Some might say the progression from homebrewing wedding photographer to beer café owner is a somewhat unlikely progression through life. However, it's the path Dane Adkins decided to take and one that continues to evolve.
After moving from Canberra to the seaside community of Semaphore in Adelaide, he fell in love with the area and swiftly opened the Sweet Amber Brew Café, throwing himself into the beers – and some of the beers into the food. The café quickly became a local haunt buzzing with a crafty vibe and a growing list of regulars, while Dane subsequently launched a small brewing label to create beers pouring exclusively at Sweet Amber.
Initially, the beers were contract brewed via Barossa Valley Brewing and consisted of Bitter Amber, Coffee Stout, Portside IPA, Cleansing Ale and Beach Maid Blonde, with one of those five always found on tap at the café. A Pozible campaign assisted in raising the money to brew the first batch and buy the requisite kegs.
Over time, with the beers enjoying a warm reception, Sweet Amber's fan base grew and Dane reached the next logical stage in his progression: opening a brewery.
Initially, Dane (pictured above at his Semaphore bar) looked to open a second brew café before deciding this was fraught with too many risks.
"With a bit of foresight on the way the industry is going, I thought it was going to become more competitive for contract brewers to get available space so we had to take control of our production," Dane says.
While the second brewery could have been built at the site of the café in Semaphore, he was concerned that doing so would change the nature, not to mention the liquor licence, of his initial operation.
"People come to Semaphore for the rotating range and being able to access beers that they otherwise couldn't," he says, "so we didn't really want to mess with the business model there.
"So we figured it would be best to find the second location, put in the brewery and open it up as second outlet for ourselves."
The hunt for the right location took some time, before landing on an industrial style warehouse in Regency Park, a suburb already served by the local TAFE Campus brewery, Brewboys and Coopers. It not only offered plenty of space in which to brew but also came with a huge car park that is vacant come the weekend; as such, Dane already has plans to hold parties and special events and bring in food trucks when possible.
The warehouse space has been cleverly worked to include a 500 litre brewhouse, two 1000 litre fermentation vessels, a bright tank, a 70 person drinking area and a bar area complete with eights taps. Two of these taps are pouring the beer as close to source as possible, coming directly from a bright tank located in the cold room, with a tap hose no longer than two metres.
And, as well as offering a place with a different feel in which to enjoy Sweet Amber's beers, the intention is that you can also enjoy them at home.
"We've got eight taps and we want half of those to be constantly rotating with new beers and any of those will be available for takeover in one or two litre roadies," Dane says.
Brewing on-site started towards the end of January, with Dane powering the kit mostly by himself. While learning to brew professionally was a steep learning curve for the long-term homebrewer, it's not the only lesson learned to date.
"Probably the first thing we noticed here is mid-strength," he says. "No one lives anywhere near here in terms of residential, so they're all knocking off work, coming in for a few and then heading home for dinner."
As a result, he was quick to add a mid-strength session IPA to the lineup, one that will be augmented by more short run releases. Yet that doesn't mean it will only be Sweet Amber beers pouring at the Semaphore café, with Dane still being committed to keeping a wide mix of breweries across those taps.
"What we are looking forward to, now that we've brought the production cost of our beer down for Semaphore, is to put those savings towards more limited beers and increase our bottle range," Dane says.
Beyond that, the possibility of a new brew café is already being weighed up, suggesting anyone in the market for a homebrewing wedding photographer is going to have to look elsewhere.