Sydney is a city that’s always in a rush. Pedestrians charge down the footpath like they’re late for an urgent meeting. Cyclists cut and weave through traffic like their lives depend on it. Cars rev their engines and honk their horns and show their impatience with every erratic lane change. Everything is high speed, high pressure, high stress.
Standing defiantly amid all of this is Slow Lane Brewing.
Like a rock holding its ground in the middle of a flowing stream, Slow Lane will not be budged by the world rushing around it. Owners Alex and Yvonne Jarman started the brewery to focus on European beer styles that benefit from Old World methods. They’re not averse to using modern techniques, or experimenting with different yeasts. But where traditional methods produce better flavours or a unique effect, they’ll stand firm. Even if they’re more labour intensive. Even if they take longer.
“We’re happy to be inefficient if it gives better flavour,” Alex says.
This might sound like a strange business decision (especially for two people from the world of finance). But when a brewery launches with a blonde ale styled on a Belgian single (an easy-drinking style rarely seen outside the walls of a Trappist monastery) and a saison that spent three months in a wine barrel with Brettanomyces for added complexity, you know they’re not interested in playing by the same rules as everyone else.
And the results speak for themselves - Slow Lane’s beers are popular with thirsty locals and farmhouse ale connoisseurs alike.
Inspired by Belgian brewing traditions, Alex lets his 1200 litre batches ferment for at least a month. And even when he’s brewing a clean beer with a simple flavour profile, he’ll generally leave the tops of the fermenting tanks open.
"We can’t prove it, but we think it gives better flavour in the beer. The yeast is happier.”
Even then the beers aren’t quite finished. From there, some will go into oak barrels and spend time developing more flavour complexity, and all beers finish with two weeks of can or keg conditioning for high carbonation and a longer shelf life.
“We’re trying to do things big breweries can’t do,” Alex explains.
It’s worth noting there’s nothing boring about being “slow” and “traditional”. While each beer takes a long time to turn around, Alex’s approach is all about exploring different styles, forgoing a core range in favour of trying new recipes and tweaking old favourites. At Slow Lane, the Old World is constantly getting a contemporary facelift.
Part of this is the modern approach to packaging. It’s not often you see a complex, barrel-aged saison in a can with a minimalist design on the label. Some people who wouldn’t dream of buying beer in a 750ml bottle with a cork will happily buy a four-pack of pastel tinnies from their local brewery, and discover a new (old) style in the process.
The brewery itself is a similar mixture of traditional and contemporary. Like many of its fellow breweries, Slow Lane is in an industrial warehouse space, albeit a relatively small one, with a tasting room due to open to the public in September / October 2020. But the stark white walls and oak barrels stacked to the ceiling hint at a beer cellar in Belgium. Alex and Yvonne have given the whole place a feeling of serenity and simplicity; they make the small space work.
This simplicity is also seen in the brewery’s branding: modernist, minimalist, geometric. It plays off aerial photography of the local area, which shows the circular tanks at Port Botany, the rectangles of the container depot, and the criss-cross of runways at Sydney Airport. The clean lines of the shapes in the logo carry an aesthetic simplicity, which points back to Slow Lane’s philosophy of brewing - getting back to basics.
Because at the end of the day, the months of fermentation and barrel-ageing and can conditioning are all done to produce something very simple: a beer to drink and enjoy.
It just takes a while, that’s all.