As Director of Realbeer Australia and resident of the Yarra Valley since the last bushfire known as Ash Wednesday in 1983, I felt compelled to provide a vivid view of the bushfire we are experiencing at the moment. As I tap out my thoughts we have already lost the Hargreaves Hill micro brewery in Steels Creek owned and operated by Simon and Beth Walkenhorst. Simon is President of the Victorian Microbrewers Association and a tireless campaigner for tax concessions to small breweries and support from local communities. He is also a concert pianist who established his tiny brewery on the grounds of his in-laws idyllic ‘retirement farm’.
Down the road in Healesville we have two local micros also under threat. Buckley’s family Brewery and Giant Steps complex owned by the legendary brewer and winery developer Phil Sexton who operates on the main street of town. His coffee shop, pizzeria, and delicatessen entice visitors in town touring the famous for the Healsville Sanctuary, an internationally recognized open planned zoo featuring Australian creatures great and small. Sexton’s superb Sierra Nevadan styled pale ale developed at his Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle, W.A. is brewed on-site and along with award winning wines from his vineyard, Giant Steps, just outside town.
To our American readers, the Yarra Valley is eerily similar in geography to the Sonoma Valley in northern California. The area is ideal for grape growing with four distinct seasons that under usual conditions are moderate in temperature and precipitation. But we aren’t under usual conditions with a pronounced drought in the region for over an eight years and record temperatures registered over the weekend of 50+ degrees Celsius with gale force winds over 120 miles per hour.
Having experienced Ash Wednesday in 1983, the conditions on Saturday were extremely similar but more intense. Atmospheric oxygen reduction made breathing like inhaling from a furnace, and the radiant heat quickly penetrated the feet whatever footwear. Whether the cause be a casually flung cigarette butt or a deliberate torching of a paddock, the fire was man made and positioned in an ideal location, the midland plain at the base of hilly terrain. Add to this a lack of scheduled selective burn offs by local authorities due to overzealous environmentalists created a natural tinderbox for the flames. It is expected that over 1,000 homes have been destroyed with loss of life expected to reach 3000.
But this region is not the only area in Victoria to experience bushfire damage. The picture of the fire-fighter providing water to a koala was taken from the area outside the town of Mirboo North last weekend. Mirboo North is the home of Grand Ridge brewery. Thankfully the brewery wasn’t affected but they did loose their cattle farm/ranch which provided the steaks for the brewery’s restaurant. And as we speak, the Beechworth Brewery is under fire watch as the disaster continues to spread.
Those of us outside the fire wall feel helpless and wonder what we can say or do to help. I implore all beer drinkers around the world to unite and show your support by contributing to the Red Cross appeal offered through Realbeer. For Victorians, the Taphouse in St Kilda will be holding a beer tasting to offer financial assistance to Simon and all the other victims of the disaster.
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