Topher Boehm is the head brewer/blender behind Wildflower Brewing & Blending. He makes wild ales, fermented with yeast collected around New South Ales and blended after a period of aging in oak barrels. We sat down with a glass of lager at the brewery.
On getting in to the industry.
I got in to the industry for one reason, I stayed for a different reason, and then I started this brewery for a different reason altogether!
I got in to the industry by accident. Andrew and Chris from Batch needed some help and I couldn’t do my Honours year [in Physics] straight away. So, I was working with Tara Murphy and Martin Bell at the CSIRO in Ryde once a week and brewing at Batch for the rest of the week, but then quickly realised I really liked it. I stayed in the industry because of the industry itself, the collaborative aspect of it and the people in it.
I left to start this because of a desire for flexibility in my work schedule. That’s primarily why we started it, Chris has three kids, I have one, I wanted structure with my family to be controlled at least by me.
Then, there’s also the classic answer, I love beer. But, you can love beer and do the Marrickville walk every weekend. I would love if we could just start answering that honestly, to get to the bottom of people’s motivation, and for them to say “it’s a growing industry, you can make some money here.” I don’t think that’s a problem to say! If we weren’t able to make money, we wouldn’t do this. It’d be like beating our heads against a brick wall. There’s a reality.
On the kinds of beers Wildflower aims to make.
We don’t want to put out super sour, or super funky, or super anything beers, because I don’t find them that drinkable. The element of beer that I wanted to focus on was a more food-friendly product, which is inherently then more subtle.
With our fruit beers, for instance [sour apricot beer] St Henry, I was worried they would be super sour. But, when we tried it, it was super soft and really beautiful and I was like, “dammit, I can’t even do it!” We can’t bring ourselves to like, or even make, aggression like that.
I definitely had apprehensions starting off trying to focus on something that was subtle and nuanced, rather than something that was aggressive and bold. Creating a product like ours is not the expected route for a brewery like ours. So, I was nervous about that response. Every month when we go out to release our blends, and they’re the same blends over and over again, I’m like, “how are we going to sell this?” But, we always do.
I think there’s a growing group across the world that’s turning away from extreme beers. The rise of lagers is a big example of that, but even beers from mixed culture breweries are focusing on similar things, trying to find nuance rather than aggression. Maybe the culture around craft beer is changing from “new, new, new, what’s next, give me something unique,” to “I love this beer, I’m going to get this day in and day out.”
I mean, look at Saison Dupont. They’ve never changed, that’s why they’ve been in production for hundreds of years.
On the influence of his wife, Bernadette.
The most nervous I’ve ever been was before blending our second or third release of Gold. I tasted it and just thought, “what am I making?” It wasn’t recognisable, the beer – I mean now it is, now it’s our flavour – but I just had to give it to Bernadette and ask her if it was good, because I genuinely didn’t know. She was like, “yes, this is tasty. It’s different, I’ve never had anything like it.” So, then I knew we could do this. She was able to say that independently, outside of the fact we’d been building the brewery for months. She wasn’t thinking about the previous work, or the finances. She was judging it simply on whether it was good or not.
Actually, the reason we make this kind of beer is because of her. We were down south in Berry, and they had gotten a shipment of Jester King’s Noble King, which is their mixed culture Saison – bitter, dry and a little sour. She tried it and said, “that’s one of the first beers you’ve bought me that I’ve really enjoyed.” Then, these two things came together, which was the desire to make something that’s from where we were from, and the desire to make something she would enjoy.
When we were building this place out, she said “I don’t care what you do with it, but the bathrooms have to be nice. If my girlfriends are coming and we’re going out after and one of them is wearing a white dress, their dress can’t be getting pulled on anything and they’re not getting any marks on it.” It was something I hadn’t really thought of. The first time she came here, she walked straight through the building to the bathrooms, and I got her approval. Part of that was being whipped as a husband, but why wouldn’t I want to make a place where my wife is comfortable in, and anyone would be comfortable in? On any given weekend, I feel like we’re even in terms of gender split. I find that to be the case more often there, than a lot of other taprooms I’ve been to [here and around the world].
On the Australian White Ensign hanging at the back of the brewery.
How did you recognise that? [laughs] My father in law was given it by a patient, he’s a doctor. It was in his shed for ages and one day he offered it to me. At the time, I was really in to textiles, I’m actually a keen seamster. Anyway, I didn’t have room for it in our small place and I needed a blocker for where some corrugated zinc was missing. I kept it because I liked it there, I really like the colours.
Four of my siblings in the States have served for the US Military, my grandfather was a Marine in WWII, my father was in the military. We’re not a big military family, but like a lot of Americans, you have an innate respect for people who do serve. I’m not flying an American flag in here or anything like that, it’s quite subtle. We’re doing things here that are kind of appropriated – the techniques and styles aren’t from here, but appropriated to an Australian climate and place. So I think this is another kind of appropriation, showing appreciation to my brothers and my sister who have served, but without having the American flag flying.
It’s kind of disrespectful to fly, actually, because it’s not on a naval ship. Some people don’t see it, but if you do see it, that tells me something about you. So many people in the military love it, guys who are stationed up at Potts Point, it’s nice for them to walk in and see it. Australians aren’t hugely nationalistic, so it’s the right level of subtlety for them. It’s there if you see it, but if you don’t see it, it doesn’t matter.