When you’ve almost lost your business to a dodgy roof, it’s understandable you might fixate on roofs from then on. So it goes for La Sirene co-owner Costa Nikias, who’s in the process of moving his brewery from Alphington to a new site in Reservoir. He hopes to restart beer production mid-July and open to drinkers in August.
“I walked in, saw the brand-new sawtooth roof and went, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” he tells Broadsheet.
In October Costa and his wife, Eva Nikias, opened their debut taproom at their old sawtooth-roofed brewery in Alphington – finally – after 13 years making some of Australia’s best wild ales there. Happy days. Until, less than three months later, asbestos fibres were found in two adjacent buildings in the industrial park La Sirene shared with 13 other businesses.
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The couple was locked out overnight by their non-profit landlord, the Melbourne Innovation Centre (MIC), itself leasing the site from Darebin Council. The taproom shut down indefinitely, along with the brewery itself.
“Council being council, and being totally risk averse, overreacted,” Costa says.
The landlord appealed to VCAT to get the tenants reinstated. And it worked. VCAT eventually let the tenants return after getting the all-clear from Worksafe and the EPA.
“On that day we got a letter from our landlord saying, ‘Hey! We got you back in, how good are we?’ Then a second email came three minutes later saying, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re evicted in 90 days,’” Costa says.
The couple considered giving up and shutting down the business they’ve spent the past 13 years building.
“We actually thought about bailing out, but I’ve got too much in my head I want to execute and play out,” Costa says. “And we’ve 200 barrels full of wild ales that have been there for years. We’ve got great stockpiles, especially the coolship beers, and they’re just wonderful and pioneering for this country. So I thought, ‘Nah, we have to keep going.’”
The new site is in better condition than Alphington, and wonderfully devoid of asbestos. The roof is lower and sealed to the elements, making for a warmer, cosier space more in line with the wine-bar-serving-beer concept the couple was originally aiming for. Alphington’s barn-style doors, curvaceous French oak bar and padded leather stools will all be moved across.
The new layout also means the bar will sit within the brewery, rather than apart from it, making for a more immersive experience. At a separate cellar door, people will be able to book in for 20-minute guided tastings with four beers or so.
The most important thing, though, is not the building or how it looks, but its proximity to nature. Where most breweries in Australia ferment in sterilised tanks using a single strain of lab-grown yeast, La Sirene is one of a handful that open their tanks to the elements and rely on airborne yeasts and bacteria to gatecrash.
In Alphington the brewery backed onto Darebin Parklands, a place with its own distinct microbiome, which Costa says gives La Sirene beers an equally distinct taste. At Reservoir, the 18-hectare Edwardes Lake Reserve is 150 metres in one direction and Merri Creek is 200 metres in the other. Costa suspects microbes from these green spaces will, over years and years, eventually replace the existing cultures living in La Sirene’s 200 barrels and subtly change the flavour of future beers.
“It’s a nice position,” he says, “to be closer to nature again and continue the story.”
La Sirene plans to open to the public in Reservoir in August 2023.