Top hops make fine brews at Granite Belt Brewery

IN A little more than 18 months, Geoff Davenport's Granite Belt Brewery has gone from small 50-litre trial brews to supplying pubs across the Darling Downs, Granite Belt and Brisbane.

For a man who wants to keep his craft beers boutique, it's a nod to his talents and the knowledge he has learned over the past five years since he and his wife Dee took ownership of the Happy Valley Retreat at Stanthorpe.

And while there are 600 award-winning vines on the premises, it was never winemaking that interested Geoff, but rather the hops and malted grains that, when combined and brewed using his secret recipe, make the six specialty beers flow from the tap.

"We bought Happy Valley coming up to five years ago and at the time, we realised the area could benefit from a brewery," Geoff said.

Brewing beer in the renowned winemaking region of southern Queensland might seem a little odd, but in a praise of his neighbours, Geoff said there were more than enough award-winning vineyards in the Granite Belt and the market was sufficiently catered for.

"There are 600 vines on the place that are award-winning but there are excellent vineyards in the area so we would have to find a market for them but didn't have the knowledge to do wine," he said.

"Other vineyards, they have the knowledge and things passed down for generations, and winemaking never appealed to me."

The brewery idea started ringing bells for the Davenports after it was casually mentioned by a customer sitting at the restaurant and bar.

Those bells refused to be silenced and Geoff had been thirsty for the taste of hop-loaded English beers after returning to Australia with his family following years travelling around Europe.

"When we got back to Australia, there were limited beer options on tap," he said.

"Having lived in the UK for a number of years, I missed having a pub that had a number of (beer) options on tap. We'd always decided to do English-style brewing, which is not a lot of carbonation."

In typical Aussie fashion, Geoff resorted to making it himself, and called in the help of his father, who had been home brewing for more than 40 years, and his cousin's father, who established the Wild Bull in the Ferguson Valley in Western Australia.

"It took us about two-and-a-half years to get the equipment and work through the council applications and the tax office," Geoff said.

"For the council, there were a lot of unknowns about the impact on the area and the impact on the environment.

"But we recycle or re-use as much as we can."

It has now reached the point that wet grains from the brews go toward the region's other big industries - beef and pork.

"The grains go to the farmers but when we first did it, they were unsure if they wanted 250kg of wet grain," Geoff said.

"But now they ring us for it. The cattle and pigs love it."

Where possible, the brewery sources its grains as locally as possible, and there is a preference for supplies from nearby St George.

Base malts are mainly from Australia and some are imported from England, the United States and Germany.

Hops are sourced mainly from Tasmania and Victoria.

Granite Belt Brewery has held off selling large quantities of brews offsite, but is adamant expansion is in future plans.

"A brew for us is 1000 litres whereas Milton (Fourex) is a million litres," Geoff said.

"In our beer, there are no preservatives; it's just unfiltered, unprocessed live beer."

The brewery follows Reinheitsgebot, or the German Purity Law, so the beers have a shelf-life of about 100 days.

A loyal customer about 12 months ago reportedly sank 32 schooners in a single sitting, and although they woke up dehydrated the next day, there were no real traces of a hangover.

"In the future we want to start supplying pubs," Geoff said. "At the moment, we've got beers in Tenterfield, Toowoomba, Brisbane, Warwick, Killarney and Allora.

"We want to keep it small and we don't want to dance with the devil. We want to keep it boutique.

"We want people to think outside the square."

And in terms of industry collaboration, Geoff said brewers were always willing to help out other businesses, and just recently, the Granite Belt Brewery had helped another brewery about 5km down the road.


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