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  • Writer's pictureMatt Fielding

Sailors Grave - Dark Emu Dark Lager

Sailors Grave's latest collaboration is a particularly special and important step forward in the brewing industry. Working closely with Indigenous author Bruce Pascoe (you may have heard of his book Dark Emu), Sailors Grave have crafted Dark Emu, a toasty dark lager that features roasted traditional grains. The grass seeds of mamadyang ngalluk, "dancing grass" and burru ngallu, "weeping grass" were harvested by the Yuin people in East Gippsland. The seeds were then roasted in a wood-fired oven at a nearby bakery and added to a base of barley, providing a unique toasty flavour.

While the use of the grains is quite novel in beer - it isn’t the first-time native Australian grains have been considered for agricultural use. As far as we can tell, mamdyang ngalluk is also known as Microlaena stipoides, and burru ngalluk is Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra). In 2005, Davies, Waugh & Lefroy investigated the potential to domesticate Microlaena stipoides as a perennial grain crop. In Southern Australia, farmers face the challenge of protecting annual crops domesticated under different climates against the often-harsh dryland salinity found in the region. However, the native vegetation of Australia is well adapted to these conditions and if domesticated, could become a viable cropping alternative. While the yield of the native grain was not as great as annual grains, the study found large variation in seed yield which suggested that the plant could be bred to maximise output.

The can of Dark Emu also features beautiful artwork by Yuin artist Terry Hayes of the Emu in the Sky, Baiame, the creator spirit who is often depicted as an emu. The Emu in the Sky, a constellation that consists of dark clouds instead of stars, is an important feature for many Aboriginal nations across Australia. Not only visually stunning, the constellation also provides important seasonal cues for the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people of southwest NSW. In April and May, shortly after becoming visible, the constellation depicts a running emu, representing the female emus chasing the males during mating season. In June and July, the Emu in the Sky then appears to be sitting as the legs disappear, representing the male emu incubating the eggs and indicating that the eggs are ready to be collected. Later in November, the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people know when the waterholes have filled as the constellation transforms to display just the body of the Emu, illustrative of the bird sitting in a waterhole.

This collaboration is more than just the beer though with some of the proceeds from sales going to support local Indigenous students in East Gippsland. The project also takes a step towards the decolonisation of Australia - highlighting the wealth of knowledge held by the traditional owners of this land. As with many of Sailors Grave's beers, this brew tells a story and celebrates the rich connection that Indigenous Australians have with this country. Hopefully, this standard of cultural collaboration and celebration becomes not only common practice within the brewing industry but across all aspects of Australian life.

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