Sitting in front of the bar at the Prancing Pony Brewhouse and restaurant is a unique table within a table. A rich, irregularly shaped piece of redwood sits at the centre and lighter Australian pine planks have been affixed to surround and enlarge it. The sign on top simply says “stammtisch”.
As Prancing Pony’s Executive Director and co-founder Corinna Steeb explains, in German tradition the word stammtisch denotes both the “regulars’ table” itself, and the meetings that take place around them. Seating at the table is by invitation only, and traditionally it is where the most honoured citizens of a village would meet to discuss the important affairs of the world.
At Prancing Pony, the tribe of regulars meet to chew the fat and taste new beers before release, as well as keeping an eye on the venue and helping to make it a welcoming place for newcomers. It proved such a popular concept at their original Brewshed (with a capacity of just six) that they had to commision a carpenter to enlarge the original table and make room for everyone.
The national and international accolades being seemingly thrown at the Adelaide Hills brewery are more of a reflection the hearty local community this beer is brewed among than any overtly self-aware artisan intentions. Incorporating tradition has always been central to the Prancing Pony method, expanding from homebrews to a commercial enterprise based out of an industrial unit in Mt Barker in 2011, to their current purpose-built brewhouse in Totness, just up the road from Hahndorf. This move has meant more beer (up to three million litres a year!) and more seats at the restaurant, but sadly it also meant that the couple had to say goodbye to their famous fire brewing equipment.
Corinna admits that “it was a bit sad – it’s like saying goodbye to your first car,” before imagining what the classified ad might have looked like: “Brewhouse to good home!” Fortunately it has indeed found a good home, at a small brewery in Port Lincoln where both Corinna and head brewer Frank Samson will help to train the new owners in its use, actively helping the next generation of craft brewers while they pursue new avenues.
Back at Prancing Pony the shiny new, custom-made stainless steel mash tub and kettle overlook the restaurant, allowing patrons to enjoy a beer while they watch the next batch being made. The tanks are “literally the only things that are new in the Brewhouse,”in stark contrast to the second-hand and repurposed furniture that fills the room. The main bar was salvaged from the Hahndorf Visitor Centre and the wood panelling on the walls behind it uses planks from the sawmill that originally stood on the site, grounding the location locally.
Most importantly, the mix of old and new is evident in the most important aspect of the brewery as well: the beer. Germans traditionally drink mostly lagers and pilseners, beers which are undoubtedly delicious but which afford a rather narrow flavour profile. By taking the “grain backbone” from the German malts and superimposing the flavours from New World hop varieties, Prancing Pony has combined the best of both worlds.
Though they’re always trying to find new flavours, you won’t find too many ingredients beyond the malted grains, water, hops and yeast – why bother, when “you can make so many amazing beers using just the base ingredients… the hops and yeast varieties give us so much variety in flavour and colour,” as Corrina says. And the brewshed is the ultimate location to discover the full diversity of flavour these ingredients can produce. A Heritage Plank (tasting flight) will see you enjoying the yeasty, light, floral, citrus and slightly sour notes of the likes of their Helles, Pilsener and the soon to be added Hefeweizen in more familiar German styles. Also included is the Rusty Panzer, a delicious amber lager that was supposed to be a one-off until the German Club tasted it – they liked it so much it’s now their the house beer.
But it’s the New World Plank that some of the most fascinating flavours can be found with their Hopwork Orange, Black Ale, Internationally award winning Indian Red Ale an exciting proposition for anyone to try. Even if you’re not a regular beer drinker, or don’t like beer, in this range Prancing Pony truly demonstrate what they’re capable of and why the increase in production capacity is so important. Prancing Pony are, whether they know it or really even think about it, a champion of the every evolving craft scene and their expansion, alongside the expansion of the likes of Big Shed Brewing, Pirate Life, Vale Ale and the Lobethal Brewery to name a few, is changing the larger perception of how and when beer should be enjoyed. And that’s something to celebrate.
If you’ve never tried any of the Prancing Pony range, make a date this weekend to head up and enjoy the Pony in full flight for their Rockwiz at the Brewshed evening at 42 Mt Barker Road, Totness (the tiny suburb between Mt Barker and Hahndorf). You’ll not only get a taste of the personality and heart behind the brewery, you’ll get an opportunity to enjoy some of their incredible menu as well, which is worth the trip in it’s own right.
Photography by McFuzzlebutt’s Manchen.