Didn’t someone once say that the best ideas are made over a pot of beer?
Well if it hasn’t already been said, we’re saying it now. And, we’ve got the evidence to back this up.
Let us introduce you to Alistair Tippett, an agronomist-turn-hop-farmer who is seriously kicking goals in Victoria’s craft beer scene. And it’s all thanks to a long conversation over a few beers.
Alistair and his partner Cass live in the small country town of Dean, a short 20-minute drive from Ballarat.
Built on a reputation for good farming (ask any local and they’ll tell you just how good the potatoes from Dean are), this rural town may just be about to start a new chapter in its history books – one where potatoes take a back seat and craft beer fever takes over.
Talking about the night Alistair and Cass decided to start growing a few hop bines, Alistair said it stemmed from a conversation about home brewing and the growing popularity of wanting to know where the beer you’re consuming comes from.
“Craft brewing is going bananas, especially with everyone wanting to know about the story behind the beer they’re drinking,” Alistair said.
“People want to understand the process, they’re getting hooked into where it’s coming from.”
There was also the incentive to help local brewers further cement their roots to the region by providing them access to locally-grown hops.
But with hop farmers keeping their secrets close, it was evident Alistair’s background as an agronomist and a lot of trial and error would be needed to kick-start their new venture.
“We spent lots of time researching on the web. But it’s quite a closed industry, no one likes to give too much away,” he said.
“We hadn’t even seen a hop plant before, but I was confident we could get them to grow here. We thought we’ll get a 100 plants put and in and see how they grow, that 100 plants then became 700.
“Soon this little trial turned into something semi-professional.”
Right now, AC Hops is producing whole dried hop cones and wet hops, with brewers like Bankhouse Brewery’s Damien Norman taking full advantage of the local hop.
“Damien up the road is experimenting all the time with my hops,” Alistair said.
“Bells Beach [Brewing] also recently made a great wet hop beer. They came up here, picked them themselves and made them into a beer on the same day.”
Soon, AC Hops will move into pellet hops – a popular choice of hop for commercial brewers – which means Alistair and Cass will be able to sell their hops to more brewers across the state, including local breweries in Ballarat.
“The next 12 months we will be focussed on getting our pellets into local breweries, and continuing to grow quality hops,” he said.
“In time we also want to be able to show people around. We’re not far off, probably by the end of the year.
So, it turns out the rich volcanic soils of Dean are good for more than just growing great potatoes.
And if that’s not enough to convince you good things are brewing in Dean, then why not take a quick trip there yourself and taste the fruits of Alistair’s labour at the newly-opened Bankhouse Brewery.
Located on the side of the main thoroughfare through Dean, this microbrewery and cellar door – which has been converted from an old bank house – might just be Australia’s smallest brewery.
But as they say; good things come in small packages.