It’s unlikely a beer-brewing kit will ever make the list of the 10 most romantic gifts a bride could present to her groom. However, a kegerator was precisely what Cameron Ealam needed in his quest to become a better hop-grower.
The 29-year-old rural banker turned hop farmer was just one harvest down and preparing for the next when he married his partner Laura, last January. Her wedding gift for Cameron was duly purchased, unwrapped and installed in a corner until the busy 2019 harvest was over.
Converting the family’s Wakefield property from a dairy farm to hop gardens in 2017 had been a “massive learning curve” and, Cameron says, incredibly hard physical work, too.
Cramming his rural banking work into a four-day week, Cameron joined his relatives and new farm staff for long three-day weekends, installing poles, wires and trellis over 15 hectares. He quickly realised the banking job had to go, resigning in time for the planting of 45,000 cuttings.
Eventually, the dairy herd was sold and the milking shed was permanently ‘switched off’ after 70 years. The hop gardens have now expanded over another 20 hectares and Cameron’s father, Bruce continues to grow beef on the property’s remaining 120 hectares.
The family has farmed this property, now known as ‘Holmdale Farm,’ since 1856. It is the second-oldest farm in the Tasman region to have been continually run by the same family.
Over 163 years they’ve produced sheep, beef, dairy products, stone fruit, tobacco and, more than 110 years ago, hops. Cameron represents the sixth generation. His 87-year-old grandfather, his father and mother, an uncle and one of his sisters all contribute to the daily running of the farm.
“Obviously, growing hops is my priority, but I really want to learn about brewing beer, too. If I’m more knowledgeable about crafting beer, I might have a better idea of what the craft brewers are trying to achieve with the varietals we grow.”
The wedding gift kegerator has so far produced 10 ‘Cameron-designed’ brews and none of them have gone to waste.
“They’ve all tasted pretty good, actually,” he grins. “At some stage I’ll come up with names for them but, for now, they’re just called ‘Brew 1’ and ‘Brew 2’ and so on – and I’ve written down my recipes.
“Brewing has been very much trial and error and figuring it out as I go. The great thing about this kegerator is its simplicity. You can start with a basic recipe and adapt it, tweak it and play around with the hops to achieve different flavours and aromas. That resonates with me. I’m enjoying it.”
Cameron’s family, friends and farm staff have been gradually consuming his brews. He concedes he hasn’t yet been brave enough to present a glass to a bona-fide craft brewer.
“I’d like to take some of it to an experienced craft brewer to taste – I will. One day!”
His own taste preferences have changed drastically since his youth, when knocking back many a mainstream beer was ‘the norm’ for a university student, home for the holidays.
“I remember at hay-making time, knocking back a cold beer after carting a couple of thousands bales of hay in the middle of summer – well, you still can’t beat it.
“But nowadays, drinking beer is more about savouring its flavour. A craft beer is not something you knock back in a hurry,” he laughs.
“Provenance matters, too. Craft brewers and craft beer drinkers, too, like to know the stories behind the hops – where they’ve come from and how well they’ve been grown.”
– written by Victoria Clark