Assembled at the bar of Young Henrys in Newtown is an exuberant bunch. A talented selection of Sydney’s drinking and dining scenes, they’re here to brew a single-batch beer to be offered on tap at Billy Kwong Potts Point. When Kylie Kwong opens her new and expanded Chinese eating-house in December, the Quandong Saison we’re making now will sit, momentarily, on a dynamic and ever-changing drinks list compiled by 121BC sommelier Giorgio De Maria. It will feature not only bespoke beer, but collaborative wines and gin, too. New business partner Andrew Cibej’s (121BC, Vini, Berta) advocacy of natural wines will also complement Kwong’s focus on sustainable local and organic produce.
Today, Kwong is joined by De Maria, Young Henrys’ brewery manager Samara Füss, director Richard Adamson and sommelier at Billy Kwong, Nicola Calvert. As we move through the bar to the foot of the brewery, we’re invited by Füss to get involved: there are hops to weigh, sugar levels to test. The sugary liquid we make today will be left to ferment and the fruits of our labour not revealed for another two weeks. But we’re told that from this process of kinetic energy, heat and noise will come a beer of delicate proportions, with a rich mouthfeel and a pink complexion.
The key ingredients chosen for this single batch come straight from the Australian bush, by way of Kwong’s wok. The quandong – also known as the native, wild or desert peach – is used often in duck dishes. “They’re tart and tangy and delicious,” says Kwong. And the second note, lemon aspen, “is bitter and citrusy and goes beautifully with pork belly.”
Füss is keen to find the ideal way of letting these fruits sing and applies playfulness and experimentation to the process. Because the quandong is dried, “It’s much more intense, so having it hydrate in the kettle or whirlpool will pull out those flavours,” she says, and “because the lemon aspen is so delicate I think I’ll put them in the fermenter – or maybe even the bright beer tank – just to pull out some of that citrus.”
A saison has been chosen specifically to help showcase these characters and is a style of beer originally brewed for field workers on Belgian farms, when a scarcity of drinkable water meant allocations of beer were all in a day’s work. “Depending on what was being picked that season was what would go in the beer,” explains Füss. “Coriander, lemons, oranges … It’s a really nice base that allows whatever they were adding to it to shine through.”
Those familiar with Kwong’s cooking will know that her use of bush food is entirely idiosyncratic and it is an area of interest shared by Young Henrys. “We’re focusing on what Richard’s very passionate about, too, which is Australian native produce,” she says, and Adamson agrees. “There’s an amazing amount of flavours out there that very few people have had the chance to experience,” he says. “By encapsulating them in a beer, which I think is quite an accessible format, hopefully people get to experience them.”
“It’s just a beautiful collaboration that’s in keeping with the whole essence of the new Billy Kwong,” Kwong says, smiling. She will have exclusive use of the first 500 litres and once it runs out on tap, Young Henrys will share the remaining brew with pubs around Sydney, until that too is exhausted. “I really like the fact that once it’s gone, it’s gone – we’re moving on to the next thing. I think that makes it even more precious.”
Billy Kwong Potts Point opens for dinner on December 12, 2014 at Shop 1/28 Macleay Street, Potts Point.