Food and Drink

This Wife-Husband Brewery Pioneered Australia’s First Sour Beer 17 Years Ago

We didn't set out to make a sour beer, we prefer to call our beers farmhouse ales and ciders because before sour beer was coined, that's what it was known as.

two metre tall brewery

Wife and husband duo, Ashley and Jane Huntington are the owners of Two Metre Tall Brewery—named for Ashley’s towering height. In 2004, they decided to move from a southern French vineyard to a farm in the Derwent Valley, Tasmania. Here, Jane shares their journey from creating Australia’s first sour beer and being rejected, to flourishing wild ferments and farmhouse ciders today.

We didn’t set out to make a sour beer, we prefer to call our beers farmhouse ales and ciders because before sour beer was coined, that’s what it was known as. People just like to label everything, so instead of a sour beer, we focus on wild fermentation, which brings about those beautiful layered flavours and complexity in beer.

My husband (Ash) comes from a winemaking background and when we first bought property here in 2004, we set out to plant grapes but got distracted by hopes. Ever since we’ve been making this style of beer.

in the heart of the Derwent Valley, which is in the middle of Tasmania, we discovered the climate is great for growing things. Suddenly, we became very aware of the large hop growing history—about 200 years of it. It was the first time we had smelt and touched hops. We were fascinated with the beautiful aromas and were curious why you couldn’t taste that in a beer. This is where the obsession with brewing started. We planted some grains and bought hops from the farm across the road. When we first started, we knew of a brewery in Hobart. Ash got in touch with them and asked if we could brew with them, to which they said yes mainly because Ash is a winemaker, so I think they were curious.

We have approached beer making with a wine head, in that we were looking for flavour and characteristics in a glass. It was curiosity leading us down this path. Our first batch of beers was beautiful, but three months later they turned. There was an acidity that we loved, but when we sold it, we copped a lot of flack. Restaurants returned cases and people told us to check our hygiene procedures. We had a microbiologist come to the farm. He checked everything, looking for a problem in our system. he couldn’t find anything.

MORE: We Created an Online Bottleshop to Celebrate Women-led Beverages

At this point, we were getting desperate. Some people liked it, but some didn’t. So we locked them up in the hayshed and started a fresh batch.

Remember, there were no books to turn to back then. No one had gone before us—we thought. Ash had won a scholarship to travel to Belgium to study fruits in beer. When we got there, we toured breweries that had a similar aroma to ours. There were barrels filled with acidic beers. All of a sudden it dawned on us—there are hundreds of years of history in acidic beers.

When we got back to Tasmania, rather than apologising for its acidity, we invested in more barrels. We decided to change the process to completely wild ferments, and continue this path today.

In 2009, we were at Taste of Tasmania—we showed there for nine years from 2005 to 2014. One year, we decided to bring the kegs from the hayshed to the show and labelled it Original Soured Ale. I don’t like using the word sour, but we put our foot forward and went with it. During the day, people came up to try it, they loved it. We sold four kegs and some came back for a pint after a pint.

It’s funny to think now if we could just explain to them what was going on in that keg and the process we were using, we could have helped people think differently about sour beer and probably would have sold our beers in 2005.

Although people will always have their preferences and even today, we get criticised for our beers not being sour enough. We just can’t win.

Sour beers in Australia today are covered in cartoons, often bright cans, and have something like Watermelon Lemonade written over it. This to me is a style-driven sour beer, where brewers will pour a packet of sour culture into their beer. It’s a recipe-driven way to add acidity to beer, but what Ash and I are doing is letting the beer naturally ferment with wild cultures to develop acidity. This is a long and slow process, which is why we’re not setting out to make a sour beer. Instead, we focus on growing raw ingredients and letting them naturally ferment over time. If you have one of our beers that are younger than three months, you will find it’s not very acidic.

Another thing you might notice is we’re not a canning site. Everything is in bottles because we bottle condition, which means it’s a secondary ferment. That’s where the soft wild carbonation from. Think of champagne. Champagne that is fermented in a bottle will have a softer finer bead and bubble. That textural element is what you will find in our ales and ciders.

Our tagline is fiercely independent, which sums up who we are and how we approach our beers. We don’t cut corners and we pride ourselves on letting our beverages take time to develop. We don’t rush things. If something isn’t ready, we’ll leave it in the barrel.

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Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.


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