CityMag briefly escaped the Adelaide city limits to meet Maris and Kristi Biezaitis, purveyors of a better kind of beer in the state's South East.
On the road: Robe Town Brewery
Every year, from Christmas through until Easter, the cool and calm coastal town of Robe, in the state’s South East, is served a sizable contingency of tourists, all flocking to its shores to escape the hustle, heat or familiarity of their hometowns.
It’s a reliable holiday staple, particularly for South Australians and those living along Victoria’s western edge.
Robe Town Brewery is located at 97 Millicent Road, Robe and opens from 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday, and 11am-5pm on Sunday.
On 6 March 2011, however, Kristi and Maris Biezaitis came to Robe having never heard of the place.
“We came to Australia seven years ago, and we stayed with Maris’ sister in Melbourne for about six months,” Kristi says.
“Friends of friends who Maris had done some work for said ‘We’ve bought this house in this place called Robe, would you like to go and live there and look after the house?’ and we were like ‘Yeah, let’s go.’”
Coming from Latvia, it was the couple’s hope to escape the increasingly intolerable European winters, and in Robe they found paradise.
“I had lived in cities for the best part of the last decade or more, and I’d just had enough of cities and city life, and I wanted a tree change or whatever you call it,” Maris says.
After two years of rolling summers, spent between Latvia and Australia, Kristi and Maris decided to settle in regional Australia. But there was something that the seaside locale lacked.
“There were no breweries around,” Maris says.
“Back then there were only maybe 250 breweries in Australia, now there are 500. There were no breweries in the whole South East at the time.
“Robe being, for a big part of the year, from Christmas until Easter, a bit of a tourism mecca… I thought a brewery in a country town could and would work, because there are people that keep coming back to Robe from Victoria and Adelaide, and internationally, and increasingly people want to try something that’s local, especially beer.”
The business started with Maris gypsy brewing out of both a brewery in Ballarat and TAFE in Adelaide, before they accrued enough equipment to start their own operation.
Now, with its farmhouse-style wood-fired kettle, Robe Town Brewery is bringing a broader array of beers to a region that had languished under the omnipresence of large commercial breweries.
Judging by the business’ growth – doubling their output each year for the last three years – it was not only Maris and Kristi who noticed the monotony in South Eastern front bars.
“I learnt more about beer making and realised even more that the way that a lot of the huge industrial, high tech breweries make beer, it’s kind of similar to huge food processing factories, where you get… for want of a better example, basic sliced white bread,” Maris says.
“You know, it’s nothing compared to a tenderly loved little loaf of sourdough artisan bread that’s made in small batches like that, and you can tell the difference in flavour.”
Across Robe Town Brewery’s roster of 16 beers, flavour is paramount; from their super-light, two-per cent hay-infused saison, Hey Hay; The Southern Ocean Gose, salted with ocean water; Magic Mulberry, a fruity beer infused with locally sourced mulberries; and even the heavier (and higher price point) Moby Dick Ambergris Ale.
All are distinct and a distillation of Maris’ experimental nature.
“A lot of it is just creative process, improvisation, some if it’s a bit of trial and error and accidents and things like that, and just being true to the craft of brewing,” Maris says.
“It kind of keeps it interesting for us, making new things, and through that we learn to do things better, and differently, and other styles. In a larger sense, it also keeps it interesting and fun for us, and keeps the passion there. So we’re always doing something new, and kind of venturing into new territory, exploring different flavours and methods.”
The next step for Maris and Kristi is a larger kettle, which will mean bigger brews, a farther reach, hopefully bringing their two employees on full-time, and, if we’re lucky, more beer making it up to the city.
“In the summertime we almost don’t have enough beer to send anything to Adelaide and Melbourne,” Maris says.
“There are enough people in Adelaide that dig this kind of stuff that we’re doing, and the kind of stuff that other small producers… In the wintertime we might focus a little bit more on that, try and get some more beers out there and helping promote it a little bit.”