Snow and beer go together like birds of a feather, there’s no doubt about it. So when you have the opportunity to drink beer made from snow, you know you’ve just had a peak experience.
We were fortunate to do this at Arlberg, Australia’s largest snow hotel perched on the side of Mount Higginbotham, which just happens to be home to a very nice little craft brewery.
Craft beer made from snow
Owners Kim and Chris Coghlan, brewer Tom Foreman, and barman extraordinaire Mack guided our beer tasting on a particularly blowy night, so we were more than happy to take our time savouring the Mt Hotham Brewery range.
This artisan collection of craft beers and ciders is made year-round, and has something for everyone – Whiteout, a popular citrusy pale ale; Arlberg Gold, a more fruity golden ale (my new favourite); Bluebird, a crowd-pleasing lager; Irish Red (not as strong as a stout, more flavour than an English bitter), and the utterly delicious apple cider (Orchard Drift) and ginger beer (Ginger Deer).
How about a chili ale?
Then there are the experiments – inevitably there is some brew left over from the runs, and brewers Tom Foreman and Max Martin like to let their imaginations run free. This time, they have come up with a couple of cracker beers – one is a coffee ale, and the other is a chili ale.
The coffee ale is quite refreshing, made with coffee from local roasters Sixpence Coffee, giving a nice caffeine kick over the ale undertones. We would never recommend drinking beer for breakfast, but if you had to, this would be the one. It’s also a nice alternative to a coffee martini.
The chili ale though – wow! Made with locally grown Carolina Reapers, which were until recently the world’s hottest chilis (just pipped at the post by Pepper X in 2017). It packs a big punch and is delicious, but we’d recommend drinking it slowly………
Local ingredients, local talent
Like the ingredients, the brewers involved in this enterprise are all local – Tom hails from Porepunkah, and Max is from Wandiligong. The whole team are long-time Hotham seasoners, and the beers are infused with a distinctly Hotham character, with no fakery – the beers are completely preservative free.
Arlberg owner Chris Coghlan admits the brewing has been a steep learning curve, with challenges posed by the very specific environment they operate in. At nearly 1800 metres elevation, there’s 20% less oxygen in the air, and lower air pressure, so gases in fluids don’t behave in the same way as they do down in the valley.
“There are very few breweries as high as this one anywhere. We had to engage the help of a Swiss ex-Olympian who researched what European high-altitude brewers do to achieve the fine bubbles without creating too much pressure,” says Chris.
Snowmelt means happy yeast
The snowmelt is perfect for beer – completely neutral, it makes for very happy yeasts. This means the beers are live and have to be kept chilled, otherwise they start fermenting again.
The fact that brewing is temperature-driven meant making adjustments at different times of the year, because when the weather cools, the fermenting takes longer.
“We’re also dealing with the fact that evaporation occurs faster at altitude, so we have to factor in losing a quantity due to evaporation into the dry air up here. We’ve done a lot of work to adapt the process to suit the conditions but we’ve got it right now.”
Creating local jobs
Chris and Kim are also proud of the fact that their brewing operation has created year-round local jobs – everything from plumbing and air-conditioning for the brewery to the brewing, bottling and distribution of the products.
If you look carefully at the deer graphic used on some of the labels, you’ll see that the deer’s horns are an inverted version of the Mt Hotham Brewery’s mountainous logo. Everything about what this brewery does reflects the team’s love of Mt Hotham, and we’re glad they’re happy to share it with us.
Note: the only place on the mountain where you can taste Mt Hotham Brewery's products is at the Arlberg Bar on Level 3.
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