When I was younger, I fantasised about having a lemonade stand (I’d seen it in all the movies) but alas, the trampoline temptation was too strong of a pull, so I never got around to doing it. In a simpler time, before all the health crazes and education that now exists at our fingertips, my parents allowed us to sip on the sweet, bubbly nectar of our choice – my brother a Passiona guy and myself a Solo enthusiast. It was refreshing, thirst-quenching, and it tasted of summertime, swimming pools and carefree fun.
My sweet tooth faded as I grew older but occasionally, when that Melbourne summer heat whips through town, I get that same nostalgic thirst I had from my childhood. When Yumbo Soda Co hit the shelves at Blackhearts & Sparrows, with its iconic packaging drawing me in, I was curious to road-test this local Yarra Valley brew. Well, be damned. It’s everything you’d want in a lemonade - super lemony and crisp with the low sugar sweetness playing off the tangy citrus sourness, and the makrut lime leaves with lemon myrtle and zest peaking through.
Everyone knows that whiskey pairs incredibly well with lemon and citrus, so I had the idea of combining our two passions to create a version of my Sicilian father’s favourite after-dinner digestivo – limoncello.
When considering partnerships for The Gospel, we always look to work with brands who have a similar ethos. Like us, Yumbo is dedicated to making quality products from locally sourced ingredients and, like us, is passionate about remaining hands on despite all obstacles. Working alongside good folk is just as important and collaborating with Benny has been a dream. Together, we have created something uniquely Victorian that nods to the traditional Italian drink.
As part of our Yumbo Lemoncello release, we chatted to lemon boss, Founder Benny Frazer, to uncover his journey to creating his own lemonade stand, and why small-batch and the Yarra Valley community is so important to him. Check the interview below.
Benny Frazer, Founder of Yumbo
-- Yumbo Soda Co started as a lockdown 2.0 project, why lemons and why lemonade?
It all sort of came about as a reference to the lemon of a year we were having. During the great lockdowns of 2020 I was living in the Yarra Valley, and on weekends would sneak over the hill to see my good friend Walter De Laps, a local 78-year-old lemon farmer of Belgian descent. One night we were a few bottles of port deep and he was moaning about how, with all restaurants closed at the time, his lemons were going to waste on the trees. I drunkenly joked that I should make a lemonade, with Walter's only rule being that you "can actually taste the bloody lemons!" Two days later found myself in the family brewery working on recipes.
-- Tell us about Walter, the lemon man.
Walter is as close to a Hemingway character as I’ll ever meet. At the ripe old age of 78, he has lived a life most can only dream of, with tales of safaris, big game fishing, dodging wars, all running rich throughout his stories. He’s unreal, and such an inspiration for a kid like me. Always with a mad twinkle in his eye, he’s forever pushing me to “just go and live your life you bloody idiot – soon you’ll be old and grumpy like me!”.
-- Walter recently sold his farm to his neighbours. Given you guys are super tight, how did you take this news and how has the transition been working with new owners, Alana and Julien?
It was devastating! Walter and I had grown super close over the past year so I was nervous about who the new owners were (and if they were intending on holding onto the lemon business or just wanted a nice property in the Valley). I was really happy for Walter, who had worked so hard his whole life and was finally retiring to a beach side town but selfishly I wanted him to stay. All fears evaporated when I met Julien and Alana, who are two of the kindest and engaging people I've ever met. Looking glass half full it was a really positive new chapter for all of us, and the transition was seamless - it just means I need to hit the road to Rye to see Walter now!
-- What is your first memory of lemonade?
Oof, to be honest, my first memory is at the Toboggan Park in Whittlesea. It was my 8th birthday and a wasp had flown inside my can of Schweppes and I really upset it when I took a sip. My lips were the envy of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for a good two hours.
-- What was the journey that led you to becoming a lemonade hustler?
