A beer from a small Marrickville brewery has won the first-ever Drink Easy awards.
The brew beat out more than 1500 other beverages – everything from spirits to wine to kombucha – to take out the top spot. It also beat out many other beers, including more traditional lagers and stouts.
St Phoebe is a wild-fermentation beer, meaning it’s made using naturally occurring yeasts (those indigenous yeasts are found in bush cuttings and from trips around rural NSW). That fermentation process creates a lot of variation and unpredictability, resulting in beers that are funky and sour.
The St Phoebe – which Drink Easy’s Mike Bennie tells Broadsheet is “straight-up delicious” – is made by fermenting raspberries and aged beer together for three months.
“The focus [when making the beer this year] was to balance acid and fruit flavour,” Wildflower co-founder Topher Boehm tells Broadsheet. “So when you think about raspberries, it’s quite a tart fruit, there’s a lot of acid, that’s what makes them delicious and refreshing.
“Most of the barrels were over one year old. That helps the acid in our beer become much more creamy and more-ish, rather than sharp and acidic. We needed something that would temper the raspberries. Something that would express that fruit in the best way. It’s just tasty.”
Like all of Wildflower’s fruit beers (the cherry St Thomas, the grape St Florence), the St Phoebe is named after a child of one of the two co-founders – in this case, Chris Allen’s daughter. It was released in August, her birthday month.
“She has bright-red hair and is a bit of a firecracker, so we had to give her something quite bold,” explained Boehm.
The Wildflower team entered a number of beers into the awards, mainly as a way to get feedback on the beers. But Boehm tells Broadsheet he understands why St Phoebe took out the top prize – it’s literally a beer that “drinks easy”.
“It’s not too highly carbonated, the acid leaves a fresh flavour, the fruit is really supple. I like to think it’s an evocative beer, it makes you think of summer afternoons.”
While Boehm says he doesn’t have a problem with traditional drinks awards – “I do what I do and I go on my train” – he explained in an Instagram post today that he thinks Drink Easy is a refreshing addition because it reflects a new paradigm and overall culture shift in how Australia drinks.
Most conventional awards are bureaucratic white-lab-coat affairs, where points are taken off for “faults”. Drink Easy is trying to reflect what we drink in Australia now, and how we drink it, and that means it welcomes non-traditional producers – such as those making natural wine, wild-fermented beer, unfiltered spirits and non-alcoholic drinks. Those producers tend not to fare as well in mainstream competitions.
“The Drink Easys are not about judgement ... not about critiquing drinks for what they are not, how well or poorly they fit into a pre-determined set of rules,” Boehm wrote. “They are about recognition, seeing the value in things for what they are ... and celebrating their inherent value. They don’t exclude drinks based on what they add or don’t, if they are traditional or progressive. They let them all in ... and evaluate them for how they turn up. How they taste.
“Our beers do okay, they’re difficult to sell in a traditional beer competition because they don’t fall into any one category,” Broehm explained to Broadsheet. “I had heard of the [Drink Easy] awards and wanted to support it in its first year. Reflecting on it later, I’m coming to the realisation that this was something a bit more than a drinks ceremony.”