Life Eat & Drink ‘Shale ale’ beer filtered through fossils the latest craze in Australia’s booming brewing industry
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‘Shale ale’ beer filtered through fossils the latest craze in Australia’s booming brewing industry

Beer and rock enthusiasts on Kangaroo Island have teamed up to make a "shale ale".
Beer and rock enthusiasts on Kangaroo Island have teamed up to make a "shale ale". Photo: 612 ABC Brisbane / Jessica Hinchliffe
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Fossil beer is the latest innovation for a South Australian brewer, as more craft beer makers get creative to stand out in a crowded market.

Kangaroo Island brewer Mike Holden is set to release a ‘shale ale’ beer, commemorating 10 years of fossil research on the South Australian island.

Mr Holden said the ale was filtered through fossil-rich shale that was more than half a billion years old.

“We just thought for this one, why not let the millions of years of shale rock speak for itself and see what comes through?” he said.

“The beer definitely has a unique flavour to it, but it is not something that is off-putting or maybe something that people will not even recognise.”

Digging up history

Kangaroo Island is known as prime hunting ground for palaeontologists, with researchers finding 500-million-year-old “alien-looking” fossils in 2014.

This year marks a decade of fossil digging at the island’s Emu Bay for University of New England professor John Paterson and his University of Adelaide colleague Diego Garcia-Bellido.

Over the past 10 years, it is estimated the team has collected about 6,000 specimens for the South Australian Museum.

Professor John Paterson from the University of New England has been digging Kangaroo Island's shale deposit for the past decade.
Professor John Paterson from the University of New England has been digging Kangaroo Island’s shale deposit for the past decade. Photo: Supplied/ Diego Garcia–Bellido

Professor Paterson said the shale used as part of the brew was estimated to be about 514 million years old.

“They are from a very special time in Earth’s history called the Cambrian … this is when we started to see the first marine animals appearing on Earth,” he said.

“What we are digging up is some of the oldest marine animals on the planet.

“We get very fine preservation, even down to finding muscle tissues and the lenses within the eyes of some of these strange arthropod creatures.”

Selling beer in a crowded market

Australia’s craft beer industry is growing at a rapid rate, with an estimated 400-plus craft brewers now plying their trade.

Independent Brewers Association executive officer Chris McNamara said producers were finding their niche through the idea of beers with backstories or a sense of place.

A fossilised eye thought to be 500 million years old was among rock samples found in Kangaroo Island in June 2011. This one was not used to make the beer though.
A fossilised eye thought to be 500 million years old was among rock samples found in Kangaroo Island in June 2011. This one was not used to make the beer though. Photo: Supplied/ John Paterson

“It is a crowded marketplace out there at the moment, and is getting more crowded by the day,” he said.

“Small brewers are an innovative mob, so they are always looking for a different spin to put on their beer.”

Mr Holden agreed, saying many consumers could establish a rapport with particular drinks based on their backstory.

“People enjoy the story of beer,” he said.

“We have always tried to make sure there is a link in our beers to where we are.

“The story is there, and people can either choose to just drink a beer like it is anything else, or get involved and learn something about it as well.”

-ABC