Before the story of the Prairie Hotel and the Parachilna Brew Project can be told, it is important to acknowledge their surrounds and the journey a traveller needs to undertake in order to get there.
This is no normal journey, but instead one that traverses some of the finest national parks South Australia has to offer: deep gorges with folded, multilayered rock structures that are a geologist’s fever dream; slowly-unfurling outback vistas. Along the way, you’ll pass incredible flora and fauna: from fields of wildflowers to watching to see just how long the wedge-tailed eagle in the road ahead of you will play dare before finally deciding to haul its impressive frame into the air.
Home to the Adnyamathanha people, which translates to “rock people” and from whom Adam Goodes is descended, this stretch of the Flinders Ranges features the largest mountain structures in South Australia. They formed some 600 million years ago, were once taller than the Himalayas, and are where much of life on Earth first appeared.
It’s a breathtaking and deeply spiritual place that lures thousands of travellers every year: a place to explore and be at one with nature, and where there are opportunities to immerse oneself in Aboriginal culture. Indeed, it’s so rich with cultural and historical importance that in April 2021 a tentative World Heritage Listing was lodged with UNESCO.
If you’re wondering why you’re reading such things on a beer website, well, this true gem of the Australian outback is also where the Prairie Hotel and the Parachilna Brew Project are found.
Situated in the northwest section of the Flinders Ranges, just under 500km north of Adelaide, in a tiny town called Parachilna, you’ll find an oasis in the desert: the Prairie Hotel. With a permanent population of just five, Parachilna was once a railway station for the old Ghan and was connected to the nearby copper town of Blinman via the Parachilna Gorge. (The drive between the two is well worth making, as long as you’re suitably equipped.)
Today, there are only a few buildings left, of which the heart is the hotel, first licensed in 1876 at a separate location until it moved to a new building in 1905. At that point, its name was changed to the Parachilna Hotel, before current owners Ross and Jane Fargher bought the place in 1991 and reverted to the Prairie Hotel.
Known for its warm country hospitality, high-end accommodation and great food, the Prairie Hotel first came to the notice of many travellers when they introduced their Feral Food menu, incorporating a mix of wild animals alongside local and native produce.
Ross and Jane’s son, Lachy Fargher, head brewer at the Parachilna Brew Project, shared their family’s story and how the Prairie Hotel came to be as it is, initially serving independent craft beer from other SA brewers before becoming home to beers they brew themselves on site.
“This business has been in the family for 32 years now,” he says. “In 1991, Mum and Dad saw the opportunity and potential in the business and that’s when the feral food started. We were one of the first to do that and we just built it up over the years.”
Roll on three decades and the pub’s dining rooms are busier than ever, serving up platters, plates and banquets featuring items such as goat curry, wild boar ragu, kangaroo tail or schnitzels, camel sausage rolls or boerewors – all while using local native ingredients to complete the authentic Australian theme. Bookings are recommended as, despite its remote location, it can fill up quickly at meal times.
The Farghers have always been keen to support local, family, independent run companies.
“I am a big believer in supporting the little guy because that’s me, and that’s why we decided to support local beer companies and bring in products that weren’t necessarily served in the Flinders,” Lachy says.
“For a long time, we had the Fargher Lager [brewed by Pikes] on tap, which always performs well. I went to Mum one day and asked her to give Mismatch Session Ale a go on tap instead of one of the commercial lagers and the stuff flew out the door.
“From there we then tapped Beer Garden’s Salty Session and it too went extremely well.”
The next step in the evolution of beer at the Prairie Hotel was to install their own small-scale brewery.
“After seeing the success of Mismatch and Beer Garden beers, I pitched the idea to start our own brewery: brew our own beer for our own hotel.”
Thus the Parachilna Brew Project was born in early 2022 and has proven extremely popular with the town’s regulars and tourists alike. However, the project wasn't Lachy’s first venture into fermentation.
“I did a vintage for Jim Barry winery in the Clare Valley, where my love for fermentation grew. I also dabbled in some distilling after work and attempted to make some whisky,” he says, “and thought to myself, ‘I am pretty much making beer anyway’, so I left the distilling for homebrewing.
“Then, in late 2017, I did a small stint at Pikes, helping around the place when one of their workers went overseas for a holiday. From there, in 2018, I travelled to Adelaide to complete a Certificate III in brewing from the TAFE.”
He now brews on a 500-litre Spark system, with four 500-litre fermenters and four brite tanks, two of which directly serve the taps just ten metres from the brewery. At the time of writing, five different Parachilna Brew Project beers were available, each all with their own story behind the name.
Albie is the lightest of the five, coming in at 3.5 percent ABV, of which he says: “Albie is something very close to me as it is the name of my three-year-old nephew and the first of the smaller beers.”
Next up in size is a 4.5 percent ABV pale ale named Amarillo by Morning, an ode to one of Lachy’s favourite musicians, George Strait, who has a song of the same name. Nilpena Ediacara is Lachy’s version of a New England IPA that pays homage to the station on which he grew up. Blighty IPA is named after a very good friend who passed away. And Sadie Jade, his stout, came about thus: “I didn’t have a name for this and the morning I was kegging this beer, I received a call saying that I had a new niece called Sadie Jane. That one was easy.”
Given the location and climate, the lower percentage beers tend to perform better.
“I don’t see myself brewing a big 8 percent IIPA,” he says. “I just don’t think it’s us and I don’t think it suits our drinkers.”
While Lachy and his family feel at home in Parachilna, brewing beer in South Australia’s most remote brewery comes with some unique challenges, albeit ones that Lachy seems to take in his stride with a relaxed demeanour.
Firstly, the town is run on a diesel generator; therefore, if the Prairie Hotel is open to the public, the brewery cannot be in operation. Hence, Lachy needs to knock out his beers either early in the morning before service or late in the evening after dinner.
“We are trying to find a more sustainable, greener solution to our power issues and are exploring a few avenues that may help us in the future,” he says.
During the warmer months, temperatures can reach the high 40s in the Flinders Ranges, which can make it tricky to keep ferments at a constant temperature.
“Our glycol system had a few issues during the first summer and I had to dump four batches of beer, which is a little bit heartbreaking, but we have upgraded that now and it is working a lot better. This summer will be its true test.
“Then there is the cost of transportation, which is always an added cost; with fuel prices going up so does freight.”
However, the positives far outweigh the challenges for the Farghers, living and brewing beer and hospitality in a magical part of the world.
“I am a country fella, and this is home for me. People are surprised that a country guy loves good beer, so it is rewarding for me,” Lachy says.
“I love meeting new people every day and the early morning sun rises over the Ranges are incredibly special.
“I love the surprise when people realise there is a brewery out here. It has been great seeing the pub grow, seeing the brewery grow, and now we are finding that a lot of younger families are coming back to the area.”
At time of writing, Albie Session Ale can be found in cans at select locations around Adelaide, while a few kegs have been poured at the Gilbert St Hotel. Lachy hopes to expand the brewery’s canned offering in the new year.
If you're visiting the Flinders Ranges, the Prairie Hotel offers other experiences via their revamped Outback Lodge, which can include flavours of the outback dinners, beer tasting experiences and tours of the local area as well as accommodation. The Prairie Hotel, which you'll find alongside hundreds of other breweries and good beer venues in The Crafty Pint app, is open from the end of March to the middle of December.
And, if you have the means to do so, this site's editor recommends camping for a few nights at the national park site in Brachina Gorge, a short, rocky drive away. Download the Flinders Range app before heading in (you'll lose phone signal) and prepare to experience the awesome majesty of Mother Earth.