Dandenong is Victoria’s second city. I know this because there’s a big sign that advertises the fact as you enter this outer southeastern municipality of some 146,000 residents. Once destined to be a satellite town for business and industry away from the CBD, and to give employment to those in Melbourne’s further expanding suburbs, it has always lacked one key element of ‘modern civilisation’: Good Beer.
One new player in the market is hoping to change that perception. The Atura Hotel took over what was the Chifley Hotel on Princes Hwy just over six months ago and inherited a small brewhouse which was formerly brewed upon by Sam Fuss and Michael Capaldo at the Schwartz Brewery in Sydney. Brewing under the label of Coldwater Creek Tavern, the house beers were never given the attention they deserved and the brewery was well under-utilised.
Since taking over, the Atura management has shown that they are serious about giving drinkers in this region a better choice when it comes to beer. Appointing Steve ‘Hendo’ Henderson as a consultant brewer, the re-branded Brownstone Brewery already has revamped the recipes and has its first three brews ready for the public, including Little Brew Peep, a clean and flavourful European pilsner which ticks every box beautifully. Judging by the approving nods from the twenty Beer Dinner guests last week, it has broad appeal.
Keen to ‘walk the walk’ The Atura Hotel hosted its first seasonal beer dinner to showcase the venue’s own brews as well as the offerings from the kitchen matched with Grand Ridge Brewery beers. As founder and spiritual head of Grand Ridge, Eric Walters informed the guests, Grand Ridge has been brewing craft beer since before there was a term to define it. Since 1986 the little brewery in Gippsland’s lush landscape has been producing a broad range of award-winning brews from light and easy drinking ales and their Brewer’s Pilsner through to champion trophy-worthy barley wines and scotch ales Moonshine and Supershine.
Any venue that can offer a brewer-hosted beer dinner featuring five courses and seven beers for under $60 is well suited to introduce the novice to the concept of beer and food pairing. From simple dishes like mussels steamed in Grand Ridge Natural Blonde to a Maffra cheese soufflé as the perfect foil for the crisp firm bitterness of a pilsner through to an unctuous and rich pork belly with Twisted Sister Apple Cider and slow braised beef cheek with Gippsland Gold Pale, the menu had a taste for all tastes.
Sticky date pud was served alongside the well respected and award-winning Moonshine as well as a sample of the Hatlifter Stout – just for comparative purposes, of course. The opportunity to stay in one of the 128 recently refurbished and ‘industrially chic’ hotel rooms was gladly taken by some as the conversation continued in the welcoming lounge area after dinner finished. Had one not been the guest of the host one may have looked to finish with one of the 8 guest taps pouring a worthy range of Australian beer. Instead a wee Hatlifter Stout nightcap shared with Grand Ridge’s new national sales manager, James Little, was the perfect finish to a ‘grand’ evening.
If the Atura Hotel Dandenong (and its ‘sisters’ in Blacktown and Albury) can continue in its quest to provide quality food and beer matched dinners, and perhaps even encourage matching with their regular menu, then the future looks bright for this previously ‘beer barren’ area of Melbourne.