Left Barrel Brewing, a left-of-field brewery and taphouse in Balhannah specialising in barrel-aged sours, has joined the long list of must-try Adelaide Hills craft beer destinations.
Introducing Left Barrel Brewing
The Left Barrel Brewing taphouse is located at 37 Onkaparinga Road, Balhannah.
Behind a roller door in Brad Bown’s Balhannah backyard, there are still remnants of the first 18 months of the civil-engineer-turned-brewer’s initial steps into commercial brewing – a stack of wooden barrels filled with beer, two abandoned cool rooms and a small bottling apparatus.
An amateur brewer for 20 years, Brad jokes that he started homebrewing as a way to access cheap beer as a uni student, but this penny-pinching soon morphed into a fascination with farmhouse ales and sour brews.
“I was just brewing constantly, playing around with all different styles… and always wanted to keep experimenting and keep pushing the bar further, especially with the sour beers and things like that,” he says.
This attitude has come to define the output of Left Barrel Brewing.
Even for South Australia’s craft beer industry, Brad’s brews are unconventional; the process of barrel-ageing sour beers is similar to wine fermentation, and involves the use of bacteria and yeasts, like Brettanomyces (known colloquially as Brett), which most brewers will go to great lengths to keep out of their hyper-clean breweries.
Ageing can also take anywhere from a few weeks to several years, making each batch a high-risk production. This goes some way to explain why so few sours come to market, and why Brad saw great opportunity in the niche.
“There’re so many great breweries out there that do great pale ales, IPAs, etcetera. I don’t tend to play in that space too much,” Brad says.
“The farmhouse beers, which can include these sours beers, the Brett beers, such as the IPA and the amber that we do, there’s certainly a gap in the market for that, and that’s our point of difference.
“I like variety in my beer choice… and I guess the variety that comes in those farmhouse styles, you can really push the boundaries in any direction.”
Left Barrel Brewing has recently moved beyond Brad’s backyard, bringing a brewery and taphouse offering to a large space to the Balhannah homemaker centre – alongside Living By Design – on Onkaparinga Road. The humble brewer jokes that he’s not yet sure that Left Barrel is a viable business, but his ambition and cautious approach to growth suggest otherwise.
Most brewers will go through a gypsy or contract brewing phase in order to delay high startup costs and establish their brands, but “it would be harder for me to do with the kinds of yeasts I want to use,” Brad says.
He instead found another low-risk path into the industry, outsourcing the energy-intensive mash process and then fermenting the beer at his own facility.
“That was the light bulb moment that maybe I could actually do this without mortgaging half the house,” Brad says.
“I can build the barrel collection, but not have to invest in a big hot side brewery, which can be a costly side of the startup.”
With Uraidla Brewery, Prancing Pony, Lobethal Bierhaus and Gulf Brewery all operating within the area, and Mismatch’s long-awaited Nairne property only months away from public launch, the crest of the Adelaide Hills beer wave is now about to break.
Each brewery has its own identity within the craft scene, but Left Barrel stands comparatively far left of field, driven by Brad’s experimental nature.
The brewery has a loosely held core range: the Balhannah Bitter will be a mainstay, and Duckhunter, a pale ale, has been well-received and so will likely be produced regularly; however, the other four taps at the taphouse will be on high rotation as Brad continues iterating through strawberry goses, dunkels, sour amber and Flemish ales, and whatever else is currently sitting in barrel.
After the decades-long reign of monotonous mass-produced lagers and draughts, independently produced craft beer has proven to be a silver bullet to the scourge of boring front bars. With Brad Bown in the game, we can rest assured the South Australian brewing industry at large will be kept on its toes.