Cockatoos are an all-too-familiar sight in Canberra. It’s not unusual for citizens of the city and surrounds to be woken up in the morning by a choir of sulphur-crested cockatoos. But a new kind of cockatoo is starting to populate our nation’s capital, and it’s a less familiar breed: Wild Polly, a beer made with ancient grains that allow it to be naturally gluten free.
When owner and brewer Tim Sides was young, his family owned a farm that grew malting barley. But when he decided to start a gypsy brewing company, he didn’t look to the past, but to the future: his teenage boys are both coeliacs, so he decided to work with only gluten-free ancient grains so they’ll be able to drink it when they come of age.
Tim still smirks when he talks about this decision.
“Australian Father of the Year in a few years' time, when my kids turn eighteen! What father goes out of his way to brew beer that’s harder than anything else so his kids can drink it one day?!”
As there’s no ready supply of malted, gluten free grains available to brewers, Tim had to find a different way forward. He approached Voyager Craft Malt to see if they’d be willing to try malting ancient grains, and they gladly agreed to work with him and develop new techniques.
“I supply them with the grain, then we work together to figure out how much malt they can make with it, and what types of malt," Tim says. "They do all the stats and specs for us when it comes out.
“I think it’s a learning curve for them, but we’ve done it a few times now, so we can keep doing it. The first batch we did was just using their one tonne system, but we’re going to do our next batch in their ten tonne system. Step it up.”
Using malted sorghum, millet, buckwheat and rice, Tim developed his first beer, Wild Polly Pale Ale, which is delicately hoppy with a dry and bitter finish – dry because of the sorghum, and bitter from the extra bittering hops used to give the beer more perceived body.
Along with his wife and co-owner Camille, Tim has a strong philosophy of supporting local farmers and businesses wherever possible; since the Sides have owned farms for years, they understand the struggles of farmers, and the value for consumers in knowing where your food and drink comes from.
“We passionately believe in using the best available and locally produced raw ingredients, and showcasing the best that Australian farmers have to offer. We want to support other farmers and know where our ingredients come from when making our beer. A paddock to pint approach.
“We’re working with producers all the way along, whether it’s a small farmer, a small business that does the malting, a small business to do the brewing for us, and then selling it through the local independents too – IGAs and the independent bottle-os and bars. All little guys.”
The next step for Wild Polly is to take the paddock-to-pint approach further by building a brewpub on a small farm in Gundaroo, just outside of the ACT. Tim has already started growing four varieties of hops there – Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Victoria.
“I’ve put in nearly 200 plants this year, and where I’ve got the hop yards started, I’ve got enough room to double what I’ve got at the moment. They’ll go into the brewery, and may go to help some of the local homebrewers, or even the bigger brewers for a wet hop brew if they want to do it.”
The farm will also have its own sheep and cows, which can be fed with spent grain from the brewery and then processed by local butchers for the meat to be used in the brewpub’s restaurant. And, like the beers, the restaurant will be gluten free.
“Everything on our menu will be gluten free, but we won’t be promoting that to everyone," he says. "People can come in and have a good chicken parmi and not even know that it’s gluten free. The idea is just to normalise that for our kids.”
While the brewpub on the farm is a little while away yet, Wild Polly beers have already found their way into many bottleshops and venues around Canberra. This is due partly to the strong loyalty many citizens of Canberra show to local products, and partly to the excellent design of Wild Polly’s cans.
While some gypsy brewers develop their brand slowly over time, and perhaps take time to reach a professional or attractive design, Tim and Camille enlisted a graphic designer friend to take care of the design. The resulting labels are gorgeous – for the pale ale, clean white and sky blue behind a cockatoo with hops and grains within its plumes; for the IPA, pineapple and passionfruit and citrus fruits nestled in among the sulphur crest; and on both the wings are tipped with silver. The whole thing is quite eye-catching, as if Carmen Miranda were a cockatoo.
To hear more of the Wild Polly story from Tim, future Australian Father of the Year himself, read on.
