Crafty pair brew a plan

IT was a challenging start to their new business venture, but Nigel Graham, Elias Eichler and their Welcome Swallow brewing business toughed it out. “We’d barely signed the lease when along came Covid, and we had to shut down,” says Elias. “No customers, no income, nothing! We had to quickly reassess our goals, to put it politely.”

The pair had proposed a tap room, renovating a warehouse space on Ring Road in New Norfolk, but suddenly, there was nobody coming in the door. “We switched to focus on the brewery, then reinvested further in a manual canning line, for the first time packaging the liquid product into takeaway form,” Elias said. “That batch took us 16 hours to turn 500 litres of beer into cans.” Those first cans were at least some income.

On a Saturday afternoon two years’ later, it’s a different picture. The Welcome Swallow is filling with couples and families finding a seat between a veritable jungle of plants enjoying the CO2 produced by the adjacent brewing tanks Clearly, somebody here knows their chemical processes.

Nigel is a fifth generation Derwent Valley farmer. He comes at farming from the organic side, and is keen to bring fruit into the mix. He talks at length about traditional German recipes for beer, and then into an explanation of lactobacillus, the so-called good bacteria found in the human gut. “Now, in beer making, this lactobacillus contributes to the fermentation process…” Then we’re off into water chemistry and the two-stage filters they used to remove chlorine. “As far as hops are concerned, we use mostly Bushy Park hops especially now they are bred more for their flavour characteristics and high oil content,” said Nigel. “The way we brew, our beers emerge with more flavour and lower bitterness.”

Why craft beer? The two men look at each other, and Nigel answers. “We have an obsession with the stuff… have had for 20 years. About 16 years ago, we started to get serious, got keen on learning how it was done. “Of course, the more we learned, the more we realized how much more there was to learn. Ultimately, our job is to turn XXXX and Carlton drinkers onto locally made beers with endless flavor possibilities.”

When the Australian craft beer boom first started, it was nearly impossible to access pub taps due to contracted taps, pubs locked into selling only certain beers. “But things changed about 20 years ago, I think, with Little Creatures over in Fremantle. Then other craft beers came along, like Mountain Goat, Stone and Wood,” Elias said. “Of course, those early craft beers were bought up by the big conglomerates, right after they realised customers were moving away from their beers to these small timers.” And you? “Nahh… they wouldn’t even look at us,” Nigel said. “We’re tiny brewers, maybe 600 litres or 12 kegs at a time. “We use more hops, wheated oats and other ingredients to provide a really distinctive mouthfeel. So we’re more expensive than mass produced beers, too.”

Nigel and Elias are also committed to the Derwent Valley, their corner of an industrial park on Ring Road and their approach to the task they’ve set themselves. But they don’t always agree about how to run the business. “Well,” says Nigel, “my taste in music is … (he waits until he’s got Elias’s full attention) … is better! “But seriously, we’re in what’s still one of the best hop growing areas in the country. Add small fruits to that, and you’ve got not only a local product, but even among craft beers, something that’s not like anything else out there.

“And we like this community, not only growing up here, but the sense of contributing to this place, bringing something new. Its part of the culture here to have a beer with a mate, see friends and neighbours in a place like this. “And we make the best beer we possibly can.”

Welcome Swallow is open from 3 pm on Fridays and 1 pm at the weekend. Nigel and Elias are out the door usually by about 10 pm, but the plants are staying for the CO2 .