Beachport might be a small town on South Australia’s Limestone Coast but the Wheal family clearly think big.
For Mark and Kate Wheal, the opening of Beachport Brewing doesn't just give them the chance to champion their small community but also adds to the considerable workload for the farming family who already have their hands pretty full.
Their farm is a short drive from the town, and there you'll find crops, cattle, sheep and pigs for their business, Beachport Berkshires, with Mark's ethos being to create whatever he can from their land.
"There are already quite a few enterprises going in the one space and we’re growing grains to feed to the pigs,” he told The Crafty Pint, adding that his desire to create led him to build a small brewery designed to supply his and Kate's wedding guests with beer in 2015.
“I love manipulating the grains and being able to make different flavours. There’s so much you can develop and take away with such small change.”
With a farm taking up most of his time, the journey from brewing a wedding beer to launching Beachport Brewing took several more years and its arrival was somewhat incidental. The brewery’s home, which looks onto Beachport’s iconic jetty, was bought by the Wheal family as a space to process their pig carcasses – Mark explains that they wanted a way to supply the entirety of the market for free-range pork.
“Carcasses are a bit like tap beer,” he explains. "Everyone drinks at home but [not everyone drinks] at the pub. So I want to capture the restaurants, cafés, pubs, clubs or butchers that are after boxed meat over whole carcasses.”
Having taken over the town’s old fish factory, Mark and Kate quickly realised it wasn’t only too big for their needs – its views of the jetty and crayfishing boats would make it the perfect place to enjoy a beer.
“I always think big,” Mark says. “So I was a big believer in being something way bigger than what we needed.
“In farming, we’re taught to look at today, look at tomorrow, look weekly, monthly and look yearly or five years ahead."
There are few better ways to enjoy a beer than when it's been made where you're drinking it either, so Mark and Kate decided to build a brewery in the heart of town, and opened the doors over the Easter long weekend. As they awaited the arrival and installation of their 12-hectolitre brewhouse, Mark spent last year studying brewing at TAFE SA under Stephen Nelsen, while Chris Cooley joined the family in March as head brewer and distillery.
Yes, you read that right: just in case operating a farm, running a pork business, and launching a brewery wasn't quite enough, last week saw Beachport distil their first small batch of gin, while Mark has further grand ideas when it comes to integrating what they grow and what people will ultimately drink. He's been in talks with the team at Voyager Craft Malt to get his barley malted so Beachport's beers and future whiskies can made made using grains Mark has grown – with those spent grains ultimately feeding the animals on the farm too, of course.
“Using my own grain as our base malt would be so great," he says. "It’s where we’re heading to; it’s just a matter of working out logistics and amounts.”
A conversation with Mark covers a lot of ground and ideas, mainly on how to better integrate their various businesses and brew as sustainably as possible. He says he'd love to grow sea lettuce in the brewery that would be fed by CO2 created there, and in turn be used to feed their cattle, akin to Young Henrys' plans involving using algae to feed cattle.
Ask Mark about why he farms free-range, or why he is so keen on closing the loop between agriculture and beer, and his response is that, while such practices might matter to consumers, it's also the kind of farmer he is.
“It’s what I get my kicks out of," he says. "I like being able to fill our table with everything we’ve produced ourselves.
“There is a lot of waste in the world that doesn’t need to be there.”
To find out more about the big ideas from the small town, we asked the Wheals to join us as part of our Who Brews...? series.
Who are you?
Mark and Kate Wheal - owners and founders of Beachport Brewing. Mark is the ideas man, while Kate is the details.
We farm 15 minutes out of Beachport, producing cattle, sheep, crops and free-range pigs, and have our own pork brand, Beachport Berkshires. We also have two girls, Lily (five) and Willow (two), who love having both a farm and a brewery – which has a sandpit and lots of kids coming by – as their playgrounds.
Chris Cooley is our head brewer and distiller. Chris was a keen homebrewer and distiller who we had been speaking to last year about gin recipes and convinced us to make a complete career change from being an electrical storeman to come and join us full-time in the brewery.
Where do you brew?
At Beachport Breiwng Co, 5 Beach Road, Beachport.
Why do you brew?
We want to create a year-round drawcard for this town – and who doesn’t love to come and try a local beer?
Was there a beer or a moment that set you on the path to becoming a brewer?
Mark built a microbrewery and brewed the beer for our wedding in 2015 and it went down really well. We thought then about getting our alcohol production licence but got busy farming and growing our free-range pork brand.
It was off the back of this that five and half years later we were looking around for a site for a meat processing facility to break down and value add to our pork carcasses and heard the local fish factory was about to go on the market, which is located directly opposite the Beachport’s iconic jetty, with the best views in town.
The three-phase power and cool-rooms at the back were ideal for our pork business but there was still a huge industrial space at the front that had the crayfish holding tanks in it and a large amount of outdoor space. We kind of joked about what a great spot it would be to sit and have a beer and look out over Rivoli Bay, the jetty and the crayfishing boats moored there, and the idea grew from there! Once we’d purchased the block, we were suddenly planning two new businesses instead of one.
What’s the inspiration behind the brewery name?
Our pork brand is Beachport Berkshires to highlight the provenance of the product, so we carried that through with our beer. We are big advocates of Beachport and surrounding areas, so highlighting this region and the amazing quality of products it can produce is really important to us and so is adding another attraction to the town.
What beer in your lineup best represents you and why?
The Beachport Cream Brown Ale – we put a few twists in the recipe and it’s come out with a really smooth and creamy flavour. Many people who comment that they don’t drink beer or don’t drink dark beers then pick it as their favourite, so it's also known as "The Convertor".
If anyone drops in on brew day, what are they most likely to hear blasting from the speakers?
Anything from 90s disco to Aussie rock classics.
What beers are in your fridge right now?
A mixed pack of Sailors Grave Brewing thanks to a visiting friend, a growler of our Golden Hour Quince Sour, and a random assortment of stuff that’s left behind by other people because no one wants to drink it – like an affogato stout.
What would be your desert island beer of choice?
A Beachport Cream Brown Ale for sustenance.
Which local beers have blown your mind in recent weeks?
We can’t go past the Loophole Cape Ale. Robe Town’s Southern Ocean Gose was refreshing with a distinctive point of difference, and Little Rippa’s Red Dog had a nice creaminess and balance.
Is there a particular style, ingredient, or trend in beer you'd like to explore further?
Using my own barley off the farm, which will hopefully be happening soon.
Where can people find your beers?
At the moment just in Beachport on tap and in growlers, but we’re starting canning in a few weeks and have stockists in Robe, Mount Gambier and Adelaide keen to come on board then, plus online sales.
Where do you hope your brewery will be ten years from now?
A community hub where we can see people enjoy the fruits of our labour, where we create products utilising wholly local ingredients, and matching beers with our pork.