WHO ARE YOU?
Wild Polly is owned by Tim and Camille Sides, a husband and wife team. Tim is brewer, sales rep, delivery boy, marketing manager, social media consultant and more wrapped into one! Camille’s accounting expertise helps balance the books (or at least stems the outwards flow of cash).
Before our move to Canberra, we lived in Wagga Wagga and even further west in Griffith and Hay. Tim grew up on a traditional wheat-sheep farm, studied agriculture and worked in various Landcare, National Parks and climate research roles. Camille hails originally from Goulburn, so moving back to Canberra means seeing a bit more of family.
When we aren’t busy working and brewing we run around after two teenage boys and their busy sporting life as well as setting up our brew-farm by planting more trees, establishing our gardens and hops and looking after our livestock, including our brew dogs, Alfie and Patch.
WHERE DO YOU BREW?
We brew, for now, at local craft brewery, Zierholz Premium Brewery in Fyshwick, Canberra – the ACT’s longest established craft brewery.
We are in the process of creating our own brewery-in-a-paddock on our farm at Gundaroo, 20km from Canberra, in the heart of the cool climate wine region. The brewpub will be an amazing place for people to pop in and sample a brew or two and have a fantastic day out.
WHY DO YOU BREW?
To create great beer and build ourselves a future that is positive for our family, the community and the people who are drinking our beer. One of our points of difference is that we use only ancient grains; we wanted to make really great beer that just happens to be gluten free – our boys are both coeliac, so when they turn 18 and want to have a beer, we decided to do something about it.
WAS THERE A BEER OR A MOMENT THAT SET YOU ON THE PATH TO BECOMING A BREWER?
We were lucky enough to travel around Australia for six months in a caravan a few years ago with our two boys. It was an amazing adventure, full of the most fantastic experiences and as we travelled we kept thinking: “What’s next?”
We loved so many different locations but the out-of-town breweries that were based on a farm really inspired us: Woolshed at Renmark, Boston near Albany, Bootleg, Eagle Bay and Cowaramup in the Margaret River region and many more – and showed us that a brewery as a location was what we wanted to do.
We also holiday regularly at Aireys Inlet on the Great Ocean Road, so Salt Brewing that set up in the Airey’s Pub was pretty inspirational – I love their “Cranky Mrs”. Also buying Prickly Moses’ “Chainsaw” from the Aireys Inlet markets and seeing Blackman’s flourish in Torquay.
WHAT’S THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE BREWERY NAME?
Wild Polly can be broken down into two parts:
1. “Wild” represents the ancient grains that we use for brewing, considered “ancient” due to their long use by human society. The grains include malted sorghum, millet, buckwheat and rice that we buy direct from Aussie farmers. They are naturally gluten free.
2. “Polly” is obviously the name of our cockatoo logo. The gang-gang cockatoo is the ACT’s animal emblem, and sulphur-crested cockatoos and corellas are everywhere in Canberra.
We’ve been really lucky with one of our great friends, Steph at Studio Von, being a graphic designer. She was able to create an amazing brand for us using our initial drawings and notes. As we continue to develop the brand, we will probably play on “Polly” being in Canberra and full of many oddities in the political world. One day.
WHAT BEERS HAVE YOU RELEASED TO DATE?
Wild Polly Pale Ale – Light and refreshing with aromatic hops and malty undertones.
Wild Polly IPA – Paradise in a beer. A hopped-up juicy, tropical IPA.
WHAT BEER IN YOUR LINEUP BEST REPRESENTS YOU AND WHY?
I suppose it’s the Pale Ale, as it was our first. It’s a really honest beer, easy-going and is different enough to be its own beer. Very dry with a refreshing aroma; a great description of the beer, maybe not me!
IF ANYONE DROPS IN ON BREW DAY, WHAT ARE THEY MOST LIKELY TO HEAR BLASTING FROM THE SPEAKERS?
