Good Beer Week: Melbourne’s best boutique breweries invite us for a drink

Stomping Ground’s attached brewpub offers a holistic experience for guests. Photo: Anthony McKee

Stomping Ground’s attached brewpub offers a holistic experience for guests. Photo: Anthony McKee

Melbourne’s beer has a stellar reputation, and Good Beer Week is the perfect chance to check out some of the city’s best microbreweries.

Not only can you expect a hit of local flavour, the rise of the brew pub – a convivial drinking venue attached to a brewery – means you’re in for a great night out, with carefully selected food, music and ambience to show off the best the boutique brewery has to offer.

Good Beer Week Diary

Coedo / Hop Nation Collaboration Brew!

  • May 14, 10am-1.30pm & 2-5.30pm, Hop Nation Brewing Co, 6/107-109 Whitehall Street, Footscray.
    Cost: $79.

Sunday Funday with Stomping Ground & Garage Project

  • May 14, noon-6pm, Stomping Ground Brewery & Beer Hall, 100 Gipps Street, Collingwood. Cost: free

Family Day at Thunder Road Brewery

  • May 20, 12.30-10pm, Thunder Road Brew House, 130 Barkly Street, Brunswick. Cost: free.

 

A post shared by Hop Nation Brewing Co. (@hopnationbeer) on

Footscray’s Hop Nation Brewing Co, launched last August by Sam Hambour and Duncan Gibson, is just one microbrewery with an attached venue where the brewers can connect directly with drinkers.

The duo wanted a site close to where they were raising their young families. They found the perfect venue – an expansive 1880s former factory in Footscray with orginal bricks in tact and mezzanine levels where guests could overlook the working brewery below.

Sam says the Maribyrnong River-edge site fitted their vision perfectly. “We wanted it open for people to engage with the brewery, to see and feel where the beer is made. We also wanted it to be a relaxed area for people to have fun.”

Along with Hop Nation beers, the brew pub offers food from a rotating roster of food trucks as well as burgers from nearby Kindred Studios

Sam and Duncan met while working on neighbouring vineyards in New Zealand’s Central Otago district, and after reconvening in Melbourne were inspired by the city’s burgeoning interest in local producers. “It’s not just beer. It’s food, it’s coffee, it’s fashion. We saw that as an opportunity,” Sam says. “We realised we could make beer and run our own business.”

He says while winery experiences are ingrained in our dining culture, beer tasting is a relatively new thing – one he hopes becomes just as popular.

“It’s easier for people to get their heads around, and a whole lot more affordable to get into,” Sam says. “When people visit the Yarra Valley, people want to visit the wineries. When people are in Footscray, they want to taste the local beer.”

Another local producer taking their lead from the area’s history is Collingwood’s Stomping Ground Brewing Co. In the late 1800s, Collingwood was the epicentre of Australian brewing, but the local industry was undone by amalgamations and closures.

“For the first time in more than a century, we have brought brewing home, and reimagined it at its original stomping ground,” says co-founder Steve Jeffares.

Steve, who also runs The Local Taphouse in St Kilda East, says bars attached to breweries create a holistic experience for guests. Stomping Ground offers 20 types of beer on tap – all brewed on site – an extensive food menu (pizzas are a specialty) and a welcoming, kid-friendly atmosphere.

While they’re keen to appeal to both beer and food aficionados, Steve and his head brewer Ashur Hall have been careful not to “wine-ify” the beer hall. Steve says there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that wine can be snobby and exclusive.

“Fun is the top priority, but we also hope people learn something about beer and feel comfortable experimenting with styles they’re not comfortable with.”

Steve spent a year researching the beer market in New York before hitting on the idea for Stomping Ground. He reckons the combined beer and food approach is where the smart money is. “I think we’re going to see an explosion of brew pubs in the next few years,” he says.

Stomping Ground’s attached brewpub offers a holistic experience for guests. Photo: Anthony McKee

Stomping Ground’s attached brewpub offers a holistic experience for guests. Photo: Anthony McKee

Brewers who have been in the game for many years are also catching on. Philip Withers of Thunder Road Brewing Company in Brunswick had been crafting beer for more than seven years, when Jon-Lee Farrell from Lulie Street Tavern dropped in with a proposition. “It’s an amazing space, and you make great products,” Jon-Lee told them.

He eventually persuaded Philip to let him and his business partner Brendan Kennedy open and run a bar inside the brewery.

Three months later, entry to Thunder Road Brew House is past a converted nine-metre Airstream caravan where chef Paul Clarke is serving up Mexican street food. On the left a bluestone wall gives a sense of history.

“You walk into what is essentially a manufacturing plant,” says Jon-Lee. “The tanks are gigantic and you get that aroma of hops. It’s an immersive experience.”

It’s a popular one, too. They sold out of food on first night when the bar opened in March.

Music also plays an important part; Jon-Lee has retro favourites from the ’50s to ’80s on rotation. “We want to make sure people are having a good time, and have a full sensory experience,” he says.

“Melbourne is pretty discerning, and people want the whole experience. They want great food with their great beer and they want to be in a site that’s exciting. Everybody is looking for something new and unique.”

 

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