The 2020 Indies awards will be memorable for many people for different reasons.
For those organising the event itself, the fact it was streamed from a production studio due to COVID ensured it was a far cry from your typical beer awards ceremony. For those winners dealing with lengthy delays on their Zoom feeds, it will have been one of the weirder ways to discover they’d landed silverware.
But there’s a very good chance nobody will remember it as fondly as the Galik family. And, equally, that everyone watching around the country will remember them fondly too.
Nick and Helen Galik had been running Cloverhill Hepburn Springs Accommodation for close to three decades by then, but had only started brewing much more recently. Nick did so on a tiny 200 litre setup and had only begun distributing outside their premises that year after engaging the crew at Barossa Valley Brewing to produce bigger batches of his Pale and Pilsner recipes.
He’d decided to enter his beers for The Indies during lockdown pretty much because, well, why not? As he told us shortly afterwards, he was proud just to enter, proud to be able to be part of the association.
When the moment came to announce the Champion Lager, they were one of the finalists left on the screen. Even then, it was clear that what this might mean didn’t dawn on mum, dad or the kids that had joined them behind their tiny bar.
As the host of the awards that year, I can safely say it hadn’t fully dawned on them by the time we’d finished chatting about their win either, a chat enlivened by faces that flitted between sheer joy and stunned bemusement, interspersed with a hearty smacker planted by Helen on Nick’s face as he tried to take it all in.
I was bush-camping close to Hepburn Springs the weekend after the awards so called in to say hi on the Sunday, and it was clear the shock had barely subsided. Helen welled up once more, Nick was practically speechless again. They’d been inundated with messages of congratulations as well as people wanting to know where they could find their beer (not many places)... you hear about life-changing moments; well, this clearly was one.
Arguably just as remarkable was the fact this wasn’t a triumph for some 30-year homebrewer who’d decided to take recipes honed over a lifetime into the commercial realm. It turns out it was only on a visit to the Sherlock Holmes in Melbourne’s CBD six years earlier, and a tasting of some of the English beers they imported, that his interest in craft beer was piqued. Years earlier, he’d given up on beer, unaware of the changes going on around the globe.
And piqued his interest sure was. Soon he was playing with homebrew kits and disappearing down the rabbit hole at a pace no hare would ever be able to match. That said, the results of early brews created with water from the spring on their property were, as he put it, “awful”, so he embarked on a Master Brew course with educator and consultant Vince Costanzo and was set on the right track.
From there, following an “expansion” to the 200 litre setup – “a homebrew kit on steroids” in Nick’s words – it’s been a never-ending process of improvement, following a path that couldn’t be further from current trends; certainly, it’s one that sticks far closer to the beers that set him on the path in the first place at the Sherlock Holmes.
Sure, there’s a pale ale and pilsner in the core range, but accepting he doesn’t have the equipment to make punchy, hop forward beers – or, indeed, the desire – elsewhere it’s more malt- and yeast-driven styles filling his dozen taps and fridge full of cans. If a lineup celebrating Irish reds, smoky browns, darker lagers and a variety of European wheat beers wasn’t already unique enough in the current climate, the fact Nick’s sweet spot for brewing seems to be between 6 and 7 percent ABV – even his ginger beer registers 6.5, yet is proving a winner especially among non-beer-drinkers – sets him apart again.
That said, while an appreciation for European styles marks him down as a traditionalist – other than a fondness for adding oats where you might not expect them – he’s also a bit of a stickler for playing by the rules. As Helen quips on one visit to their taproom: “He’s always whipping out the bloody BJCP style guide!” He’s also happy to be a stepping stone for people trying something other than mainstream beer who might then move onto funkier or hoppier styles.
A year on from that first visit, I called in again to see what had changed. They’ve been getting a few more of their beers brewed in greater volume with the East Bendigo Brewing Co. Both Helen and Nick have been hitting the road pitching to retailers. They’ve started showcasing local gins in their taproom so you can settle in for a beer or gin flight, or both if you’re not driving (remember, Nick doesn’t do mid-strengths, let alone light beers).
The taproom has had a refit too. Whereas at the time of their win, there was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bar on a side wall from which the taps protruded, now a long bar with two fonts of eight taps takes centre stage, while underneath they’ve built a dedicated cool-room.
There’s a bit more seating in front of the bar, while the outdoor areas – a few tables, chairs and umbrellas out front, balcony seating overlooking the woods to the rear – remain pretty much the same. Some of the rooms previously lined with gifts and trinkets for sale are now filled with comfy old armchairs and tables you can settle into and pretend you’re at home, or maybe your aunt and uncle’s home.
And, for all the talk of awards, for all that Nick’s beers have to offer, it’s quite possible it will be Hepburn Springs’ homeliness that you’ll take away with you. The venue was previously a day spa, which makes sense when you walk through the front door then pass the side rooms that would once have been used for treatments en route to the bar. There’s no denying you’re in a tourist-friendly venue either, what with the non-beer gifts on offer, the colourful umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, the framed picture of a giant dream-catcher on the wall. It all just adds to the genuinely unique experience the Galiks offer.
Even more than that, however, is the absolute joy that comes with spending time in their company. I don’t know if Nick and Helen are still carrying some sort of magical happiness with them from that trophy win or have always been this way, but whether they’re regaling you with tales of when they’ve received visitors from the upper echelons of the country’s biggest brewing companies, or recalling with glee the times they've won over customers who don't drink beer, or how the gin goblets they use are so delightful they find people on neighbouring tables saying: "We'll have whatever she's having!", they exude a contagious, homespun warmth.
In fact, I’d go so far to say that even if you don’t like beer or gin, can’t be bothered with spa towns, and hate gift shops, you should still visit Hepburn Springs Brewing Company just for a chat. I challenge you to do so and not come away feeling better about the world.