If you haven’t noticed the masses of new beers appearing in bars and bottleshops around town, you simply haven’t been paying attention. The Australian beer scene is undergoing a seismic change: sales of established brands are falling fast while the nation’s microbreweries are struggling to meet growing demand.
And, while WA can lay claim to being the birthplace of Australia’s craft beer scene, it’s Victoria where things are moving quickest. Whether you’re a newcomer to the wonders of what can be done with water, malt, hops and yeast or a devout beer geek, you’ll find much to love at these breweries, all of which have their own unique style.
The longest established of Melbourne’s microbreweries has grown from wild parties in co-founder Dave Bonighton’s backyard to bi-weekly gatherings in the shadow of the tanks at its Richmond base. Its first beer, the Hightail Ale, remains a great go-to beer but now shares a roster with all manner of styles including, most recently, a coffee IPA made with freshly roasted beans from Melbourne coffee experts Seven Seeds. Rather endearingly, Dave and fellow Goat owner Cam Hines have lost none of the boyish enthusiasm with which they launched their beers 14 years ago, so go along and hit the bar. Richmond.
To get a permit to build a brewery on the Mornington Peninsula, Karen and Dave Golding were told they’d have to grow their own produce. So they did, growing several hop varieties that are used in their excellent range of traditional British and European style beers. If you want to get involved, they invite friends and punters down to pick the hops every March. Red Hill South.
In his Utopia, Ben Kraus would make a different beer every time he stepped into his brewery. In the real world he has to keep knocking out a number of staples, but that doesn’t stop him having fun when he can. Recent months have seen him celebrate his 500th brew with a smokey breakfast lager featuring muesli, tea, coffee, honey, fruit toast and more, mark his sixth anniversary with a black version of a beer that’s traditionally pale, and take Australian hops to Norway to create a unique beer with Scandinavian trailblazers Nøgne Ø. Beechworth.
They will only celebrate a year in business at the start of October, yet Mornington Peninsula Brewery has already gained a reputation among beer lovers for the quality of its beers. Whether knocking out Belgian farmhouse styles, hugely hopped US Double IPAs or playing with new hop varieties, brewer AG has rarely made even the slightest misstep at this brewery based in a factory unit near Mornington Racecourse where the previous owners used to manufacture exploding golf balls. Mornington.
Commercial sensibilities don’t seem to be high on the priority list at Red Duck, given recent releases have included an intensely sour, smokey beer called Canute the Gruit that’s designed to be like a Dark Ages brew and featured homemade nettle goo and hawthorn berry juice. Founder Scott Wilson-Browne has also played with the rare braggot style – a blend of aged strong ale and honey mead – and always seems to have something off kilter up his sleeve. Camperdown.
We all know the Yarra Valley does wine. But with four of microbreweries now calling the region home, it does beer too. The original Hargreaves Hill brewery burnt to the ground during the Black Saturday fires but began brewing at a new site within months. Its cellar door and restaurant, located inside in Yarra Glen’s beautiful former National Bank building, survived the fires and is the best place to sample some of Australia’s finest craft beers. Yarra Glen.
While they do brew the occasional beer that takes its inspiration from the UK or the States, this Thornbury brewery has something of an obsession with Germany. It’s no bad thing, given that country’s key role in the development of beer over the centuries. Year round, 3 Ravens knocks out all manner of strong lagers and rare ale styles and isn’t afraid to show them the inside of a bourbon or pinot barrel for a few months either. Thornbury.
A stone’s throw from the beach at Black Rock, True South’s owners took a former mechanic’s garage and turned it into a rather flash bar and restaurant with its own in-house brewery a couple of years ago. Now getting kudos for its Argentinean food as well as its beers, it’s as good a way as any to end a day by the bay. Black Rock.
Having started out in the craft beer world in 1999, Paul Holgate and wife Natasha took over Woodend’s old Keatings Hotel a few years back. Today, under one roof, you can watch the brewers at work in the brewery, sample their beers at the bar, taste them as ingredients in the restaurant’s food, then sleep it all off in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Woodend.
Having fallen for the charms of the burgeoning US craft beer scene while working Stateside, brothers Andrew and David Ong decided to open their own brewery in their hometown. They imported the brewhouse from a microbrewery in Times Square and spent a few months working at breweries in America where they clearly learned something as, for the past two years, they’ve won the Victorian Premier’s Trophy for Best Victorian Beer. Moorabbin.
You can find information on all of these breweries and many more around Victoria and Australia – plus the bars and bottleshops that stock their beers – on The Crafty Pint, an online guide to craft beer in Australia created by James Smith, the author of this article.