Dan Wright is the nomadic type, living a life that’s seen him travel far and wide searching for great surf and rolling snow covered mountains while absorbing the buzz of the local craft beer scene wherever he roams.
The owner and head brewer at South Australia’s Swell, he first came up with the idea of owning a brewery while on a two-year surf/snow odyssey through the Americas. The craft beer industry so impressed Dan over the course of his extended holiday that ideas of brewing beer under his own label were soon swirling.
So, with notebook in hand and time to plan on the extended bus rides between surf breaks, he soon had the right combination of enthusiasm and ideas to turn his dream into reality; once he arrived back in Australia, of course.
Upon touching down back on home turf, he set about fine-tuning beer recipes brewing in his back shed. And, once those recipes were ready to go, Dan turned yet again to his nomadic ways, brewing his beers across state lines in Mildura.
It was way back in 2010 when Swell’s first set rolled in across SA in the form of a lineup featuring pale, golden and amber ales and a wheat beer. The contract brewing approach was to continue for years too, far longer than most who’ve set out on that path.
After Mildura Brewery was sold in 2017, Dan instead looked to the rather more local Vale Brewing, where he invested in a single tank and settled in as a permanent fixture. Fast forward to 2019, however, and witnessing the craft beer industry gathering an unstoppable momentum and becoming a permanent fixture of its own in the country’s food and drink landscape, he made the decision to invest in a brewery and cellar door of his own a short drive away in McLaren Vale.
The 16-tap venue is set on a family-owned vineyard on Olivers Road. The vineyard views stretch all around, with a giant underwater mural offering a nod to the brewery’s surfing name and its founder’s passion.
The brewery and venue share the same giant shed, with punters able to look in on the brewing magic via windows on the mezzanine floor. There’s plenty of seating both in the downstairs bar area and on the mezzanine. Or, if outside is more your thing, there are two options there as well. From the upstairs patio, punters can drink and eat while soaking up the picturesque wine country vistas; downstairs, kids are free to burn off energy on the lawns while families and beer tourists picnic on the grass or at high tables.
The taps pour all of Swell’s core range beers as well as a constant rotation of limited releases, which typically takes in fruited sours, a variety of different IPAs and a collection of stouts. To help soak up the booze, the kitchen offers a simple, but tasty, burger style menu, with cheeseburgers, fried chicken burgers, loaded fries and the like gracing the menu.
Helping Dan brew the beers is Shane Parkes, who draws his brewing experience from many years at Vale. It’s a lineup of beers that’s remained consistent over the years, with the longstanding Golden Ale claiming Best Australian Style Pale Ale at the AIBA awards in 2016, an award Dan cherishes.
In his spare time, Dan manages the family vineyard called Rayments block. It produces premium grapes that are sold to wineries including Penfolds and Wirra Wirra, while the pedigree for quality beverages runs through the family: Dan’s wife Corrina is the winemaker at Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards, also in McLaren Vale.
The Swell story might have started thousands of miles from home as Dan chased big waves on another continent, but now the brewery is part of an industry making big waves of its own and ensuring this popular SA wine region has much to offer the beer lover.