As the Australian craft beer world becomes ever more crowded with breweries, it’s increasingly difficult for new businesses to stand out from the crowd. Wildflower is one of the most unique to open in recent times.
Started by American expat Topher Boehm and Australian brother in law Chris Allen, theirs is not a brewery in the typical sense, in that it does not have the equipment necessary to brew beer. Their Marrickville warehouse is, instead, full of barrels. It is a blendery, and understanding how that works is key to understanding what Wildflower is.
Many – perhaps most – local breweries now dabble in some form of barrel ageing, but at Wildflower it is effectively the sole focus. And many – if not all – local breweries use yeast supplied by a laboratory, but Wildflower has gone au naturel: Topher travelled around New South Wales collecting and culturing wild yeasts, taken from things like flowers and bark, then propagated them over a number of years until he had something viable for brewing. That is the ‘wild’ part of Wildflower. It was blended with a Belgian saison strain and become the house culture, used to ferment all the beers. This is the one thing they have that will always, in some way, be different to every other brewer in the country. And it is the reason they have taken to calling their beers Australian Wild Ales.
Because they don't have a brewhouse, the base beer is made by their friends down the road at Batch Brewing before being transported back to the Wildflower warehouse. Next, the beer gets fermented with the aforementioned yeast and transferred into barrels where it is left to develop for several months. After the allotted time in oak, Topher tastes the contents of every barrel and blends the various batches into a finished beer. It is a complex and constantly evolving thing, to blend beer, with the amount of barrel stock increasing and developing different characters over time, meaning the possibilities for blending become almost exponential and the beer does not become the same thing in perpetuity, but a constant progression.
The Wildflower concept, and the beers they produce, is based on the methods of some of the great breweries of the Old World – in particular those around the Franco-Belgian border like Brasserie Thiriez – plus some of those on the cutting edge of the New World – such as Jester King from Texas and London’s Partizan. These are breweries where yeast is held up as the hero of the whole operation and the beer exists merely to serve it. Topher spent time working and learning at these places, being immersed in a specialised beer community and bringing their secrets back to Marrickville.
It is all manifested in just three beers: a gold, an amber and a table beer. The first two are the pillars of the barrel project and, while they have certain parameters they will maintain in terms of profile, they can be expected to change over time as the amount of barrel stock expands and ages and the yeast does whatever it is want to do. The outlier is the table beer which is bottled without seeing the inside of a barrel as it is a beer meant be drunk fresh; as such, the only place you will find the table beer is at Wildflower.
The warehouse itself has plenty of charm and a distinctly European feel; dating back to the 19th century, the old exposed wooden beams form a rustic skeleton which complements the wooden barrels while contrasting with the new corrugated aluminium walls. The repurposed wooden furniture completes the picture perfectly, which is little surprise considering Topher built it all that way with his own hands.
In keeping with the slightly unconventional and often slower pace of the Wildflower way, the warehouse is only open to the public on Saturday afternoons for tastings and takeaways. There are, however, opportunities to join Topher on a tour before the offical opening, which is as good an introduction to the experimental world of wild beer as you could want. In fact, if you’re not into beer, go to Wildflower with an open mind, take a tour and be prepared to fall in love with it. And if you already love beer, take a tour anyway. You may well fall in love all over again.
NB If you want to go deeper still, here is Nick's original article on Wildflower published a few weeks before they had their first beers ready.