At the moment we are doing trial batches on the pilot system, until the brewery is at Gundaroo. It is a mix of cassettes rotating through the 1980s era ghettoblaster, mostly Aussie 80s rock like INXS, Split Enz, Australian Crawl and Paul Kelly, but a few more random ones like Transvision Vamp or mixed tapes like Choose 1985!
WHAT BEERS ARE IN YOUR FRIDGE RIGHT NOW?
There are always a few pilot brews being tested and a six-pack of Wild Polly Pale Ale and IPA for anyone who drops in. We often do some comparison tastings, so we pick some of the best going around to see how we are going.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DESERT ISLAND BEER?
Maybe a NT Stubby – just for the quantity to tide me over until the rescuers appear!
WHICH LOCAL BEERS HAVE BLOWN YOUR MIND IN RECENT TIMES?
We really should be drinking local all the time; that is part of our ethos: to promote paddock-to-pint and local produce, and that includes beer. So I really enjoy the Zierholz Amber and Tumut River’s Deliverance.
Coming from Wagga a couple of years ago, the Vanilla Milk Stout at the Thirsty Crow also is an amazing beer, so it’s exciting to hear it has just been released in cans.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR STYLE, INGREDIENT, OR TREND IN BEER THAT YOU’D LIKE TO EXPLORE FURTHER?
Getting it right using ancient grains is really tricky, so continuing to work with a variety of new and often untried grains is always going to be on the cards. So far we’ve launched two relatively common beers, the Pale Ale and IPA. Getting the grain mix right for darker beers is the next challenge, as well as a lager or pilsner, where there isn’t a lot of room to hide, so it will be important to get it right.
Long term, producing a wider variety of styles such as sours using my unique grains is always a goal.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND YOUR BEERS?
At the moment, we are limited to Canberra and surrounding towns and villages. We are in a few bars and restaurants and around a dozen local independent bottle shops and grocers such as Plonk, Page Bottler and Prohibition.
The local Canberra beer movement is amazing, with the local brewers receiving plenty of support from retailers and consumers alike. It’s great to know that as a small business we are distributing through other small family owned and managed retailers to get our product out to the public.
Every now and then, we get a keg to Sydney or Melbourne, but that’s usually only if we know someone who knows someone who is going that way. Meetings on the Hume Highway to get kegs to and from Flat Rock Brew Café have been known to occur!
We launched the Pale Ale at one of Canberra’s best craft beer bars, Brew Nation, and then the cans at Hops and Vine in the little village of Hall, a great place that only stocks independent craft beers and local Canberra wine and spirits. We are also having fun at Old Parliament House with its Friday afternoon “Twilight Zone” sessions where I’m sure Wild Polly rings true in its hallowed halls!
We keep an updated list of stockists on our Facebook page, so it would be great if the craft beer drinkers out there liked our page, so they can be kept up to date. Our beers can be ordered online through local craft beer bottle-o Page Bottler.
WHERE DO YOU HOPE YOUR BREWERY WILL BE TEN YEARS FROM NOW?
To have a thriving local family business at Gundaroo where we showcase the full paddock-to-pint model. On our farm we will have the brewery and be able to create a diverse range of beers for the brewpub, also on site.
The brewpub will be a really fabulous experience catering for Canberra daytrippers, tourists from further afield and our local community. With open space and a great fresh, seasonal menu including local Canberra wines and spirits (not everyone drinks beer, unfortunately). We will have a productive hops orchard and a small number of sheep and cattle that are fed the spent grain, and in turn end up on the table in the brewpub, and chickens to supply the eggs.
We will still be buying our grain direct from our farmers and getting it malted regionally at Voyager Craft Malt, supporting more farmers, small businesses and families.
As well as the brewpub as the heart and soul of the business, we want to have our beers widely available across Australia to enable everyone to enjoy a Wild Polly brew!
And thinking world domination, to be the 2029 Rugby World Cup beer sponsor so I can go and watch the Wallabies win their first world cup since 1999 (which I travelled to Wales to watch!!).
You can like or follow Wild Polly's Facebook page to keep up to date with stockists.