INITIALLY visiting Kangaroo Island to build a holiday home, McLaren Vale builder Mike Holden stumbled across an opportunity that has since become a full-time passion.
“Coming from McLaren Vale, there is a fantastic range of wine and beer cellar doors available,” he said.
“But we (with partner Nina Maurovic) realised no one had a brewing business on KI at the time. After some research, I fell in love with the concept and we thought, ‘let’s have a crack’.”
In 2013, Mike bought an 8-hectare property on the outskirts of Kingscote, overlooking Nepean Bay and the hills of Macgillivray.
Twleve months later, construction began on the Kangaroo Island Brewery, which features a tasting bar, lounge area by a wood fire, climate-controlled brewing room and outdoor kitchen, which can also be used as a barbecue space for visitors.
Local materials, such as limestone and recycled timbers, feature strongly throughout the cellar door.
During the build, beers were also being prototyped.
“In the beginning, I knew nothing about beer, except how to drink it,” he said.
“I hadn’t even mastered a home brew kit.
“But like building, every good business needs a good foundation, and the foundation of brewing is cleaning.
“If everything is clean, everything works really well, so we followed that focus.”
Mike said they didn’t want to make anything “too crazy”, so have stuck to a more traditional ale range.
“We wanted to produce beers that become a staple for buyers,” he said.
The KIB range includes pale ale (the most popular), golden ale, amber ale, summer ale, Indian pale ale, Neen’s ginger wheat beer, Sheoak stout and a Mexican-inspired brew called Cerveza.
All of the grain is bought through Joe White Maltings at Port Adelaide, which includes some malting grain from KI and other parts of the state, while the hops are bought from Tas and Vic.
Mike said they tried to grow their own hops on-site last year, but with not a lot of success.
“The trellises got nailed by caterpillars,” he said.
“Normally that can be okay because the plant will then go dormant until conditions are right again, but the clay soils then got too wet and rotted out the rhizomes.”
This month, he plans to sow 100 new plants into more sandy loam soils, above the clay base. He also hopes to micro-malt on-site one day.
“We have the space to grow wheat and barley,” he said.
“It is quite a delicate process to malt your own grain, particularly for a site our size, but we aim to give it a go.”
The brewery opened a about a year ago, and Mike says it has grown from strength to strength.
“We started as a taste-only on-site cellar door in the beginning,” he said.
“But then we came across an American concept of 1-litre squealer and 2L growler takeaway bottles, which are poured from tap. The 2L bottle equates to a six-pack.
“For us, it meant one package, one label, while for customers, we can offer our beer at $22 a six-pack, which has become very popular.
“Plus customers buy the bottle once for an elevated price and then only pay for the refills after that.”
At full capacity, Mike can brew up to 750L a day.
There are expansion plans for a new, larger cellar door site to further increase brewing and function capacity.
“We were included in the KI tour guide in May,” Mike said.
“The local support has been really great, so we will have to see how much that increases our tourist patronage.
“We will also soon have taps in other locations on the island, which will increase demand.”