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If you’ve spent much time immersed in Aussie craft beer culture, chances are you’ll have come across Sam Fess (below right with the Beer Diva at the Victorian Women of Beer event). She’s brewed from west coast to east, plying her trade at breweries as varied as Little Creatures in Freo, Schwartz Brewery in Sydney and, most recently, at True South. You may have sampled one or many of her beers. Even if you haven’t, you may well have bumped into her or, at the very least, heard her holding court at a craft beer bar, showcase or event; hint: she’ll have been the blonde one laughing louder than anyone else. In other words, in an industry full of colourful characters, Sam’s one of the most colourful, and now, like fellow female brewer Jayne Lewis, she’s striking out on her own.
Last week, she headed to Red Hill to brew the first batch of what will be the first release from Old Salt Brewing: the Sea Breeze Refreshing Ale. She’ll be brewing it a couple more times at the Prickly Moses brewery in the Otways and calling in to Young Henry’s to fill one of their tanks too in what she’s terming her “walkabout brewer” phase, terminology that seems more fitting in this country than “gypsy”. It’s very much a temporary situation, however, as her own brewhouse is in the process of being set up at a location west of Melbourne while she sets her sights on a more permanent one, ideally by the water (where else could an old salty sea dog end up, after all?).
“The name Old Salt is about lifestyle and about living,” she says. “I’ve a big appreciation for the ocean and I live for it. So while the beers will speak for themselves, Old Salt will reflect me and what I’m about. We’re looking for a site on the water, but if that doesn’t happen we won’t just plonk it down anywhere.
“I’ve already got brewing equipment, which is actually the kit I brewed on at the old Gunn Island Brewery [at what is now the Middle Park Hotel in Melbourne]. It’s been in a shed for the past seven years gathering dust so I’m really excited about brewing on it again. [When I brewed at Gunn Island] it was my first time outside Little Creatures; I came from a 50 hectolitre brewhouse to this tiny little brewery. I was young and it was fantastic.”
As for the beer that’s now in tank, she’s aiming for a sessionable ale, one that is being brewed with a mixture of English and German malts, some Perle and lots of Galaxy hops, and uses a yeast with a character that should shine through. It is set to be launched next week at seven venues across Melbourne – Beer DeLuxe, The Local Taphouse St Kilda, Junction Beer Hall, The Fox in Collingwood, Dexter Bar in Clifton Hill, the Town Hall Hotel in Fitzroy and the Yarra Lounge.
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