They're not obvious candidates for making beer: wattle, strawberry gum and leftover sourdough from Ester. Topher Boehm turns to flower cuttings and other NSW-only ingredients to create wild ales for Wildflower, the Sydney brewery he runs with brother-in-law Chris Allen. They've named beers after their children – including the wild-raspberry-flavoured St Phoebe, which was selected over 1500 drinks to be named Australia's best beverage. And his curiosity with fermenting has led to Topher brewing 200 litres of soy sauce in a barrel, just for fun. Maybe his revved-up creativity shouldn't be a surprise – Topher once had 70 home-brewing experiments on the go in his apartment (until his wife fairly decided that perhaps that was just a little too much to co-habitate with).
So how did Topher go from making frozen sandwiches for his family in Texas – and studying astrophysics and considering a career in shoemaking – to brewing beers that are found in 10 William Street and other top bars and restaurants around Australia? It's a pretty surprising path that also involves a really sweet love story (and a literally stinky town in New Zealand).
You don't have to be a deep beer nerd to enjoy this episode, as Topher is a great storyteller – just listen to the unbelievably "epic" tale behind the coolship vessel that's being made for his spontaneous beers. The vessel has survived bushfires and flood – intense conditions that literally swallowed a truck belonging to the Blue Mountains blacksmith who is making the coolship. And while Topher has learnt about beer from hanging out in Europe and the US, he is keen to create a beverage that gets its flavours from sources you can only find in his home state. “We were calling beer local, but it was made that way from where it was brewed, not the ingredients it was from,” he says. Which means Topher is especially interested in bush foods, like saltbush, and is experimenting with the idea of bringing back his sold-out St Phoebe run using native raspberries.
This episode actually features two parts: one recorded in January (before the pandemic) and a part two that sees us catching up remotely a few months after lockdown sets in.
We also cover historical aspects of beer: it's the reason for the world's oldest recipe and, despite its cliched blokey image today, it was actually women who traditionally were brewers. (Go back to Ancient Egypt and it was women who tended to beer.) PS The cherry beer you hear fermenting in the background is actually now available from Wildflower (it's delicious)!