Published on 16 March 2021
Costa Nikias is the founder and chief brewer of La Sirène Brewing, a family operation that’s dedicated to the processes and principles of farmhouse brewing in the inner-city of Melbourne. That means using ingredients sourced as locally as possible and in their rawest form, using age-old brewing methods such as 100-per-cent bottle conditioning (modelled upon méthode Champenoise) and taking a seasonal approach to beer to create ales with a sense of place, time and season. Nikias started off in the wine industry, working in Geelong at Rowsley Fault and at Gippsland’s Bass Phillip before switching to the world of beer.
While he was studying winemaking, he fell in love with farmhouse ales from the Old World, and La Sirène was the next logical step. Over the last decade, the brewery has built a loyal following for its core range, which specialises in saisons, naturally soured wild ales and coolship wild ales made with Australia's first authentic coolship (or koelchip). This large, flat and shallow vessel allows for 100 per cent spontaneous fermentations during winter. Outside of the core range, fans eagerly await the brewery’s seasonal and wild ale releases.
The last three delicious things I drank were Farr Rising's 2019 chardonnay, which has incredible minerality and balance; Yarra Yering’s Dry White No 1 from 2012, another example of Victoria’s ability to make world-class sémillons (one of my favourite varieties); and La Sirène’s Cuvée Bleu, a 24-month wild ale made with copious amounts of fresh blueberries. It’s awesome, and an intense purple in colour.
As far as I'm concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Melbourne is a tough call but I'd have to say either City Wine Shop or Waxflower, a new spot in Brunswick that typically has our Citray Sour on tap. City Wine Shop consistently offers beautiful white Burgundies by the glass while on the other hand Waxflower supports new Victorian natural winemakers, making it a great spot to try the latest and greatest.
When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I review the beer list first, which usually isn’t great, then look for a Victorian chardy to graze on.
The Victorian spirit I'm digging the most right now is Melbourne Gin Company's Dry Gin. It's hard to go past the trusty Tanqueray 10but I think Andrew Marks makes a cracker London dry. He was one of Victoria’s earliest pioneers of small-batch handmade gins.
There's no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than the 2019 Farr Rising Chardonnay. It has a minerality up there with mid-level Burgundy in my opinion.
My favourite place to buy booze is anywhere that has a good selection of Geelong wines and that supports the new and emerging winemakers of Victoria. Blackhearts & Sparrows comes to mind.
I’d love to see us planting more sémillon in Victoria. I love how it ages when it’s grown here. A great example is the Yarra Yering Dry White No 1. It develops huge stone-fruit characters (over-ripe peaches for me) when aged a little, yet it still retains its delicate structure. I also don’t want us to brew any more choc-fudge ice-cream beers!
My guilty pleasure in the fridge is a Kirin Ichiban fresh from Japan (no more than 12 weeks old); it has a super-clean profile that’s probably the best example of how refreshing a beer should be. In the drinks cabinet it’s a nip of Dalwhinnie. Its delicate yet powerful aromatics are just intoxicating.
The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been the public having an adventurous appetite to try new Australian-made lo-fi wines, artisanal beers and hand-made spirits – and drinking more moderately but choosing better quality booze.
For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is difficult to pinpoint because there are so many people doing Victoria proud in the liquor industry. Nick Farr (Farr Rising), Matt Holmes (Bannockburn Vineyards) and Stuart Gregor (Four Pillars) all come to mind. Stuart's commitment to all things gin-related is extremely impressive, as is Matt Holmes' dedication at Bannockburn Vineyards, where expression of site is in every bottle.
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