Topher Boehm has been around the Sydney brewing scene for a while, spending time at Flat Rock and Batch, but now he’s doing his own thing in the form of Wildflower Brewing & Blending.
It’s often said that brewing combines both art and science. I believe there’s a truth in that.
It’s a concept that’s easily applied to the way Topher Boehm works. He has a background in astrophysics, he’s analytical, but there’s a creative aspect to his blending.
When he draws beer from the barrel, or when he tastes blends, his analysis is subjective. Does it taste good? That’s the most important thing.
For all the technicality involved in harvesting and propagating yeast, in brewing and in blending, the measure of success is the feeling the beer evokes in the drinker.
While it’s true that Wildflower Brewing & Blending blurs the lines of art and science, there’s a simpler view that contains an equally valid truth.
“It’s just fucking beer.” That could almost be Topher’s motto. You probably won’t see it embossed on the bottle labels but it’s a philosophy that contributes to the final product and the way he’d like it to be enjoyed.
The Importance Of Provenance
Topher draws a line of distinction between what he does and the work of winemakers. Provenance is one thing, terroir is another. Both are different but valuable concepts.
“For me, it’s more giving a sense of place,” Topher says of his approach to making beer. “Terroir exists in wine, I don’t talk about it existing in my beer. I really stray away from that word because I have too much respect for winemakers and them actually growing their fruit.”
It was during his time in Spain that using and consuming local produce struck him as the most natural way of living.
“There was this one time, it was like six or eight months of my living in this town called Santander,” says Topher, “I was walking away from the market and I was like ‘this is really cool, all of this fish was caught from that bay there, all the producers are either wholesalers for the farmers or they’re farmers themselves. People are eating food from their region, that’s just awesome. Wait, why do I think that’s awesome? That should be the fucking norm. That shouldn’t be a novelty, that should just be what it is.’”
This philosophy is reflected in the Wildflower beers. As an approach to making beer, it’s the only way Topher could do it.
“It’s important to me,” he says. “What does it mean to be making beer in Australia if you’re not using Australian ingredients?”'What does it mean to be making beer in Australia if you’re not using Australian ingredients?' - @wildflowerbeer Click To Tweet
Why Australian Wild Ales?
So why look to yeast-driven, barrel-aged blends when so much of the “craft” world is focused on hops?
“This style of beer fell on me for so many reasons,” says Topher. “With that ecological philosophy, plus my wife only liked these beers.
“One of the others was my inability to control it, the fact that I could be pretty clear about what I was doing up until a point and then you have to trust.
“I get to create exact conditions for mother nature to do her thing, and she creates. But because I’ve given her something to do that, I’m a co-creator in that. And so that interaction satisfies, not both but elements of either, the scientific pursuit as well as the artistic pursuit.”
The types of beers that Topher is making at Wildflower reference a long lineage of wild beers from across the world. But they’re unmistakably modern Australian beers and each carries his unique mark.
Joy That’s Shared Is Doubled
Topher comes from a big family where sharing good food and good drink are part of everyday life. This generosity of spirit is reflected in the way he’s structured his cellar door.
“There’s so many people I want to share this with,” he says, “there’s so many friends and family and just not enough time.”
Topher has consciously built on his natural inclination to share. Communal tables and 750ml bottles lend themselves to conviviality. It’s the combination of these conscious and subconscious elements that’s been realised in the cellar door.
“I don’t think I could do it any other way,” he says.
His table beer is also clearly important to him. It’s essentially the house beer, available only at Wildflower save for a few special events. At 3% ABV it’s as drinkable as they come and perfect to have with a meal. He wants people to enjoy it and he wants it to matter.
“I remember reading something from a brewer once,” says Topher, “that was like ‘I spend a lot of time trying to make good beers, but I spend so much more time trying to make beer that matters.’ I don’t yet feel like my beer matters but I want it to matter and I want it to be something that means something to people.”
But Topher will also tell you “it’s just fucking beer”. The implication is that it can wash down a white bread snag sandwich as well as it’ll wash down a high grade steak.
Such contrasting and conflicting ideas float through a conversation with Topher. That’s what makes him interesting to talk to. The fact that he writes on the Wildflower blog allows us a window not just into his process but his way of thinking.
Demand, Transparency & Communication
Since launching in April 2017, demand for Wildflower beers has been high. For Topher, running out of beer is not a good problem to have.
He wants to be open and transparent about it but he’s concerned about how he comes across.
The likes of Cloudwater in the UK have been accused of generating hype for their beers. That’s something Topher wants to avoid. At the same time he wants to be able to set expectations, to communicate when stock is low or sold out, but also to let people know where and when they can get it.
From a purely business perspective he understands that if people are contacting him willing to part with money, then they’re his customers. They’re the ones he doesn’t want to piss off.
It reflects well on the Australian beer scene that people are on board with the Wildflower journey from the start.It reflects well on the Australian beer scene that people are on board with the Wildflower journey from the start. Click To Tweet
At Wildflower Brewing & Blending, Topher Boehm is producing some of Sydney’s most exciting beer. He’s helping to build the profile of Australian wild ales and the concept of provenance in beer, but he’s doing it his way and he’s making it accessible.