Topher Boehm, head brewer and co-founder of Wildflower Brewing & Blending, remembers precisely the moment he knew he'd made a beer he could be proud of. "I sat my wife down right here and had the beer arranged in a basket. I set the whole scene for her," the Texan says, gesturing to the rustic wooden table in his 1890s, timber-beamed former metal foundry warehouse in Marrickville, in Sydney's inner west. In the past, she'd found many beers were too bitter for her palate. Tentatively, she took a sip. "It's really good, Topher," she said.
It wasn't long before some variation of this phrase was being uttered throughout the wider epicurean community across Australia. Since its launch last year, Wildflower has spread like, well, wildfire. It started with a small release of two wild-yeast ales, Gold and Amber, in April; and a cellar door, where they also sell a table beer, opened in June. The beer is now stocked in a range of restaurants, from Pizza Madre down the road, to Attica in Melbourne and Franklin in Hobart.
"While there are other breweries in Australia making and specialising in wild-fermented beer, the beers of Wildflower have a completeness that comes from them being thoughtful and considered in their production," says Paper Bird co-owner and manager Ned Brooks, who stocks both the Gold and Amber at his restaurant in Sydney's Potts Point. "Topher is a high-functioning individual and I see this as being reflected in the end product."
High functioning is one way of putting it; high achieving is another. The sixth child of a baker and an electrical engineer, Boehm was always fascinated by pulling things apart to see how they worked. Originally, he was headed for a career in physics, but after a short stint in shoemaking that came about not so much from a love of shoes but a thirst for a challenge ("I was less interested in the end result than the process," he says), he found himself drawn to the curious mix of scientific precision and fatalistic wizardry required in beer making.
Boehm moved from Dallas to Australia in 2009, and learned the trade at Sydney's Flat Rock Brew Café and Batch Brewing Co. He delved deeper into wild-yeast brewing and blending in Belgium and France, until he and his brother-in-law Chris Allen decided to branch out on their own. The pair started a business they hoped would deliver a product they loved and give them the freedom to spend more time with their families.
The brand's point of difference is its use of wild yeasts, found on foraged NSW plants including wattle blossoms and banksia. These are combined with a single strain of brewer's yeast for their fermentations. Wort, the base liquid for the beer, is made at Batch in Marrickville, and Boehm ferments then matures his beers in wine barrels on site. He then blends different barrels of various ages to achieve his desired flavour profile. "It's a bit like being [Roald Dahl's] BFG," he says. "Dream catching. A bit of this, a bit of that."
But Boehm would rather people focus less on the process and more on taste. He believes Wildflower is a drinkable beer to be enjoyed in a similar way to wine – with good friends and with good food but without too much fanfare. To that end, Wildflower ales are unapologetically subtle. Low-key. Gentle, even. They're a far cry from the aggressive layers of hops and acid that characterise so many current craft-beer trends. "People are sick of having their faces ripped off," Boehm says.
Instead, he's tried to create a lighter flavour. Both the Gold and the Amber possess a freshness that pairs well with food; the Amber sits comfortably next to a caramelised rack of ribs, say, while the Gold finds a natural home with anything with a bit of spice. Both are beers that you'd want in the fridge after a day at the cricket. "I don't want it to sound more complicated than that," Boehm says. "People assume there's a sophistication to what we do. But at the end of the day, it's just fucking beer. And I can honestly say that if I make something my wife loves, I'm happy."
Wildflower Brewing and Blending, 11-13 Brompton St, Marrickville, NSW. Open Fri-Sat 1pm-8pm, wildflowerbeer.com