12 October 2023

Move over wine tours: Ale trail expands after growth in South Coast microbreweries

| Kellie O'Brien
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Steve and Andrew Prosser from Gerringong’s Stoic Brewing. Photo: Supplied.

The South Coast has traditionally attracted wine connoisseurs who hop from vineyard to cellar door, but the rise of microbreweries has brought craft beer to the fore.

To highlight that, Nigel Ayling created the South Coast Ale Trail in 2021 featuring 80 beers from 11 craft breweries spanning 370 kilometres from Wollongong to Pambula as a way to showcase the South Coast brewers who are creating a variety of unique tasting products.

Nigel, who runs a digital marketing agency at Merimbula and is president of the Bega Valley Shire Chamber of Commerce, said creating a trail wasn’t unique, as he had previously created a golf trail.

However, he said after working in and around breweries and talking to people, the idea for the trail kept surfacing as more breweries opened up.

“We started with eight and we’ve got 11 now, but there’s a lot more than 11 on the coast,” he said.

Nigel is using a cooperative marketing campaign model, where included breweries contribute to the marketing costs.

“Our catchphrase is, ‘it’s not a destination, it’s a journey’,” he said.

“The reality is that from Wollongong to Eden is 370 kilometres, so it’s not the sort of thing where you go for a day and visit 11 breweries.

“It’s about discovery and, if you’re on the South Coast, you know what a beautiful area it is, so there’s lots to do other than just drink beer.”

He said it was tailored for the self-drive market, as there were limited beer tour services on the South Coast.

“I think the reason it hasn’t happened in the past is that wineries are generally located close to each other because of the area where they grow the wine,” he said.

“Obviously with breweries, you can put a brewery anywhere.

“We want people to think, if I want to experience beer, where should I go? The South Coast.”

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He said the rapid growth over a short timespan in the industry had now reached a peak, and there had been closures, consolidation and buyouts among some breweries in other parts of the country.

“I don’t think they’ll stop but the interesting thing about a lot of the ones in regional areas is that there’s different models for breweries,” he said.

Nigel said some, like Stoic Brewing in Gerringong, were focused on being a hospitality venue that was children and dog-friendly and provided good food and music.

He said others, like Jervis Bay Brewing Co, have a hospitality-focused ‘taproom’, but also the addition of a production facility to produce and package beer for bottle shops.

However, what microbreweries were offering over traditional pubs that stocked big-name beer brands was a variety of unique beers for people to taste and beer flights – a selection of beer samples.

“If you go into a brewery and you like drinking beer, there’s something to discover,” he said.

“They might have anywhere between five to 12 taps of different beer. You can have a really light refreshing pilsner or a stout or you could have sours.

“That’s not going to happen in the pub.”

The quality is also there, with the South Coast producing award-winning beers, with many receiving medals at the Australian Independent Beer Awards in August.

He said the uniqueness of South Coast beers was stemming from brewers sourcing local produce, including fresh hops during hop harvest in March from Ryefield Hops in Bemboka, near Merimbula – rather than using hop pellets.

“What a lot of breweries do when there’s a hop harvest and it’s local, they’ll get the fresh hops, which gives you heaps of flavour,” he said.

“That’s really great because what it means is every year in March along the South Coast, you’re going to get beers made with fresh hops that have only travelled maybe a couple of 100 kilometres.

“The breweries are going and picking up the hops and brewing with them the same day.”

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Nigel said other beer ingredients included barley and yeast, with yeast bank Mogwai Lab, which came out of the University of Wollongong, providing hundreds of different strains of yeast.

“It’s another way of the brewer being able to display their craft and play around with ingredients a little bit,” he said.

“So there’s now the ability for South Coast brewers to use South Coast yeast and use South Coast hops and there is a company called Voyager Craft Malt, which is out in the Riverina area.

“There’s been a couple of brews that have been made with that as well, so you can pretty much say it’s a beer made with local ingredients.

“There’s not a lot of places in Australia where you can grow hops, have yeast and have malt to make your beer from local ingredients.

“It’s a really exciting thing that makes the South Coast a little bit unique.

“So I’m hoping that as time goes on, that by brewers using those local ingredients and constantly brewing with them, that brewers here will develop a style of beer which is unique to the South Coast.”

Find out more about the South Coast Ale Trail on the website.

Original Article published by Kellie O’Brien on Region Illawarra.

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