There’s an air of mystery to Ida Pruul and that’s very much how Ben Sewell likes it. The name means east brew in Estonian, and the brewing company's can design references the small town in eastern Estonia where he was inspired to brew. But it also refers to a promise made to someone close to Ben – one you're not going to uncover.
“The promise is something I keep to myself because it means a lot to me and was something I promised someone,” Ben says.
What Ben does hope, however, is that the promise comes across in his spontaneously-fermented beers, which are brewed and canned at Westside Ale Works. Ben works on Westside's own beers with the brewery’s founder Casey Wagner, but the Ida Pruul releases are a little different to what you’d typically find pouring through the South Melbourne brewery’s 30 taps; certainly, they're a long way from the bold and hop forward releases from Casey's home in America that inspired him to start a brewery here.
In the case of Ida Pruul, the focus is on beers made with wild yeast: the first releases are a sour golden ale brewed without hops and that golden base beer after its spent time in the company of 250 kilograms of Kensington Pride mangoes.
The mixed culture at the heart of Ida Pruul beers has been sourced from Ben’s own home in Melbourne and his uncle’s property in regional Victoria, with the wort exposed to nature's elements.
“I make the wort and it sits outside for 72 hours and goes straight into barrels from there," Ben says. "We don’t add anything, it’s 100 percent wild."
Having brewed at home avidly for four years before joining the team at Westside Ale Works, Ben says he was really attracted to wilder beers by the desire to create something as raw and natural as possible. Ida Pruul's beers are inspired both by the wilderness and simplicity of Eastern Estonia and his home in Australia.
“Being an indigenous Australian, you want to utilise as much of Australian nature as you can,” Ben says.
“I’ve always messed around with wild ferments, depending on where in the world I lived or what house I was living at. It started out with meads and went into going to pick fresh fruit and using it and seeing what would come out: whether it would taste like a shoe or come out tasting great, there’s a lot of hit and miss.”
Far from tasting like a shoe, when I tried Ben's first two releases I found Wild Golden Ale tart, slightly minerally and balanced with notes of lemon and nectarine, while the Wild Mango Sour was further down the path of tartness with a rich medley of ripe and fleshy mango.
The leap from brewing at home to joining the team at Westside last year was a natural one, which is unsurprising given the relaxed vibe that permeates from the South Melbourne venue.
“It just kind of happened because I’ve always made beer and [Casey and I] just always shared beers,” Ben says.
Want to know more? Then check out this entry in our long-running Brew & A series.
Why are you a brewer?
It all started with the curiosity of how a sweet sugar water could become alcoholic with the assistance of yeast. Curiosity became a hobby and that hobby became a passion.
What would you be if you weren't a brewer?
I would most likely be on the path to somewhere in the automotive industry or engineering.
What was your epiphany beer?
Would definitely be Boon Kriek – prior to that I had never had such a complex beer.
How did you get involved in the world of beer?
It all started on a cold winter's afternoon with Kali Siirup (an Estonian rye bread drink), a 30 litre fermenter, a 15 litre pot and a pouch of baker's yeast.
I remember placing the fermenter under the table and thinking, "Whoa, I'm actually making beer." From there, the curiosity grew, so I continued to brew.
What was the best beer you've ever brewed?
Back in 2018, I brewed a wild mead with hibiscus. It has been my favourite drop.
What's your single favourite ingredient to use in beer?
The very culture we capture in Melbourne that we use to ferment and condition our beers.
Are there any beers you've brewed that might have been left on the drawing board?
Back in 2020, I was playing around with a few test batches and the one that stands out like a rusty nail would have to be a "soured dessert Baltic porter".
It was interesting but, needless to say, it definitely has room for improvement.
If you could do a guest stint at any brewery(s) in the world, which would it be and why?
Purtse Brewery [in Estonia]. Innar Marmor and his team are doing some pretty remarkable things.
Which local (Aussie or Kiwi) breweries inspire you?
A tough question as there are so many amazing breweries from here and across the Tasman. One I have really taken a shine to would be Slow Lane Brewing – [they] tend to think outside the box.
What inspires you outside the world of brewing beer?
Inspiration comes in many shapes and forms, a few of mine would have to be creating, building, hiking and exploring.
Taking time to appreciate the smaller things.
What's your desert island beer – the one to keep you going if you were stranded for the rest of your days?
A. Le Coq Baltic Porter. A lovely, malt-driven lager which can be enjoyed in the scorching desert sun.
And what would be the soundtrack to those days?
Facelift by Alice in Chains.
If you couldn’t have beer, what would be your tipple of choice?
Wine would be the drink of choice.
What's one thing you wish you'd known before becoming a brewer?
I wish I knew how troubleshoot-ready I had to be. There is always something to do, whether it be repairing, cleaning or problem-solving.
What's the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a brewer?
Start shallow and make your way towards the deep end.
And the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in craft beer?
Take your time and gather as much information as possible.
You can head to Westside Ale Works to try Ben's wild brews – and find that brewery and hundreds of other good beer operators around Australia in the free Crafty Pint app.
For other entries in the Brew & A series, head here.