A bluestone, ironstone, and granite edifice stands like a beacon amongst the pastoral fields in central Victoria. This is the Tooborac Hotel, which had been built to support the local community in the gold rush days of 1857 and is listed with the National Trust.
Some of the most dramatic changes at Tooborac ever since the gold rush ended have perhaps been in recent years. The ramshackle pub had been sitting idle for three years, when James and Valerie Carlin decided to take on the challenge of renovating and reinventing this old pub. It had a lot of inherent beauty but little financial promise.
A combination of hard work and good food meant that it wasn’t long before the small pub was packed on busy nights with customers. Things improved with a dining area extension, but they still had a problem of what to do with the derelict Cobb & Co coach stables out the back of the hotel. However, they had a flash of inspiration when they heard that the Bendigo Rifle Brigade brewpub was selling its brewing equipment. The restored stables now serve as a tasting room, while the brewery is set up in an extension of the stables.
After nearly four years of brewing with the old and labour intensive equipment, a number of changes have taken place and are still happening. The original flat-bottomed 600 litre fermenters have been replaced by new 2400 litre conical ones. A second-hand Meheen bottling machine, formerly from 4 Pines Brewery, now stands against the wall, which will greatly improve the speed of bottling as well as the consistency of quality.
In the latest extension to the brewery building is a new brewhouse. It is a 1200 litre gas direct fire Premier Stainless system that came from New Zealand’s Garage Project, and it still has a Garage Project sticker on the side of the mash tun. The new brewery was transported to the site and set on to a concrete base. The roof was extended and the then the walls to accommodate the relatively huge equipment. Another planned addition will be a new mill and auger to speed and simplify the brew day.
For those who like to keep score, the old brewery equipment is now in Tempe, NSW, where Nick Newey and Pat McInerney will use it as a starting point for their Willie the Boatman brewery.
A couple of windows will allow visitors to watch new brewer Stuart “Stu” Ritchie hard at work. Stu is formerly from Moo Brew and the Byron Bay Brewery. Retiring brewer, John Chapman is helping Stu as he makes the transition to Victoria. This is because his family is still living in Byron Bay, so he currently works in Tooborac in blocks, until they can make arrangements to move down to Victoria.
Stu is enjoying the challenge of setting up a new brewhouse, especially as the old one is very manual and labour intensive. He says that he and James have similar goals and is excited at the prospect of becoming involved in the bustling Victorian craft beer scene.
James said that the growing number of microbreweries is “great for bringing choice back to people. You’ve got regional beer anywhere you go in Europe and that’s the same thing we want to engender here. You can come here for our beers, or you can go to Ben Kraus in Beechworth, or Paul Holgate in Woodend, and you get these little villages where you can get great beer. That’s sort of what we are hoping to do.”
They have employed Joel Drysdale to distribute their beers. Joel’s company vehicle is an eye-catching converted ambulance that is called the ‘Beerbulance’. Once the new brewery is up and running we should be able to see more Tooborac beers on the shelves of our local bottle shops. In the meantime, Tooborac Hotel & Brewery is a friendly place to visit, where you can enjoy a craft beer alongside some local farmers and shearers.