What’s brewing? A tall tale but true

IT’S been 18 years now, and the 50ha property above the Lyell Highway that’s both home and business for Ashley and Jane Huntington is humming. The crunch that was Covid is over. Containers of product are going off to the mainland and beyond. And incoming, up their gravel farm road, are visitors by the carload, eager to try their beers and cider.

But the success that is the Two Metre Tall Brewery and Farm Bar very nearly wasn’t “Our first thought back in the early noughties, considering Ashley’s inclinations and training as a winemaker (he also has a degree in organic chemistry) was to make wine,” says Jane. “We have the best vineyard site in the state, a stunning climate and excellent soils and water. But we got distracted by the hops and the long history of hop growing here in the Valley.

So we became a brewers rather than winemakers.” Jane, owner and manager of the place, is a French and history teacher by training, and exhibits the listening ability, quiet patience and love of learning that’s fostered by that profession. She’s explaining to guests the use of second-hand wine barrels in the brewing process, the flavours their residue brings to beer. In terms of ingredients, Two Metre Tall draws not only from what’s grown on the property in the Derwent Valley, but from farms across the state. Then there’s the disciplines of science, the rewards (and failures) of experimentation, not to mention barrel aging, spontaneous fermentations, and introducing fruit into the ale.

Jane well knows the story of the Tasmanian hop industry, too, and weaves that expertly into the narrative. The property’s shearing shed has housed the brewery since 2008. The brewhouse itself was in the old St. Ives hotel in Battery Point back in the 1980s, but now on their farm, its kettle and tanks are refurbished and producing unique estate brewed beers. As we speak, there’s the distant sound of a new apple orchard going in, as Ashley and a tractor work to establish 40 varieties of apple they expect to produce a cider in the years ahead. With a Churchill Fellowship behind him and a decade of winemaking, much of it in France, Ashley is now responsible for the farm’s ale and cider.

He describes himself as brewing on the ‘lunatic fringe’: his height is also how the company got its name. Its hard work for just two people, notes Jane. But over the past 18 years they’ve quietly built a loyal customer base. “Today, we sell in most Australian capital cities,” she say. “And, importantly, we’re now in Japan where our fourth shipment has just gone. It was a full container, both beer and cider, and every bottle hand labeled. Now that’s work!” Two Metre Tall is also making its mark in the US. “We had guests here recently from Seattle who told us, yes, they’d been drinking our beer for a while now. It’s always good to hear that kind of customer response.”

What’s evident here is a type of farmgate operation that’s becoming the standard in the Derwent Valley. Jane and Ashley not only know how to make a first-rate product, but have learnt that customers are also drawn by the story that goes with it. They’re not only farmers and producers, but integral to the fabric of a broader farm tourism industry. That sense is reinforced by the presence of guests from Melbourne, who’ve today found themselves up the farm’s gravel road.

This young couple have been in Tasmania for a week, done an East Coast road trip, learned to shuck oysters and been to Mona. The expressions on their faces, suggest this experience – their last in Tasmania – will be the one that sticks with them longest.

Two Metre Tall Brewery and Farm Bar, 10 minutes up the Lyell Highway from New Norfolk, is open Thursday to Monday, 12 noon until 4pm and until 6pm Fridays. There’s a barbecue for those who want to bring a picnic.