A New Bar With a Wild Culture

Odd Culture is a wild ale and natural wine bar located in Darlinghurst. It is the brainchild of brothers, James and Josh Thorpe who have teamed up with Jordan Blackman, previously of Chin Chin and Ananas, as bar manager and Tom Evans, previously of Royal Albert and Wayward, as venue beverage manager.  The quirky farmhouse styled space aims to champion natural wine and craft beer and in doing so is bringing in a crowd of discerning customers. explore DRINKS talks to the Odd Culture team about the new bar concept.

explore DRINKS: Josh and James, describe the moment when you came upon the idea for a bar that specialises in natural wine and wild ale? What were you both doing at the time?

James: The long and short of it is we wanted to create a venue that we would want to drink in, with a drinks list we would be excited by. It might seem strange to feature wines in what is in many regards Sydney’s first craft beer venue, but there is a deep connection there, particularly with regard to the processes of fermentation and minimal intervention. I haven’t really seen a venue that has explored that space properly, but at the same time there is crazy crossover in the production end of town. You have breweries like Garage Project making natural wine; you have wild beermakers using grapes and grape juice in production, grapes and other fruit in refermentation, and so on. Some of the ales we serve are probably closer to a wine or fine cider in flavour profile than a beer.  We had this bar on the middle level of the pub that was really stunning to look at, but kind of dead space. The room layout was awkward, and the fitout was tired. So we decided to press ‘go’ on Odd Culture. I honestly don’t remember where we were… probably 4 barley wines in at Bitter Phew?

eD: What skills does each of you bring to Odd Culture?

Josh: James and I have been running hospitality venues for years, Tom comes from a specialty beer background and Jordan comes from a natural wine background. By our powers combined… we are Odd Culture.

James: Is drinking a skill?

eD: Jordan, you have a strong natural wine background. How have you worked with natural wine and what natural wines would you recommend for the first timer?

Jordan: I’m lucky to have learnt from some of the best in the industry. I also drink a bunch of natural wine, so naturally (yeah…) it’s been on offer in most venues I’ve looked after. We will always pour everything by the glass here at Odd Culture, so we can introduce you to heaps of different styles when you come in. Right now, I’d go for The Hermit Ram’s Skin Fermented Sauvignon Blanc. It’s approachable enough for the first timer and is a great introduction to the whole ‘skin contact’ thing.

eD: Jordan, natural wine can be quite polarising. It has its dedicated followers, but many insist it is inherently flawed. How do you bring the naysayers around to the natural wine movement?

Jordan: Sure, there is plenty of flawed ‘natural wine’ out there. There is also plenty of flawed conventional wine, however, the latter often hides its flaws through methods frowned upon by the natural crowd. Whether it’s through excessive use of sulphur or added sugars, conventional winemaking isn’t always here to champion minimal intervention. I’m not sure about the word ‘inherently’ either. I believe minimal intervention looks to express the truest terroir. It might not be technically flawless but it’s real.

eD: Tell us a bit about your ‘meet the winemaker/brewer’ program.

Tom: Education has always been really important for us which is the whole impetus behind our monthly ‘Ale Stars’ event that’s been running for years. We believe that no one can explain a beer or wine better than the person that made it, so we love to get those producers in front of passionate people who can ask the right questions.

Jordan: Always nice to put a face to a name. It’s really special when you’re poured a glass of wine by the guy or girl who’s actually made it.

eD: Tom, you’ve been working in the craft beer industry for a long time, and as a self-professed ‘beer nerd’, have a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Explain what defines a wild ale or a sour beer.

Tom: Sour beer is a really wide category, you could liken it to something like white wine as a category. There’s a lot of room to move inside that space, and it’s mostly defined by flavours and styles. Wild ale is a bit more specific, and is more defined by the method behind the beer. Wild ales aren’t brewed in large stainless facilities, with fermentation controlled to yield specific flavours. They let the yeast (and other organisms) take control, with exciting results. We find that the flavour profiles of these beers can often be richer, and deeper, than most conventional beers.

eD: Your range of local and boutique beverages is impressive. What products are you most excited about showcasing at your new venue and why?

Tom: Australian breweries are putting out the best beers this country has ever seen at the moment, and it’s only getting better. I’m really excited about showing what some small, independent producers are able to make. The likes of Wildflower and Boatrocker are really exciting, and are doing a lot to push the envelope.

Jordan: I’m personally stoked to have Rodenbach tinnies.

James: Anything with cherries.

eD: Tell us a bit about the menu and the style of food you are serving to accompany your wine, beer and spirit list?

Josh: Cheese and wine is a pretty common pairing, and we think sour beer pairs just as well. Our head chef (Rob Paget – ex Keystone) has taken the concept and really run with it, creating a menu full of all the cheese, cured meats and tinned seafood you could ever want. You can build your own plate using pairing suggestions which change with the tap list. My favourite has to be ‘The Toastie’ – a maffra cheddar (with emphasis on the cheddar) toastie with traditionally made ‘nduja salumi from our friends at Quattro Stella.

eD: Finally, describe the vibe of the Odd Culture?  The mural above the bar is a talking point. What is the story behind that?

Jordan: We’re serious about our product but make sure the vibe and atmosphere is fun and, most importantly, welcoming. The music is an eclectic mix of punk and rock – organic sounds with plenty of energy.

James: There are a few different ways to talk about our concept, but a powerful one is ‘wild’, or ‘natural’ or ‘minimal intervention’. The beers we focus on are sometimes referred to as ‘farmhouse’. Ange Drinan and her team have designed the backbar mural to depict the view from a farmhouse, where an unnamed farmer looks out on her crops. Maybe she’s making a wild ferment ale using malt from her farm; maybe she’s crushing grapes for a bottle fermented sparkling wine. The point is, it’s natural and handmade, in contrast to the sanitised, stainless steel heavy warehouses that most beers are made in today. The yeast culture is wild, not made in a laboratory. That’s the shit we’re interested in.

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