February is usually the hottest month in most of Australia, which drives many of our population beachward with an esky full of thirst quenching beer. However, with growing restrictions on public alcohol consumption across many beaches, finding the right beachside spot can be a problem.
True South is the first hospitality venture of Grant and Suzanne Dow, who opened the restaurant in September 2009. Frustratingly for the owners and staff, they started their operation without a liquor licence due to a protracted application process, leaving the brewery and bar idle until the approval finally come through in December 2009.
Originally a mechanic’s garage (Little’s Black Rock Motors & Panel Beating), much effort has been put into converting the building into a contemporary bar and restaurant. True South is now a casual and family friendly venue for enjoying beer and food with a beachside setting.
Look closely enough and you’ll discover how many elements of the original garage are still visible or have been cleverly recycled and incorporated into the refurbishment. The main dining area downstairs provides both indoors and outdoors seating. White walls, exposed roof beams and Edison light bulbs dominate the inside space, whilst the highlight for beer lovers will be the semi-external mezzanine frontage that provides pub-style high tables for enjoying beers with a sea-breeze.
True South provides a relaxed, but quality, dining experience with lunch and dinner available 7 days a week, as well as a small breakfast menu on weekends. All the food and beverages served here are focused on Victorian produce.
The newest addition to the True South team is chef Mauro Callegari, who started in January after departing the highly regarded Mezzo Bar & Grill in Melbourne’s CBD, where he was Head Chef. Mauro introduced a new menu last month influenced by his Argentine roots.
Entering True South you are immediately met by the long bar featuring seven taps pouring their own beers and an apple cider. If you are lucky enough, you may also find True South’s head brewer, Sam Füss, behind the bar.
Sam’s career in beer began behind the bar at Little Creatures in Western Australia. Captivated by the brewing process, she took hold of small jobs in the brewery whenever she could, learning on the job and eventually working her way up to an assistant brewer role.
Sam also gained inspiration from Little Creatures’ head brewer at that time, Janice McDonald (who has since returned to wine-making), and was soon a fully fledged brewer herself. She grew her experience with stints at the Schwartz Brewery in NSW and the now defunct Gunn Island Hotel and Three Degrees brewbars in Melbourne.
Joining True South at its birth, Sam had a full hand in designing and building the brewery. The purpose built 1200l brewhouse was brought in from Canada and installed by hand with the help of “a few hefty blokes”, providing Sam with a very personal connection to the brewhouse. She had been the solo brewer at True South until hiring an assistant brewer in recent months.
The shiny little brewery is on display through large windows at the rear of the restaurant. Sam freely admits that no expense has been spared to build and resource the True South microbrewery, which has helped her develop and brew a distinctive range, suited to the beach location.
Sam predominately uses a ‘new world’ approach to brewing. This means she has brewed new versions of traditional beer styles using modern ingredients from places such as New Zealand, North America and Japan. Further, flavour profiles are altered with the use of extra fruity and floral enhancing elements throughout the brewing process.
The beer range is surely approachable for both craft beer drinking novices and beer nerds, with a regular range consisting of fours beers: Summer Ale (Kolsch), American Pale Ale, New World Pilsner, Dark Ale (American Brown).
Whilst beer nerds may label the True South range as pedestrian, due to the fairly common selection of beer styles, it is a very good example of approachable beers done well and with a point of difference.
For $15 the True South tasting wheel allows you sample all four of these year round beers as well as their current small batch.
The current seasonal small batch – the Mint Ninja – is an impressive twist on their Summer Ale, which is perfect for beach drinking.
Using the Kölsch as a base, True South has been the first Australian brewery to commercially release a beer incorporating the new Sorachi Ace hop variety developed by Japanese brewery Sapporo. With an addition of fresh mint to the hopback, the Mint Ninja is born.
Admittedly, I am not a regular Kölsch fan, as I find many to be overly bland, thin or uninteresting. Unfortunately, True South’s regular Kölsch, the Summer Ale, is no exception. It is a good example of the Kölsch style, but leaves me wanting more from a beer.
However, the use of mint and the Sorachi Ace hop vastly improves this beer, providing a fuller body and more well-rounded flavour and a nice long finish. It is just right for refreshing Summer drinking. The Mint Ninja also has a lovely appearance, with this unfiltered beer providing a surprisingly clear golden colour. Most of all, it provides a generous white head with excellent retention. It has been one of my favourite new beers this Summer.
The Mint Ninja has also been very popular across Melbourne, with Sam receiving plenty of requests to make it a year round regular. She has also had substantial feedback, including from the likes of Paul Mercurio, calling for the mint to be increased by several more bucket loads, proving that she is championing a winning formula.
As for the other True South beers, the New World Pilsner and American Pale Ale are very enjoyable.
However, after several pots of the True South Dark Ale at various times and places, I am still undecided as to whether I actually like this brown ale. My initial response was that it was underwhelming and a little unbalanced, yet there is enough in it to keep me coming back for me. Sam admits that her Dark Ale is still a work in progress.
The current brewing project for True South is a cherry and coconut porter called “Cherry Bomb”. It has been produced specifically for the Local Taphouse Great Australian Beer Spectacular on February 12th and is certain to go down well with any lovers of the Cherry Ripe chocolate bar.
The biggest drawback of this brewery bar, although no fault of the True South team, is accessibility. Despite its beautiful beachside location, those without a designated driver will find it difficult to enjoy the full range of True South beers due to a lack of direct public transport in the area. It requires several connection trams or trains and buses to reach True South from the city and would be quite an expensive taxi journey for most visitors.
Nonetheless, once you are there, the Black Rock township can provide you with all you need for a full sunny day out, with plenty of breakfast, lunch and dinner options alongside parks and the beach. Alternatively, on the weekend you could easily enjoy all three daily meals at True South inbetween snoozes and swims at the beach.
The True South beers are not available in bottles. However, they can be found on tap at a number of speciality beer bars around Melbourne. With any plans to bottle still a while off, an initial plan for packaging their beers may be via the use of growlers, which Sam has been seen testing recently.
It is clear that True South are not in the brewing game to push their product across the national beer market, unless natural organic growth takes them in that direction.
Rather, their primary mission seems to be servicing the locals and visitors to Melbourne’s bayside suburbs with a fine beer and food experience in their own style, whether it be as a regular or for special occasions. And they are doing so in fine form.
So this Summer, grab yourself a driving buddy who is willing to stay dry and head True South.
Giving weight to their tag line “Magnetic Attraction”, each time I leave True South I want to head straight back.
Learn more about True South at: http://www.truesouth.com.au/
Follow Head Brewer, Sam Füss, on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/samthebrewer