A weekend day trip is my favourite way to escape the repetition and drain of a nine-to-five job. It relieves stress whilst leading to discoveries about the history and hidden treasures that lie beyond the city’s borders. Short journeys away from familiar surrounds have also helped many beer lovers, such as myself, discover that “good beer” in Australia no longer refers just to that first cold lager at five o’clock on Friday.
Two particular day trips ignited my passion to explore the definition of good beer. They each led to independent microbreweries an hour from Melbourne city in opposite directions. Both breweries are owned and operated by husband and wife teams who journeyed for much longer than an hour to experience their beer epiphany. It was travels through the UK, Europe and America during the 1990s that captured their imaginations and tastebuds. These intrepid explorers fell in love with the flavoursome and characterful ales crafted by the small breweries they found. Each couple returned to Australia on a mission to create a home for hand-crafted beer in Victoria. With their brewing dreams now realised, a much shorter journey is required for Australians to experience a good beer revelation.
Travelling north-west along the Calder Highway you will find the town of Woodend nestled in the lee of Mount Macedon. The Keatings Hotel on Woodend’s main road is home to the Holgate Brewhouse. Inside this red brick corner pub is a friendly atmosphere and warming country aesthetic, with stained glass windows that inspired the label art of Holgate’s bottled beer range. Wooden tables and chairs, an open fire and beer collectables surround the large central bar. In the dining room I spied a group of young mothers enjoying a brew with a meal of beer infused food whilst gently rocking the prams of their sleeping babies. The pub’s focus is all about beer and food, revealing the passions of owners Paul and Natasha Holgate.
Holgate Brewhouse’s creative malt driven ales and lagers provide a welcome point of difference to the often hop heavy focus of other local craft beers.
The Big Reg Vienna lager was a revelation. The ample malt flavours of biscuit and caramel showcased the potential for a lager to be something more than a pale golden beverage of little flavour distinction other than “tastes like beer”.
Few beer aficionados will deny the pleasure of a pint of Holgate ESB from the pub’s traditional handpump beer engine. A beer poured by handpump is agitated and aerated, removing much of the natural carbonation and producing a thick creamy head packed with hop bitterness. Served at cellar temperature, the handpump helps bring out the subtle flavours of the English style. It was an eye opening experience for a born and bred Australian who only knew beer as an ice-cold frothy.
Whilst drinking an ESB in this manner generally requires an appreciation for the British “real ale” context, I happily witnessed Holgate’s Temptress chocolate porter cross all palates of gender, age and drinking creed. Brewed with rich Dutch cocoa and whole vanilla beans, the chocolate texture and flavour of Temptress is like no other ale made in Australia.
For designated drivers, Holgate’s Mild One provides a flavoursome, full-bodied English ale with only 3.5% alcohol. The decal adorning its tap shows Marlon Brando in his famous Wild One role, indicating that this beer is wilder than a light beer would have you think.
This Holgate rendezvous installed a desire to spend every weekend on similar day trips. Unfortunately the blockade of daily routine resumed and it was several months later when I finally ventured on a second weekend drive that would further unravel my beer senses.
The journey to Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula travels south-east around Port Phillip Bay, which the major highways of Eastlink or the Nepean make navigation straight forward. Along Shoreham Road in Red Hill South is a microbrewery and café that brings together many of the region’s produce riches, plus a unique ingredient of their own.
It’s hard to miss the iron signs emblazoned ‘Red Hill Brewery’ that mark the tree lined gateway. After parking in the shadows of the wooden trellis and twisted bines of a hop garden, the dust kicked up by your feet will quickly reveal why this is ‘Red’ Hill. The bines grow varieties of Hallertau, Willamette and Tettnang hops, as well as that of the brewery owner’s namesake, Goldings.
The estate grown hops were Dave and Karen Golding’s key to securing council support to build and operate a brewery bar on land zoned for agricultural use. After years of enduring the hard work required to plan, build and licence a brewery, resourced primarily by personal passion and persistence, the barn-like brewery and adjoining restaurant were opened in 2006. The hop garden has proven to be one of the main draw cards for visitors, as well as the defining ingredient of a Red Hill beer.
Red Hill Brewery created their year round beer range – Golden Ale, Wheat Beer, Scotch Ale – to differentiate the business.
“We didn’t want to have the same styles of beers as every other brewery does”, Karen notes.
The brewery excels through seasonal small batch releases. From summer’s Bohemian Pilsner to winter’s Imperial Stout, these beers are beautifully matched with the season and the restaurant’s menu. It is harmony between beer, food and weather.
My appreciation for the thoughtful consumption of beer was changed for the better at Red Hill Brewery. Standing alongside the hop bines with the brewhouse to my left and an autumnal Hop Harvest Ale in hand, the full life cycle of beer was there to behold. This level of completeness is rare in almost any facet of life, making the Red Hill Brewery experience even more wondrous.
It is never easy to depart these refreshing destinations of beer creation and consumption. Thankfully, the return journey home is always manageable with a boot full of beer that will allow the weekend getaway to live on long into the week.