I spent 6 years overseas in my 20s, always ducking in and out of Australia. My parents live in Italy for half of each year and I remember having this incredible lemonade while in Cortona, handmade by our neighbour. My brother’s a winemaker, so I’ve always been involved in creating beverages, but mostly from a distance – the idea of lemonade seemed fun and innocent so I leapt in. On top of this, my background is in marketing, so I wanted a fun challenge to see how well I could brand, market and sell a simple drink like a lemonade during a pandemic.
Yumbo successfully launched to market during Victoria's lockdown 2.0
-- You are hand-peeling over 600kg of lemons for each batch of lemonade. Why do you hand-peel and how long does it take you?
When I started off making Yumbo I wanted to make it the old-fashioned way – no additives, no concentrate, limited sugar. By hand-peeling the lemons we remove the bitterness of the lemon pith, whilst also being able to hold onto the lemon zest to use as botanicals. It’s a slow, painstaking experience that I usually do with my dog, a German Wire-Haired Pointer called Ernie, and it roughly takes 4 days. It’s simultaneously therapeutic and torturous – I rely heavily on podcasts and playlist suggestions from friends.
Every one of the lemons are painstakingly hand-peeled
-- You’ve enlisted the help of a local Yarra Valley brewer, how did that relationship form and was it a natural switch for him from brewing beer to brewing lemonade?
We actually produce Yumbo in a very similar style to brewing beer – boil the water, add the lemons, slow mash and then add the botanicals (makrut lime leaves, lemon myrtle and lemon zest) – so the transition was pretty organic. A few test runs on the small system and that was that! Scott has worked for my family’s brewery for a number of years and is a real wealth of knowledge, so it’s been amazing to spend time with him, watching (and trying to learn) his wizardry!
-- Using a brewing technique for a lemonade is pretty unique, how else does your recipe and production style differ from other lemonades on the market?
From the best of my knowledge Yumbo is the only lemonade company in Australia that uses 100% hand-peeled lemons, with no concentrate or additives. Brewing is a slow, patient process that results in a lemonade that tastes the way it should: lemony!
-- Your recipe calls for a combination of ingredients from the local region, was that important for you from the outset or was it a happy accident?
A bit of a happy accident really. Mum had a few thriving makrut lime trees in the orchard, so I started there. Lemon myrtle was an essential ingredient for its incredible aroma and I also wanted to utilise as much of the lemon as possible, so zest was thrown into the mix too. From the outset I was set on not adding any flavouring or additives, so we used what we had and what we had worked a treat.
-- What part of the lemonade gig are you most passionate about?
Would have to be delivery. It’s so good being able to meet the business owners who are supporting small business, and I’ve developed some really great friendships with a lot of them as a result. Also, it’s nice to hit the road and spend a day visiting cafes, restaurants and bars with Ernie in tow!
Ernie, Benny's German Wire-Haired Pointer
-- What is the Yarra Valley community like? What excites you about it?
It’s a really solid community nowadays, with some really exciting things happening. I feel in the last 10 years the younger generation of winemakers and restauranteurs have truly arrived on the scene, making fun and approachable wines and opening ‘cool’ restaurants. I can’t really be quoted on the following line but the days of Chandon and Yering Station dominating the region are over, and for that we’re all thankful. Times have changed and the Melbourne community wants challenging and funky alternatives to the big venues of yesteryear, and the Valley is really rising to the occasion. People like Behn and Troy from Payten & Jones, Jayden Ong of Jayden Ong Winery & Cellar Bar, my own brother at No.7 Healesville, are really at the forefront of this next era of the Valley.
-- What’s your favourite place to go in the Yarra Valley?
Home, otherwise Payten and Jones for a gasbag and a few glasses of their wicked wine.
-- What's your favourite hidden gem in the Yarra Valley?
Jayden Ong Winery & Cellar Bar is the top of the table at the moment! Awesome shed conversion that ticks all the boxes!
-- Is there something (other than brewing lemonade) that you are obsessed with?
Yeah, music! Absolutely fanatical about it. I play it, I write it, I watch movies and docos about it, I read books about it and I am never not listening to it. I listen to absolutely everything except dub. Fuck, I hate dub.
The Gospel team hand-peeling lemons with Benny
Liked this article? You might also like Support Local Bushfire Affected Communities.