Getting Crafty in Melbourne
Melbourne is known for its food and wine, but they’re getting a run for their money thanks to the local craft beer industry, as Ann-Marie Nansett discovers.
Down an industrial side street in Footscray is Hop Nation, one of Melbourne’s best craft breweries. The old and compact warehouse serves as both brewery and bar for its India pale ales, pilsners and niche brews like The Kalash, a Russian imperial stout, and The Punch Mango Gose, described as “Not your nana’s punch”.
Hop Nation is a perfect example of Melbourne’s growing craft beer scene: inventive, irreverent and not afraid to try something different. They generally focus on seasonal and small batch beers and branding that is the polar opposite of the traditional dark green normally used in the industry. They are giving the big boys a run for their money.
At the forefront of this movement is Two Birds, founded by Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen in 2011.
Co-owner and ‘Brewer Bird’ Jayne says that the goal with Two Birds beers is that they’re balanced, flavoursome, approachable and a little bit fun.
“We always give them a bit of a Two Birds twist, like our Pale which has two different types of oats to give it a beautiful silky mouthfeel.
“We’ve got six beers that are available all year round, and we also bring out regular limited releases that allow us to experiment and try new flavours, ingredients and processes. It’s a really fun mix of old favourites and new,” she says.
Jayne started out studying viticulture and winemaking, and initially worked at wineries in the Margaret River region.
“After a bit of dabbling I decided brewing offered a bit more variety, so made the move in 2004. I worked for Little Creatures for a while and after moving to Melbourne I landed a role as the Head Brewer for Mountain Goat. That gave me the perfect grounding for starting Two Birds with Danielle when the time came.
“We founded Two Birds eight years ago after a trip exploring the US craft brewing scene. We felt between my brewing background and Danielle’s marketing expertise, we could put together something pretty special,” says Jayne.
Melbournians have embraced what’s on offer by the incredibly talented local brewers.
“The craft beer scene in Melbourne has grown at an incredible rate, which has helped create an amazing community of breweries, beer venues and beer lovers who try and support each other whenever possible,” says Jayne.
“The other fantastic thing it has done is that breweries have become a really great central hub for the suburbs they’re based in. For example, we love being part of the community around the western suburbs and Spotswood, and know the locals are really proud to call us fellow Westies!”
And it’s been equally embracing of women brewers in what many think of as a male industry. Jayne says that it’s still going to take some time to break down the decades of beer advertising that says women don’t drink beer, but she’s certainly seeing some positive changes happening.
“We’ve been really lucky that the Australian beer industry was welcoming and excited about what we could offer. Even now you might still get the occasional surprised comment from someone who doesn’t expect it, but it’s changed a lot in recent years and we’re now seeing far more women involved in the beer industry, whether through brewing, other roles or simply enjoying the product.”
Despite the often outlandish product names and crazy packaging, Melbourne’s craft beers are no flash-in-the-pan gimmick. Mountain Goat describes itself as Melbourne’s first craft brewery and has been around for over 20 years. These are well-considered beers with depth, complexity and flavour. If you enjoy the variety and subtly of a great wine, you’ll appreciate Melbourne’s craft beers.
As well as the breweries themselves, which are often located in the suburbs or greater Victoria, pubs are popping up all over Melbourne which serve a hand-picked selection of local beers. And the cafes and restaurants in Melbourne’s laneways also serve a craft beer or two. The pubs change their taps regularly and pour a variety of styles. In the city, try The Alehouse Project on Lygon Street (we know you’ll head up that way for a meal!) and Mr Griffiths in Kensington. It has three taps but uses them wisely and offers local and international craft beers by the bottle.
This all sounds great but what if you’re new to craft beer and don’t know where to start? After all, Melbourne craft beers are definitely not your average German lager. Most breweries offer a ‘tasting paddle’ and notes so you can try a few beers without committing to a whole pint. For example, Hop Nation’s paddle comes with a recommended selection or a choose-your-own option.
So, next time you’re in Melbourne, enjoy the local wine but don’t be afraid to venture into the craft beer scene. It’s guaranteed to be rewarding.
Sidebar: Craft beers worth seeking out
- Hop Nation – The Dawn double New England India pale ale
- Stomping Ground – Hop Stomper India pale ale
- Two Birds – Passion Victim pale ale
- Kaiju! – Kaiju Krush tropical pale ale
- Mr Banks – I like to break a sweat too double India pale ale
And keep an eye out for Co-conspirators. They have no base and are ‘gypsy’ brewers: they use other brewers’ equipment and all its beers are awesome. We particularly like The Matriarch New England India pale ale.
Sidebar: An afternoon beer tour of Melbourne
Want to sample the best of Melbourne’s craft beers but you’re short on time? Here’s what we recommend, just 15 minutes from the city.
From Flinders Street or Southern Cross stations, jump on a train heading to Werribee, Laverton or Williamstown and get off at Footscray. A leisurely 10 minute walk brings you to Hop Nation (107-109 Whitehall Street, Footscray). As well as its own great beers, Melbourne’s famous food trucks are often found parked outside for your eating pleasure.
Grab an Uber and head to Two Birds (136 Hall Street, Spotswood). The staff here are brilliant and really know their stuff, so tell them what you like and they’ll recommend a great beer. And try their Korean fried chicken or buffalo cauliflower. You can thank us later.
Next, head out the door, turn left and walk a few minutes up the road to the Junction Beer Hall and Wine Room (15 Hall Street, Newport) to try more craft beers on tap or from its selection of over 70 bottled beers.
When you’re done, simply head across the road to the train station and head back to town. Easy!
Sidebar: Pots, squealers and growlers?
It had us a little confused too. A pot is roughly 285ml or half an Imperial pint and is the most common beer glass size in Victoria. A squealer is just under a litre and a growler is roughly two litres. Beer is often available from brewers in squealers and growlers. So stock up and enjoy.