Back in the weird, wild days of 2020, in the midst of lockdowns, Akasha founder Dave Padden – like many of us – had a little extra time to kick the tires on a new idea or two over a glass or three. He was reminded of an old mate working the vines at Robert Stein Winery in the regional centre of Mudgee, one of Australia’s most-respected wineries, and inspiration struck. “Dave suggested we go visit Stein, and it all started there,” says head brewer Gareth.
It, as it happens, was the start of a beautiful friendship. Founded in 1976 but drawing on a deep generational history as descendants of German immigrants who pioneered Australian Rhine Riesling, the Stein name is synonymous with quality wine. The teams hit it off immediately, bonding over their adjacent arts with grape and grain.
“We have a very similar culture and were a good fit together,” says Dave. “Winemakers and brewers are usually different kinds of people but we clicked early on through similar reasons for doing what we do.”
Since that first trip, they’ve been back each year. “Stu Maitland and Jacob Stein, the head winemaker, are awesome guys,” says Gareth. “They’ve always welcomed us. It’s been a fun tradition for the boys in the brewery to catch up with what they’re doing out in Mudgee.” More importantly, it also opened the door for Akasha to begin mucking around with new techniques and styles, particularly European brews.
“Winemakers and brewers are usually different kinds of people but we clicked early on through similar reasons for doing what we do.” – Dave Padden, Akasha
“We’ve been working with Akasha for three vintages now and it’s been excellent,” says Jacob Stein. “We’re both really passionate about beer and wine and the friendships they can create, especially with food also.”
The Stein team let the Akasha lads take a couple of old Chardonnay barrels to play around with, and thus were planted the first seeds of what, today, has become Akasha’s ultra-premium Barrel Aged range, The Barrel Room by Akasha, – itself the inspiration for the founding of the venue of the same name in Leichhardt, Sydney. Before the Barrel Room, however, came Rhyme or Riesling, followed the next year by the Feelin’ Vine Grape Ale and a Shiraz Sour. Each were small batch brews that proved popular, opening the door to further collaborations, the fruits of which Akasha fans are now able to enjoy at their fullest from today with the release of four very special beers – none of which would have been possible with the contributions of Robert Stein Mudgee.
For Stein, it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship that has grown in depth and substance. “We’re both really passionate about beer and wine and the friendships they can create, especially with food also.” – Jacob Stein, Robert Stein Winery
“It’s a good alignment between brands from a business perspective, helping each other reach new markets,” he says. “Plus, spreading the love amongst customers is always a big advantage. I haven’t actually tasted this year’s beers yet – I’ll be doing so at the [sold out] Grain & Grape event – so I’m really excited to see how they’ve turned out.”
Let’s take a look at what’s been brewing…
Stein Chardonnay Barrel Aged Sour Blonde Ale
An evolution of the Sour Blonde Ale released last year at The Barrel Room in strictly limited quantities, this is set to stun. Aged in Chardonnay barrels for over a year and pale straw in colour with a slight haze, it’s oaky and buttery on the nose with a distinct funkiness derived from the micro flora used for its souring. The palate is light and effervescent, tart yet not overly so. Classic wild beer notes are evident, with secondary fermentation in the bottle giving additional life and complexity, all resolving with a light, refreshing and cleansing finish with crisp, citrussy acidity. “It’s like drinking petillant naturel [pet nat] or minimal intervention that blurs the line between wine and beer very well.” Available by the bottle at The Barrel Room by Akasha.
Another evolution of a beloved small batch release, this year’s Stein Shiraz Sour saw the team take advantage of fresh Shiraz must for a more fruit-driven sour, added to the beer near the end of fermentation. Philly Sour yeast adds character to a drink that pours light purplish pink, like a dark rosé, with red berries and plum aromatics. Palate is light and dry with bright fruits and a soft lactic touch from the yeast, resulting in a drop that dances on the tongue with light and lovely astringency. Available on tap at The Barrel Room by Akasha.
A nod to the Steins’ German heritage, this is a liquid bread of a beer that partners well with Shiraz’s comparable complexity via fruit esters from 34/70 yeast marrying nicely with the fruitiness of the Shiraz must used in its creation. Caramel amber with a red tinge, it opens with aromatics of pungent, fresh-baked bread with lightly sweet dried fruit notes. On the palate, the savoury spice of the Shiraz becomes evident on a wave of alcohol warmth, with dark Munich Malt imbuing characters of stewed fruits and toffee in a lush and subtly sweet drop that finishes dry and rounded in the mouth. Available on tap at The Barrel Room by Akasha.
Mudgee Strong Grape Ale
Composed of 50% wort and 50% freshly crushed and separated Riesling juice, this silent assassin pours straw gold with fairly tight, naturally carbonated bubbles from its long maturation time. Classic Riesling aromas of minerality and struck match pair beautifully with tropical hop Passiona notes from the addition of Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy, opening onto a palate that is light-to-medium bodied and dry with pleasing white wine acidity that sustains through to a cleansing, moreish finish reminiscent of a crisp, dry ale. Available on tap & in cans at The Akasha Taproom & The Barrel Room by Akasha.
The grape. The grain. Together in singular style, as Akasha and Robert Stein continue to chart the frontiers of flavour in a collaboration that marries the best of brewing and winemaking for your drinking pleasure. Make sure to check out these limited releases while you can – because, as with any vintage, once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.