First beer to be planted, nurtured, harvested and brewed in the Highlands

Sutton Forest hop harvest underway.
Sutton Forest hop harvest underway.

In the winter of 2016, a few months after launching Southern Highlands Brewing (SHBC), owners Ben Twomey and Cameron James carefully surveyed the surrounding paddocks of their Sutton Forest brewery.

On their mind was an optimal position for length of sun exposure during the forthcoming summer.

Extrapolation, along with a bit of guesswork, and the Southern Highlands Brewing Hop Yard was born. 

With their sights on a true Southern Highlands hop harvest, in September of 2016 the boys experimented and planted some hop rhizomes - including Chinook, Cascade and Goldings.

James, the head brewer at SHBC, had been growing hops experimentally on his property for a few years and had total faith that the time was right and that their efforts would pay off.

The Southern Highlands is deemed a hop-favourable climate due to its location, just on the cusp of 35 degrees latitude, with a propensity for very cold winters.

The first Sutton Forest hop harvest occurred in February 2017.

Naturally Cameron and Ben undertook a couple of “in-house” trials, primarily using their best grower of the season- the Chinook- with an aim to gauging the bittering and aromatic qualities they could design a beer around.

“I have a few local amateur brewer mates who’d been growing and making their own home-brews from hops they’d raised themselves for quite a few years,” James said. 

“I’d tried plenty of theirs- bloody good- so I knew we were onto something for SHBC.”

The hops lay dormant through the cold winter of 2017, and the harvest season of 2018 was characterised by a hot, dry summer.

Irrigation through those months saw a yield of enough beautiful hops for a small-batch run of the newly- created ‘Sutton Forest Hop Harvest’.

Wet-hopped late in the kettle and the whirlpool, there’s a touch of roast for depth and significant Vienna malt dominance.

The process resulted in a very Autumnal Golden Ale, conjuring all the good things that the season in the Southern Highlands brings to mind.

Significantly, this marks a first for the region, a beer that has been planted, nurtured, harvested and brewed for sale right here in the Highlands.