed indigenous historian Bruce Pascoe, to create a dark lager brewed with roasted mamadyang ngalluk and burru ngalluk (grass seeds) harvested by the Yuin people.
“All our beers are hand crafted, and we’ve brewed a whole range of styles, really led by the array of farmed and foraged ingredients that take our interest,” he says. “We look for ingredients that express the terroir of this corner of Victoria; its agricultural and maritime history. It’s a shame you couldn’t come out here, because you really need to see the kind of pristine wilderness that we have on our doorstep here – it inspires us.”
And there’s plenty of history to draw on. The brewery takes its name from a local reef that has claimed many ships and many lives over the centuries, and spawned even more tall tales. This heritage resonates particularly strongly in the brewery’s branding, which is quite unlike anything we’ve seen before. Chris and Gab wanted something unique and naively romantic, so found a children’s book illustrator that they loved, after months of searching the internet.
Living in Cornwall at the time, Joe Lyward’s work already drew heavily on the sea, marrying a simple style with just a touch of sadness. It was exactly what Sailors Grave was looking for, so Chris and Gab flew him out to Australia, shared some beers and figured out the brewery’s whole look and feel (including designs for the first 20 beers). They’ve since started working with two additional illustrators, Melissa Castrillón and Alexis Snell.
The same striking style can be found on the façade of the beautifully renovated old butter factory brewery, which is now a firmly established local landmark. The very fact that Chris and Gab can look at a ramshackle industrial ruin and see a brewery, restaurant, barrel room and boutique hotel says everything you need to know about the strength of their vision, and their determination to make it real.
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