Melbourne’s outer east is not particularly well-served for range when it comes to beer in licensed venues. Sure, there are plenty of venues but many seem to remain trapped in the safe familiarity of mainstream beer brands and have changed little in the past two decades. Notable exceptions in recent years include Club Kilsyth, Oscar’s Alehouse and, more recently The Public Brewery in Croydon.
In neighbouring Ringwood, one venue is bucking the trend with vigour and it’s probably not the venue type of which you’re thinking. It’s Mister Fox, the ‘19th Hole’ café/bistro/bar at Ringwood public golf course. Co-owner Matt White took over a couple of years ago and brought with him a new look, a fresh attitude to food and service and, most importantly, a love of good beer. Where the fridge once slumbered under the weight of a narrow selection of mainstream lager, it now sings with a bright and dazzling array of everything from kolsch to IPA, with plenty in between.
Last week, in their first official Good Beer Week venture, the course hosted the Craft Beer Open, a nine-hole golf championship and beer tasting. Australian Brews News popped in to cover the event and was kindly invited to join a group of four keen golfers for the first four holes. Hughie, Paul, Simon and Bob were fairly handy with the woods, irons, bunkers and tees but a little less knowledgeable when it came to the malt, water, hops and yeast.
Bob, who told me he worked as a high-level classified intelligence systems training analyst with the Department of Defence, had the most advanced palate of the group, having tried more than a few different beers in recent years after switching from “cheap bourbon and cola cans”. “I’m really enjoying the different beers available’, he said, ‘but I still don’t know much about all the styles. This is a great chance to find out a bit more.”
Bob’s task was made easier as, after a complimentary beer on arrival, each golfer was able to sample a different brewery’s wares at alternate holes. We teed off on the ninth after sipping through the range of Collingwood’s Sample Brewing range. Lager and Pale were enjoyed by all but the Gold Ale was deemed the favourite – even by Bob’s caddy, non-beer drinking wife, Heidi. The beer had the desired effect as Rob properly smacked the Spalding down the fairway. The fact that it was over on the second fairway seemed to faze him little.
Through 11 and on to the 12th we were greeted with the core beers from Reservoir’s Hawkers Beer. Pilsner, Pale and IPA were introduced before the foursome opted for a Saison, then taking on a Par 3 made more challenging by a stiff headwind. Bob had a cunning plan to counter the effects of the breeze by safely grounding the ball – in five separate instalments – all the way onto the green where he confidently doubled that score into the cup.
The 14th hole featured Hargreaves Hill from Yarra Glen and was the only brewery with which the four were familiar. Each had a different favourite but the Hefeweizen was a somewhat surprising preference. The Pale and Golden Ales were also well received. By now, Bob’s confidence was growing and he and his new set of clubs were fast becoming ‘as one’. His score on the next two holes was slightly a lot higher than ‘one’, however, but the lads were warming to the new and enticing flavours of good beer.
Temple Brewing greeted the group as they hit-off at 18 and home towards Mister Fox for debriefing and a full-sized beer to finish. Bicycle Beer, Anytime Pale Ale and the new Powerstance Pilsner were well-received and the lads were even starting to develop their palates to the point where they could detect differences between the pilsners and pale ales they had tried across the journey.
And so to the results. Well, it’s fair to say that golf was not the winner. Bob succeeded in breaking in his new set of clubs. Sadly, in his enthusiasm to get to the final hole and a refreshing ale, he dropped his little golf pencil and was thus unable to record his scores from the last few holes. He finished by telling Brews News: “We’ve been able to try a few beers that we would not normally be exposed and most of the other 40 golfers in the Craft Beer Open would be the same. This was a great way to get people to try something different.”
We couldn’t agree more. Looks like good beer was really the winner. Well done to the team at Mister Fox and to the good people at City of Maroondah for allowing a variation to their ‘no alcohol on the course’ policy so this event could proceed.
Disclaimer: Bob (not his real name) is actually a dear friend of the author and his golf ability may have been subjected to a small degree of poetic license for the purpose of humour. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a hack. But not as bad as I made out. [PM]