Bendigo region - Pots of Gold
It used to be wineries that attracted visitors to different regions. Now they’re being joined by independent brewers who are creating craft beer worth travelling for.
Words by Carrie Hutchinson
When Trevor Birks established Bendigo Beer in 2011, there were no small breweries and only a couple of venues in the region serving craft beer. “We started it to promote Australian-made, family-owned independent beer,” he says. “Back in those days, it was called microbrewing.”
With a background in marketing, business banking and community engagement, Trevor can see the benefit in getting behind the growing community making and drinking craft beer.
“The big breweries make a lot of beer and are 90 per cent of the market, but most of the jobs and the economic activity happen with the 10 per cent that is independently owned,” he says.
“We hire more people per litre than the big brewers, which are owned by foreign companies so the profits go overseas.”
As well as Bendigo Beer, Trevor has shares in Bendigo’s Handle Bar , a community-owned venue that sells independent beer. Now he’s working on the city’s first brewpub, Bendigo Brewing. “We’ve worked very hard for 10 years to make sure that the city has a robust and vibrant beer scene, but there’s still no brewery in the middle of town,” he explains. Slated to open mid-2021, it will have Tasmanian brewer Evan Hunter, who’s worked at Moo Brew and Bruny Island Beer Co, creating the beverages that will be poured almost exclusively on premise.
Bendigo Brewing will be the latest addition to the town’s expanding beer community. Doug Brooke and Roy Lever have joined forces at East Bendigo Brewing Company , which incorporates the Brookes, 40Acres and East Bendigo Brewing labels. True Brew started out as a place for people to brew their own beers, but now also creates a number of styles itself. They’re just a couple of the small businesses changing the face of beer drinking in the region.
At Castlemaine, Shedshaker Brewing has brought beer back to one of its homes. At one point in the late nineteenth century, the town had more than a dozen brewers, including the original Castlemaine Perkins. The last brewery closed its doors in 1925, though, and it wasn’t until Michael Wolfe, Jacqueline Brodie Hanns and Doug Falconer moved into The Mill in 2016 that the tradition returned.
“We take classic recipes and give them a modern twist,” says Jacqueline. “It might be something like our Celtic Red. It’s a traditional Irish style, but we make it with modern American hops, so it’s got that wonderful marriage of Old World and New World and it just sings.
“We do some interesting collaborations, but nothing’s wacky. We make a chocolate porter using fresh cacao nibs from Cabosse & Feve on site, and an espresso black lager that is a traditional German-style, but we add fresh coffee beans to it from Das Kaffeehaus.”
There’s also Hempathy, a pale ale commissioned by the CSIRO that uses hemp seed from a farm in Kyneton to give it “some spicy caramel, nutty characteristics”, she adds.
More than anything though, Shedshaker is an important part of the community. There are book nights, art shows and live music every weekend.
“The beauty of craft breweries is that they’re really inclusive,” says Jacqueline.
“They are for women, they are for families, they are for all sorts of cultures, nationalities and life experiences. There’s no judgement in a craft brewery because we’re not a big corporate entity. We are here making magic. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it’s just extraordinary. At the end of the day, it’s about bringing people in for that experience.”
New in town
Adding to Castlemaine’s brewing legacy is Love Shack , which opened on New Year’s Eve 2020. Owners Conna Mallet and Harri Cox met while they were working at Collingwood’s Stomping Ground Brewery. While looking for a site for a bar in Castlemaine, they were offered the space out the back of the Theatre Royal.
It is, as the name suggests, a shed. “We put the deposit on this in September, so we smashed it out pretty quickly,” says Conna. “I was friends with Tim [Heath, Theatre Royal’s co-owner] before we started this, and he brought me out the back, showed me the green room then took me downstairs. I was like, ‘What is this space?’ He said, ‘Oh, it’s just the backyard. We don’t really get to use it.’ As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew we weren’t done with it.”
With only 36 square metres of undercover space, there’s a limit to how many beers and how much of each can be brewed.
“The beers we’re brewing at the moment are an American-style pale ale, a West Coast IPA, and a traditional lager,” says Harri. “Then we have had two sours that we’ve been able to pull out before the end of the summer, which have been great.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I try and keep it really simple. Just dial it back, and don’t try and throw the whole kitchen sink at it. Yeah, people have really liked it.”
While they’d love to get more beers on tap, making more than four styles with just three tanks is close to impossible. As a result, the final beer in the selection will be seasonal, with a dark beer planned for midwinter.
Collaboration is also on the cards. They’re hoping to get native ingredients from Aunty Julie McHale’s bush food farm at Harcourt, and plan to ferment some beer with wine from Boomtown at The Mill.
The latest sour they created – a riff on a popular ice-cream variety at Theatre Royal – had strawberry and basil flavours. Says Conna: “That was our first collaboration and it made sense that it was with our best friends.”
But it’s not just the larger towns where brewing is being revived. At Tooborac, just south of Heathcote, the Tooborac Hotel and Brewery creates beers that honour the working traditions of Australia in Victoria’s oldest National Trust registered country pub.
And east of Bendigo, at family-run vineyard The Shiraz Republic, Spencer Page and Matt van Run have been creating a range of beers at Cornella Brewing .
“Our biggest point of difference is that we use barley we farm ourselves,” says Spencer. “Along with the rainwater, it means that 99 per cent of the ingredients come from right here.
“We also like to keep what we’re doing quite fresh and on-trend, so we play around with limited releases in popular styles then move on from them quickly.”
IPAs make up a big number of the beers they make, but because they have an interesting juxtaposition of clientele – locals for most of the week but visitors who come out regularly for the music events they hold each weekend – there’s a good mix of easy-drinking styles available year-round and more unusual styles for anyone who enjoys experimental flavours.
At the moment, they’re brewing about 5,000 litres a month, a six-fold increase since February 2020. Having really only started experimenting in 2015, when Spencer moved back to the family winery full-time and Matt was visiting two to three days a week, it’s been a strong beginning.
“The size of the operation really allowed us to learn on the go,” says Spencer, “but we’ve really hit our stride in the past 12 months and are looking to upgrade again in another year that will see us go to about 10,000 litres a month.”
And the choice available to visitors does give them an edge. “There’s no other cellar door in the region that can match us for variety and quality,” says Matt.
“If you’ve got a group of people and they don’t all like beer or don’t all like wine, everyone is satisfied in some way. We also have food, which is pretty uncommon in the region, and live music Saturdays and Sundays, so it makes us a key farm gate destination in the area.”
More from this series
- Bendigo region - Vegan touring across the city and region of Gastronomy
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- Bendigo region - Run of the Mill
Words by Carrie Hutchinson.
- Bendigo region - Discovering our Indigenous menu
Words by Domani Madigan.
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