As a part of my honours thesis and for the love of all things worth eating, drinking, and experiencing, this is Savour SA - a friendly place where appreciation for quality South Australian food and drink abounds. Feedback is welcomed - heck, it's even encouraged! Some of it will be bundled up as part of my research. So, let us eat, drink, and be heaps merry.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Lobethal Bierhaus

I’ve lived in and around this smokey valley town for more years than I haven’t. It’s a few winding corners away from Adelaide CBD but as any Adelaide Hills dweller knows, these little villages are worth the drive. Lobethal isn’t as conventionally attractive as some of the towns (I’m looking at you, Stirling) but… I love it.

There’s only a few months each year where Lobethal isn’t cocooned in the smoke from wood fires. Usually March is one of those, but on this 16°C day, the smoke has settled in for the night. On descent into Lobethal, peering through the faux clouds, and just to your left as you turn up Main Street, you’ll find the Haus that Bier built.

Part of the old woolen mill complex, you can’t tell from the outside that this Haus is built by Bier. It looks suspiciously brick. This is because it is. To know that this is the Haus that Bier built you must go inside.

In the Haus that Bier built the ceilings are high, and on this particular Friday evening, so are the spirits. Despite the mass of space, the Bierhaus is cosy and downright chipper. Even the walls are warm in ale yellow and a green that's like moss growing on bricks, and are adorned with sepia prints. Empty stubbies and longnecks sit atop the walls like an earthy glass cornice. Massive shiny robot vats sit on the right, behind glass, and inside them is where the beer bubbles, and squeaks, and sleeps. It’s as fascinating and mysterious as Willy Wonka’s factory, except with beer instead of chocolate, and fun mature grown ups instead of annoying fat kids.

On smokey Friday my man friend and I were lucky enough to nab the prized couches by the fire. You can spend a lot of money here at the Bierhaus if you want to. There’s always something extravagant on the menu – like duck in sexy sauce, or a steak served with potato mashed by fairies. There are local pinots and blancs and other yummy drops. You can spend a penny, but you don’t have to. Often I’m just happy with the soup. Or salted chunky chips. Or dips. Or the fiery Buffalo wings in all their messiness. 

Hefeweizen by philsner, porter by stout, and ale by pale, the Bierhaus is built. And the Haus that Bier built houses some of the most delightful artisan beers in the state. They're clean, or they're vanilla, or they're malty, or bitter - these are drinks in glasses that clink, that live in the Haus that Bier built. You don’t have to be a beer-drinker to know that what the Bierhaus offers is good. And you don’t have to be wearing beer-goggles to see that the brewing bandits love what they do. 

While the fire crick-crackles, and the piano man plays his bluesy rendition of Colours Of The Wind (sans raccoon), you soon discover that it’s always beer-drinking weather when you’re sitting close enough to the fire. The Haus that Bier built? It’s the Lobethal Bierhaus - a quality establishment I unashamedly love. There's a small town charm to this big-flavoured brew Haus. And in my opinion, you should heaps hops to it. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Vinteloper Urban Winery Project (VUWP)

Past the soggy green parklands, past the jolly ol’ Garden carnies, past the line-up at The Stag, the smokers in the alley next to Cocolat, and well, well past the fat man with the flute you’ll find a cobblestone yard full of stuff.

Roughed-up Chesterfield couches, chocolate leather armchairs, and odd-bod teeny tables and crates are arranged in make-shift lounge rooms. A retired park bench, thirsty for a good oiling, sits snuggly in the corner, and admires all his other wooden chair friends that have been lovingly placed throughout the L-shaped yard. And the Vinteloper Urban Winery Project, all gritty and tousled and sexy, glows with the help of lit up lamp shades, and strings of globes enveloped by upside down wicker baskets. It’s the kind of eclectic décor you might expect at Aunt Mavis’ unit at the retirement village. Of course, that’s where the similarities stop (unless your aunt is a raging alcoholic who fancies making her own brew and then there’s probably a few more).

There’s plenty to see in Adelaide in the month of March – everyone knows this (except drunk Aunt Mavis). So why on earth would you bring your dirty, stinkin’ winery and set it up in an already culturally crammed East End? Because you’re a bloody genius, that’s why. At the VUWP, David Bowley is doing the Adelaide masses a service. I’m from a winemaking family so I’m lucky to have experienced the buzz that comes from vintage; the picking, the crushing, the blending, and the wonderful mess. Here, in the CBD, in this yard, Bowley has created a mini winery – a place where one can crush grapes until their hands and feet stain purple – and a cellar door – where there’s plenty of wine for the tasting, and bottles to buy and take home.

Standing in the entrance at 188 Grenfell St, looking past the first few lounge room groupings of pre-loved furniture, peering to the back of the yard, and just to the right of the bar, you can spot a few large, square white bins. It’s in these bins that grape juice is made with feet. On this particular night, however, in the holy glow of lamp shades, there’s no crushing, just savouring and socialising.

For 15 big ones you can get yourself 5 tastings. The friendly folk behind the bar hand over a tasting card; a little piece of stationery where ‘WOW!’ and ‘Hard work award’ stamps are used to keep track of wines you’ve tasted. The cards of patrons past are pegged to string and hung above the bar. So, you stamp your stationery, you take your tasting, and plonk yourself somewhere. The Vinteloper set up is all about the experience. Stamp by stamp and sip by sip there’s more to savour; the drop, be it cleansing, or rounded, or a punch in the face; the tunes, with the chill-out bass or big band brass; and the company, whether it’s your pal sitting across the table, or the hipster with the hat perched under the free-standing gas heater. And you sit on the couch and savour, then stand and stamp, and sit and savour again until you’ve simply had enough awesome for the night.

For the purpose of this blog, and as a nod to my philosophy of life, I find the process of tastings magical. Yes, it’s true - you can’t buy a whole glass of wine here at the VUWP. But get over it, Aunt Mavis. It’s not the point. While the chaps next door at the Cranker are getting sloshed, the patrons at VUWP are sober enough to enjoy everything this cobbled yard has to offer; not just the wine for trying and buying, but the funky furniture, the funny-looking wine making tools, the mood-elevating tunes, and most of all, the people they have the pleasure of sitting with.

It’s the project that plays hard to get; so mysterious and enticing that you’ll want to come back to taste more, to see more, to get some more damn stamps, and maybe just to sit and enjoy what is a rare quality experience. And chances are on the way back to your car, past the street spill-out from the pub, and the giggly friends dining on Rundle, you’ll pass a few drunks, and as they stumble and slurr, it’s quite easy to see that they’ve had their quantity. But you’ve had your quality, and in my opinion, that’s heaps better.