Written by Mary Taylor
Clare Valley brewer Alister Pike is reviving some old drinks recipes from the historic family brewery, starting with a ‘healthy’ tonic beer that can be mixed with gin.
In South Australia, the Pike name is commonly associated with winemaking in the Clare Valley, but for almost 100 years the family produced beer and soft drinks in the Adelaide Hills.
“The family brewed beer until 1938 and then went on to do soft drink and cordials,” explains Alister Pike, whose great-great-grandfather, Henry Pike, established the Oakbank brewery in 1886.
After the Pikes stopped brewing beer, the Tonic Ale was the only fermented drink they continued to produce. It was made with orange and lemon peel, coriander seed, ginger and hops, and sold as a ‘non-intoxicating healthy drink’.
“Back then there wasn’t much scientific research – it’s really just a lightly alcoholic soft drink with added botanical ingredients,” explains Pike.
“At a guess, the alcohol volume was around 1.5 per cent. It didn’t contain malt or cinchona.”
In the late 1960s, when the Oakbank brewery was sold, the Pike family interests moved to wine production in the Clare Valley and the Tonic Ale recipe became part of the family memorabilia.
After a stint working with Good George Brewing in New Zealand, in 2012 Alister Pike decided to join the family business and help create a new direction for Pikes beer, which had been brewed under contract since 1996.
“I’ve been quite attracted to the idea of doing historical brews,” he says.
“I had all these old labels that had been collected by family over time and the Tonic Ale was always the beer that Pikes was known for back in the day.”
In 2014, the family decided to ‘take back the reins’ and begin brewing in-house in a purpose-built brewery at the Clare Valley winery site, appointing head brewer Brad Nolen (ex-Mildura Theatre Brewing and Gage Roads Brewing Co., WA) and Alister Pike as assistant brewer.
In addition to the sparkling ale, stout and Pilsener lager already being made, Pikes has since released a pale ale, a red hefeweizen, and a seasonal Belgian-style sour-cherry beer called ‘kriek’, which is made with second-grade cherries and fermented in old shiraz barrels. It has also re-introduced the historic Tonic Ale.
“The difference between the original Tonic Ale recipe and the updated version we’re using now is that we’ve added cinchona (Peruvian bark), malt and fresh coriander,” says Pike.
“Most people just have a stubbie of it on a hot day, pour it over ice and drink it like a cider, and others are taking it home to use as a mixer with gin.
“The familiar quinine flavour comes through from the cinchona and other people pick up the citrus, coriander and ginger.”
Pike says he plans to have a play with some of the Pikes historic cordial flavours to create new alcoholic beverages.
“I can’t say exactly what it will be just yet, but there will definitely be something new from the brewery next year,” he says.
Pikes Tonic Ale is currently on tap at Osteria Oggi in Adelaide and the next batch of Pikes Kriek is due for release just before Christmas.