An Italian sommelier turned brewer is the latest player to turn up on the South Australian craft beer scene.
Gypsy brewer Marco Bona released his first beers — Belgian Pale Ale and Session Ale — under the Libation Army label at the beginning of the year and will introduce a White IPA to the range in late April.
Although the beers are only available at a handful of Adelaide bottle shops and pubs at this stage, production has risen beyond the 5000-litre mark in just a few short months. Bona is also preparing a specialty stout for Melbourne’s GABS Festival in May.
The 38-year-old moved to Adelaide with his wife Lara and two children in January 2016 after a 15-year career in financial services in London. He soon enrolled in a food Technology Diploma at Regency Park TAFE where he was inspired by head brewer and renowned craft beer mentor Stephen Nelsen.
“I am a trained sommelier through the Italian Sommelier’s Association and I knew about the wine regions like Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale so I thought it might be a perfect place for me to start a new career,” Bona said.
“The more I got to know South Australia, the more I thought this is the place for me to start a business in the food and beverage industry because this state is the right incubator in my opinion for these type of businesses.
“I have a very open mind in respect to what I was going to do and beer became my life.”
Bona also passed the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) exam in 2016 and has been making his brews in the Regency Park TAFE’s 10-hectolitre brewery.
However, he plans to take up residence with a bigger contract brewer in the Adelaide area in the coming months as his volumes grow.
“The brewery itself at TAFE is a little jewel — there’s not many other educational breweries like this in Australia as far as I know — and Stephen Nelsen is such an incredible source of knowledge and he was certainly the catalyst for me to consider a career in brewing,” Bona said.
“(But) I’m actively looking to move in the next three months — the beauty of the craft beer industry is 99 per cent of the other brewers will help you out.
“The next step as a gypsy is having distribution across South Australia and then the big markets in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland so having the visibility there and securing the volumes will be important.”
But for now, in true gypsy style, he has been finding places to set up his mobile tap room (caravan) and get his beers into as many different hands as possible. The Libation Army was among 180 exhibitors at the Cellar Door Festival at the Adelaide Convention Centre this month.
Bona said his first two beers, Tropical Riot Belgian Pale Ale and Gentle Upheaval Session Ale, showcased his keen interest in yeast in different ways.
“In the Belgian the yeast comes through in the flavour of the beer and gives complexity and is used in a different way — normally a Belgian pale is very malty, mine is not,” Bona said.
“It’s very floral and fruity and full of hop aroma. With the session ale I’ve used a yeast that doesn’t ferment a type of sugar so while the alcohol volume is lower at 3.8 per cent it is a full bodied, full flavoured beer, which is fairly unusual for a mid-strength.”
Born and raised in the northwest Italian region of Piedmont, Bona said creating seasonal products was as important a principle for brewers as it was for chefs.
He said his upcoming White IPA used single origin malt made at Coopers’ new $65 million malthouse from grains grown at Roseworthy, about 50km north of Adelaide.
“It’s great to have a state of the art and world class malting facility literally next door,” Bona said.
“I don’t like to do the classic styles — the White IPA is a witbier brewed with a German yeast but it’s got a bitterness and it’s going to be dry hopped like an IPA.”
“I think especially the Belgian is something I want to produce throughout the year — it’s 5 per cent and very full of flavour so I think it works in every season whereas the session ale is a bit more of a spring/summer beer.
“I’ve got so many recipes and ideas but I want to roll them out slowly.”
Bona said he chose the name because libation was an old English term meaning a drink poured as an offering to a deity and an army was like a community of followers.
“There are plenty of breweries named with an animal and an adjective so I thought I’d do something different and I think the whimsical use of army creates a community feel,” he said.
“Australia is a nation of home brewers and I’m in one of the best parts of it when it comes to beverages so I’m looking to create a community within a community.”
Originally published at theleadsouthaustralia.com.au on March 15, 2018.