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Taking a creative approach to homegrown ingredients

Canefields Distillery's Dan Cook (centre) with Luke and Kylie Farrelly

Travel

Taking a creative approach to homegrown ingredients

SHIRLEY SINCLAIR hops aboard a Sunshine Coast hinterland tour that introduces food and beverage lovers to the stories behind emerging artisan products.

We’re having a private tasting of the latest offerings from a small-batch artisan producer, while surrounded by a splendid, contemporary residence on a sprawling rural property.

There’s excited anticipation on the undercover patio as the participants accept their first drink – some lifting their glass toward better light before taking in the aroma of the liquid and, finally, imbibing the delight within with a generous gulp. Soon, all conversation ceases in reverence to the passionate craftsman, as he begins addressing us on the unique process of his work – complete with tasting notes.

It may sound like an exclusive wine-tasting experience but instead, we are being introduced to Shane Kent’s Wild Barrel beer (wildbarrel.com.au) – specifically a pilsner, saison (French for ‘season’) and Wild Red Flanders red.

His limited-release, barrel-aged beer and wild fermentation project takes place in a large shed on site at Ridgewood’s Belli Beef working cattle property, which Scott Frew and his South African-raised wife Adele bought four years ago.

Shane and Scott are partners in the brewing company. But the fledgling brewing and beef businesses share a synergy that may not be apparent at first.

Although they’ve never been farmers, Scott, an entrepreneur and IT specialist, and Adele, a qualified chef, are passionate about regenerative farming practices on the 150ha property. As well as the grass-fed, ethically raised, carbon-neutral beef they sell direct to customers through their website (bellibeef.com.au), the couple has implemented a syntropic garden, among other measures. This syntropic garden mimics nature, growing mostly fruits on 0.6ha – some of which will soon be used to flavour the wild beer. Garden production is about a year away.

“A lot of people talk about sustainability,” Scott says.

“But sustainability is a waste of time, because if we sustain ourselves at this rate, we’re going to kill the planet anyway. So, regeneration is going to become more and more important.

“The practices that Shane’s using are almost regenerative: no chemicals, no industrial production.

“There’s care and love and attention in each of the barrels that he’s put down and it goes with the farm and the whole ethos of everything we’re trying to do.

“Everything that’s done on the farm is done to the slow foods-type way.”

With so much competition around Australia now in craft brewing, Shane wanted to stand out by pursuing his interest in wild fermentation brewing and barrel-aged beer. He says his work is “a beautiful blend of art and science” and a daily learning experience.

“All our beers are single-barrel batches at this stage. We get about 200 bottles out of each barrel,” he says.

“Our beers are a nice mix between a wine, beer and cider – using fruit, using wild yeast, using the barrels.

“All of my beers are really dry but they’re quite smooth. I attribute that to the barrel-ageing process. It takes off any harsh alcoholic flavours that might come through on some bigger beers.

“A lot of bigger beers are rushed through. We take our time with ours.

“They’re all numbered batches. We’ve done a pilsner before this one: that was Batch 1, and this is Batch 2. They’re different beers. We’re not doing a core range, more of a vintage.”

Shane says that ageing beer in barrels is a very old process.

“I guess I like the romanticism of it, to be honest,” he says.

“It’s a really traditional method that monks have been doing in monasteries for thousands of years and are still doing it. But I also just like the unpredictability of it. I’ve always liked doing things the hard way. I like the challenge. I like seeing things just play out. It’s time consuming and sometimes you’re tipping barrels out after three years.

“But I’ve learnt so much since I started this and I’m continually learning – reading books, finding blogs, and talking to people about it. I’m definitely no expert and I like that. I’m looking forward to the point where I’m like ‘this barrel should go’ and learning from that experience.”

These are the fascinating stories behind the labels and the brands that visitors on Josh and Deb Donohoe’s award-winning Creative Tours (creativetours.com.au)  thrives on.

Josh has brought the private tour group here for an afternoon celebrating emerging players in the innovative Sunshine Coast food and beverage/agritourism scene. His company specialises in offering a wide range of food and drink trail tours and authentic local experiences across the Coast, Noosa and hinterland.

Belli Beef’s Adele Frew

Creative Tours also will customise itineraries for private tours of the region to include stops such as Belli Beef, which are only open by appointment.

So, from west of Cooroy, we travel to Pacific Paradise’s Canefields Distillery (facebook.com/canefieldsdistillery/ and @canefields.distillery on Instagram), where Kylie and Luke Farrelly’s enthusiasm is on display for the rum, gin and sugar cane spirits they will produce from cane grown, harvested and crushed on site.

Along with cousin, distillery partner and cane farmer Dan Cook, the fourth-generation Sunshine Coast growers are not only breathing life back into age-old harvesting equipment and a 16-tonne crusher (“All the good equipment was sold off when the mill closed down,” Luke laments), they also are resurrecting a proud agricultural industry that once flourished in the region.

The Cooks (on Luke’s mother Marilyn’s side of the family) have been working the land here since the 1920s and his great-grandfather established some of the first cane farms on the Coast. Luke says his uncles’ cane farm can’t compete with others boasting hundreds of hectares, so the idea of distilling spirits offered a unique, boutique use and “the highest value that we can get out of this sugar cane before it goes through the front gate”.

“We want to make rum, and what the Brazilians would call Cachaça which is clear sugar cane spirit, and we’re also making gin because one of the problems with rum is that it’s got to be in the barrel for two years to be able to sell it,” he says.

“We’d love to see some return on investment before then, so we’re selling  gin in the meantime, which boasts our sugar cane.

“What sets us apart … there’s lots of variations in rum: what barrels do you use, do you char the barrels, how long do you age it? We have another level in complexity in that we get to play with the cane from start to finish. We’ve got 10 different varieties of sugar cane.

Some of the Canefields Distillery drops

“It’s a farm-first distillery. We’re whole-of-life cycle: we want to grow, harvest, crush, ferment, distil, bottle and sell all on site here.

“The sugar cane mill closed in 2003. There’s not much to do with the sugar cane now. Some of the farms up the road grow their cane just to sell it for mulch, which breaks my heart. But we’re growing cane to make rum, which makes me happy.”

Tour experiences now take visitors into the shady rows of sugar cane before they learn more about the paddock-to-bottle process and have a tasting.

While she comes from a hotel management/paralegal background, Kylie’s passion for distilling is palpable as she explains the involved process and steps us through the tasting notes for her Australian dry gin, sugar cane spirit, seaweed gin and seasonal (local strawberry) gin. But the head distiller confesses that the sugar cane spirit “is probably my favourite product”.

“It comes from the sugar cane here. It gets crushed, we wild ferment, we distil it twice and then we dilute it down to 40 per cent – that’s it,” she says.

“We don’t add anything extra to it. We don’t do any other processes with it. That’s what we’re all about. Trying to do less with what we’ve got and really showcasing our cool product itself. (The sugar cane spirit) is an un-aged rum. We have this at the moment ready to go into barrels. Then in two years’ time, this spirit will become a rum and take on all the flavours from the barrel in the process.”

The unusual seaweed gin, Kylie says, “has been on my mind for 10 years” and will be the ‘yin’ to the ‘yang’ of her planned navy-strength gin.

Luke says the ultimate aim is to support rum-making on the Coast and in the southeast of the state because “Queensland should be more famous for rum than anything else”.

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