Naracoorte’s Ludwig family – Dean, Margaret, Andrew and David – have continued their winning streak at the Robe Home Brew and Craft Beer Festival.
Margaret won the cider category, with her winning brew made from two varieties of pear, two varieties of apples, and a special ingredient – quinces.
“The quinces were a bit of inspiration – I saw that they had fallen, and decided to add them in,” said Margaret.
This was only the second time Margaret had entered cider for competition. She got the idea after attending a brew pub and trying their homemade cider.
“I thought to myself, we can make our own cider,” she explains.
“We have an orchard out the back, and there’s only so many times you can make stewed fruit.”
Making the first batch of cider was a laborious task, as to crush the apples, the Ludwigs used an old redgum post, smashing the fruit in a drum.
The next year, after Dean Ludwig did some research, they invested in a “scratter” – a powerful fruit press that can churn up kilos of apples in minutes.
When the second cider was entered into the Robe Beer Festival, the judges were impressed by the cider’s beautiful blush pink colour, clarity, crispness, and carbonation.
Andrew Ludwig, Dean and Margaret’s son, also took home gold in the porters/stouts/dark ale category.
While their other son David has been making beer since he was in his teens, it was Andrew’s first attempt at properly brewing beer.
“The equipment was a gift from my brothers and David’s partner Rosheen,” said Andrew.
“It was my first trial run with the new equipment, using a recipe recommended by Dad.”
David helped Andrew brew the beer, and encouraged him to enter it in the competition.
“I wasn’t going to enter until I got a call from David and Rosheen on the cut-off date,” Andrew said.
“I only submitted it with ten minutes to spare.”
Whilst Margaret and Andrew only picked up the brewing hobby recently, Dean and David have been brewing for decades.
They first started with the homemade kits, which came with pre-packaged malt extract.
“It was pretty horrible, some of the stuff that I was making back then,” said David.
“But you know, you’re learning these things. Dad and I did a homemade brewing course at TAFE, and we were taught by Simon Fennell, who is an award-winning brewer.”
Simon Fennell is a veteran brewer, who is now the head of the Steam Exchange Brewery in Goolwa.
“And he [Fennell] taught us how to brew from scratch, from grains rather than extracts. Instead of a can of syrup, we now buy bags of barley.
“Instead of buying the can, you’re extracting the starch and sugar yourself.”
What gives the Ludwigs an advantage is architecture and land resources. Their house has a cool, almost-underground level, which was formerly used by the previous owner to store homemade Italian meats.
Outside, as well as the orchard, there are fresh hops growing on a wall, with plenty of space for them. Hops, like ivy, grow in vertical tendrils.
Whilst the Ludwigs have many hobbies – such as preserving olives and making their own wine – they are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about brewing.
“It’s quit flavoursome, it’s quite malty,” David Ludwig says of the homemade beer he and his family make. “It’s all about the hops.”
Using natural hops and good quality yeast can not only make a huge difference in colour and flavour intensity, but also can decrease the risk of a hangover due to less additives than commercial beer.
“There are specific yeasts for different purposes,” says Margaret. She used a champagne yeast for her award-winning cider.
And the roasting of the grains can produce different varieties of beer (a stout versus a pale ale for example).
Because of the ability to experiment with varieties, colours, and flavours, brewing requires a lot of research and knowledge, but also makes room for creativity.
As for homemade cider, recipes can never be exactly replicated, due to trees giving different blooms because of weather and soil conditions that year.
Whilst the Ludwigs are happy to keep brewing as a family hobby, there was a pleasant surprise for Dean Ludwig this year down at Robe.
“Part of the prize (for the overall best beer) was I got to make a small batch at a brewery,” said Dean.
“And when we stopped in at the Robe Hotel, it was on tap!”