DALE WEBSTER and RIAHN SMITH, The Weekly Times
June 22, 2016
A BUTTER factory that once provided Orbost dairy farmers with a trickle of income in the hardest of times is being converted to another agricultural pursuit — brewing beer.
Chris and Gabbie Moore, of Sailors Grave Brewing, are part-way through the restoration of about a quarter of the building that will house their business.
The original Orbost Butter and Produce factory was built in 1893 by a group of landholders described in The Snowy River Mail in 1916 as including “two or three exceptionally constituted individuals who did not know when they were beaten”.
The report continued: “The country generally was depressed owing to the collapse of the land boom and the closing of the banks, prices of stock and farm produce were at their lowest and everything else was in a correspondingly hopeless state.
“Under ordinary circumstances it would not have paid the district to establish a factory at that time, nor would it have paid the suppliers to bring their milk to it, but things were then in such a desperate state that the factory, feeble as its operations were, was the only means then existing for the distribution of a little money.
“Some of the leading farmers were of opinion that the best thing they could do to help the district was to establish a butter factory.”
For the Moores, who have a firm belief that the key to rejuvenating regional towns is to generate enough business to stop people from leaving, it was a fascinating history to walk into.
“It’s really important to honour the heritage of a town’s agricultural past and preserve what’s left of it,” Chris says.
“The place has a real sense of history.
“It’s old and it’s rambling and has a maze of cellars underneath it.
“The two main sheds we are in have beautiful powdery blue tiling that wraps around the walls up to 2m in height, which we have restored.
“There is an old, stainless-steel control panel that sits on the wall that was once part of the dairy we are keeping as well.”
Working away at the gentle art of brewing beer is a far cry from the frenetic life the Moores once led.
After starting their careers as landscape architects in Sydney, they ran a busy restaurant and bar in Darlinghurst before moving back to Gabbie’s family farm at Marlo, about 15km from Orbost.
The brewery concept began taking shape about two years ago and gained momentum after a three-month research tour of the US in the middle of 2014.
As parents of two young children, Orio and Hazel, then aged 3½ and 6 months, it was a challenging trip.
“We started in LA and then went anti-clockwise all the way around the States,” Gabbie says.
“Doing it with young children was definitely a challenge though. It meant we’d both be at a brewery but couldn’t sample too much, or Chris would be there and I’d be back at the RV dealing with the kids.
“Ideally it would have been better to do it when they were older so they would remember it, but it was still an amazing trip.”
Chris recalls one brewery in particular which struck a chord — Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont.
“We were in the middle of nowhere driving the RV along these muddy, snowy roads with nothing around and then all of a sudden we turned a corner and there were dozens of cars at this brewery, it was amazing,” he says.
“Micro-brewing in the US has had an organic development and has really established itself.
“In Australia, it’s just exploded recently and everything is happening quite quickly, so it’s quite a unique landscape — it’s an exciting time.”
Like the butter factory, Sailor’s Grave Brewing will draw its produce from the local area, using as many local agricultural and maritime products as they can.
The Moores are talking to a local malt barley grower about sourcing grain for brewing and they would like to eventually grow their own hops and plant orchards for fruit to be used in farmhouse beers.
“We’re really connected to this area,” says Gabbie, “even down to the name.
“Sailor’s Grave came from stories of an old shipwreck around here ... the bodies of the shipwrecked sailors are buried on one of the hills, but no one now knows exactly where.
“We wanted the business to convey a sense of place — in wine they call it ‘terroir’, for beer, we’re calling it ‘dirtoir’.”
From the ocean, locally harvested seaweed from farmer Andrew French and sea salt scooped straight from the water at Marlo is being used to add subtle hints of flavour and “roundness” to beers such as the “Southern Right Ale” and “Down She Gose” — a play on the German gose-style of beer.
Abalone and sea urchins will add character to stouts targeted at the Japanese market while, coastal succulents such as sea fig will also be used in the brewing process.
“We’re quite adventurous with our ingredients,” Chris says.
“It sounds quite dramatic but the core range will be very sessionable, drinkable beers.”
Brewing for distribution should begin at the butter factory by August.