For a while, it seemed as though South Australia's beer scene was resistant to the change sweeping the rest of the country. Sure, it had a few well-established micros, was home to the country's largest independent brewer – the makers of craft beer before it was craft beer, Coopers – and could lay claim to one of the finest venues in the land in The Wheaty. But, while new breweries and beer bars were seemingly opening every week elsewhere, progress seemed much slower in SA.
Then, in 2013, we noticed a quiet buzz: a number of new breweries were opening or in planning. That quiet buzz became a steadily building crescendo as growing numbers of home brewers decided to follow their dreams, winemakers decided to get serious about beer, and brewers from elsewhere began eyeing up the state as ripe for their attention.
In that first category was homebrewer of 30 years Frank Samson who, alongside wife Corinna Steeb, opened the doors to Prancing Pony in the Adelaide Hills. Their original base in an industrial unit in Mount Barker combined brewery and venue in one, with the former effectively a massively scaled up version of the kit on which German expat Frank has been creating his home brews since the early 1980s. The kettle was heated by a giant flame burner rather than steam jackets with Frank believing this old school approach puts greater reliance on the skill of the brewer and allowed him to create greater caramelisation in his beers.
It's an approach that gave the brewery their battle cry as Australia's "favourite fire brewers". And also one that did their beers no harm at all as Prancing Pony's colourfully presented range quickly proved so popular enough to justify a move to a larger site and, ultimately, installation of a high-end German brewhouse. What's more, they've picked up a few gongs along the way too, notably for their India Red Ale, which counts a Supreme Champion beer title at the IBC in London among its titles.
The Prancing Pony name comes from the horse on Frank and Corinna's land (one of many, many animals they keep) he was watching through his brew shed window when trying to conjure a name for the brewing company; it's a nod to the inn in The Hobbit too. As for the venue, it's as colourful as their beers, with toy ponies peering out from a wall of beer cartons over a beer hall style setup augmented by separate dining / tasting room and outdoor seating that brightens up their industrial surrounds.
One could be tempted to imagine that a couple deciding to follow a dream and launch a brewing business after three decades in other careers (Frank was a physicist and chemical engineer; Corinna worked in medical science and then marketing for startups) might take things easy and treat it as a hobby. But, as the impressive speed with which Prancing Pony was established and then grew, it's far from the reality here.
The Prancing Pony Brewery is 100 percent Australian owned and naturally, growing the business involves a dedicated team of individuals, including co-owners Paul Smith and wife Jessica. Paul, with his trademark "engine cap", is largely responsible for the placement of the ponies in significant venues such as Jamie’s Italian in Adelaide and also loves taking pictures of food and venues, then peppering the pictures across a range of social media platforms.
For all the polish, however, there's still room for some old-fashioned innovation. When they decided to move some of their beers into cans, they split their existing canning line in two – one side for bottles, one for their brightly-skinned cans. The latter didn't allow the requisite angle to allow the empty cans to file onto the belt via gravity; the solution? Three handily-placed vacuum cleaners...