Making their public debut with their bespoke soft drink blends at the Taste of Chittering in 2016, Araluen and Craig Hagan from 14K Brewery are familiar and popular faces around the region, with people eager to sample their bush tucker infused softies.
Their product is certainly refreshing, and so is their approach to the business – a zero-waste, off grid microbrewery with a steampunk theme.
Having worked professionally as an industrial chemist, Araluen developed an interest in natural therapies, and studied permaculture; although she found the job opportunities in the latter didn’t align with her ideals. “Permaculture embodies education, science, the natural therapies – everything that I’ve studied. I wanted to apply that in a much more practical way,” she says.
Brewing her own line of soft drinks became a way Araluen could apply her knowledge while she and Craig worked through the extensive bureaucratic process of setting up the microbrewery.
It also kept Araluen’s interest piqued as she, by her own admission, tends to get bored of projects quite easily. “I’ve always worked in research and I have the attention span of a gnat! I’ve always got to experiment,” she laughed.
This drive to experiment has resulted in some wonderful, niche flavours utilising ingredients such as grimuchama, anise myrtle and Geraldton wax. 14K soft drinks have a low sugar content, around 2-5%, compared to other commercial brands which sit at more than 10%.
“Sugar is a fabulous flavour enhancer, so without that you need to put a bit more thought in,” says Araluen. “I put bush tucker in all of my drinks, that I find naturally in the bush around here, or I have friends that grow it. I have also sourced some bush tucker from Dale Tilbrook from Maaliunp Gallery in the Swan Valley. It really helps to create those layers of flavour.
“I source all my fruit locally — everything comes from within a 15-20kms radius of the property. Most of it, I trade drinks for fruit, embracing the circular economy,” said Araluen.
The circular economy is a principle which, in part, aims to extract the maximum value out of resources, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of its service life. It’s a principle Araluen and Craig put into practice in the construction of their building, which is still in progress. It also lead to the unique 14K name.
“The wall panels are made from bales of tyres. Each bale is comprised of 100 tyres bound together with tungsten. They are then embedded in concrete and slot together like Lego,” explains Araluen.
There are more than 14,000 (14K!) tyres that have been diverted from landfill as a result of this construction. “We’re the first commercial building to use them as a structure,” said Craig.
Craig’s background as an electrician is helping 14K go off-grid, but not in the way you might expect. “Large power transformers are full of oil which has a finite useful life, as it has to be very clean,” explains Craig. “Getting rid of the waste oil is an energy-intensive process. However, you can put that oil directly into a diesel engine and it runs! So that is what will be running our back-up generators,” he said.
“Also, the boiler that is going to be running the brewery itself will run on natural gas to start with, then switch over to waste oil. There are no emissions as it is used at such a high temperature. The carbon left behind is actual, solid material, which can be composted.”
The steampunk theme that 14K uses in their market stalls and that is represented in the labels that adorn the soft drink bottles (a collaboration between local artist Billie Peka and Hills graphic designer Melinda Brezmen) holds special significance. “Steampunk era is the Victorian industrial age. In the same 50-year period, concrete and tyres were both patented, and beer was first brewed commercially. A lot of steampunk design involves repurposing and recycling, so it all ties in with our vision,” says Araluen.
While some are eagerly awaiting Craig’s beer to be ready for sale (and with over 30-years experience in brewing and self-described purist when it comes to the amber ale, it will certainly be worth the wait), the 14K softies will continue to look after the non-drinking fraternity.
Araluen explains, “Most people want to drink something other than water when they go out, and let’s face it, most non-alcoholic offerings are not great. I wanted to make something that’s really special for the non-drinkers, so they feel like they are still part of the party!”
You can buy 14K soft drinks at the Cheeky Peach Patiserrie and Cafee in Joondana, Yagan Square in the city and locally through the Northern Valleys Locavore Store at www.nvls.com.au.