Brewing beer can provide plenty of spectacle and drama. So much so that in Mildura they have taken the workings out of their movie theatre and installed a brewery. Patrons are able to sit quietly enjoying a meal or a drink and watch the workings of a modern brewery through a glass partition. It’s a little like watching an ant farm through the glass, only on a much larger scale.
The building itself began life as a picture theatre in 1925, but television eventually took its toll and forced the theatre to close. 15-year-old Don Carrazza started working as a porter next door, at the Grand Hotel, in 1956. Both hotel and theatre were looking shabby in 1989 when Don was able to buy them both. He eventually gave the theatre a new lease of life by converting it to a brewery and restaurant with the help of his son in-law, celebrity chef Stefano de Pieri. Stefano and Donata, his wife, now own the hotel and theatre. They will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of brewing beer in December this year.
While the 2000-litre DME brewhouse is located inside the theatre, regular expansion has pushed the bottling line, fermenters, and other equipment out the back of the theatre into additional buildings. The 3000 bottle per hour Framax line uses a tunnel pasteuriser to either flash pasteurise or simply warm the bottles for bottle conditioning.
In addition to the original five 5000 litre fermenters, are four new ones that hold 10,000 litres, and a couple of bright tanks. The newest additions are a couple of dry hopping tanks for specialty beers. This increased capacity means that they still have room for a few more of the contract brews that have helped keep the brewery busy.
Rod Williams, former head brewer, has recently left Australia to set up a new brewery in the UK. Mildura’s new head brewer is Glen Nolen, who has been working with them for eight years. His brewing assistant is Richard Chamberlin who left Brewster’s Brewery, in the UK, and has spent the last couple of years enduring Mildura’s summer heat. In his new role as head brewer, Glen is enjoying the extra freedom to put more of his own ideas into the brews.
The brewing team takes turns in designing their specialty brews. One of these was Winter Smoke, which was the beer they brewed for GABS. This is a porter that was late hopped with fresh green hops, which had been smoked with cherry wood, and created a very smoky rich flavour. The summer specialty was a raspberry Lambic that they fermented in a smaller fermenter on wheels (called Davros) that can easily be moved around or even left open.
Even the regular brews are being tweaked. Storm pale ale now has increased dry hopping using Galaxy hops. It now uses nearly four times the original amount of hops and is super fruity when tried fresh off the tap. This fruitiness does not carry well after a few months in a bottle, so Glen said he would be adjusting the recipe some more to try and get the bottles to match the flavour out of the kegs.
The Astor ale has taken over from Storm as the entry-level ale. It is an easy drinking filtered pale ale. Stefano’s pilsner now has additional Saaz hops and is quite crisp to taste. Choc hops now has a slightly dryer finish and the chocolate has been wound back a little.
Confirming how drinker’s tastes are changing, the first batch of their recently released English IPA sold out within four days. Its recipe has also been adjusted by dry hopping with more Target hops, adding some earthiness to the flavour.
All new brews have to be approved by Stefano, who insists that they need to be balanced and be more than simply one-dimensional in their flavour profile. Importantly they need to match well with food. Stefano says that, “When you match beer and food, you get a better appreciation for both.” That sounds like a very wise restriction that quite a few other breweries could benefit from adopting.
Future plans for the brewery include implementing an environmental strategy. A 45kW solar voltaic system will cut electricity use, as will changes to improve steam and energy recovery. Glen is also planning to get some more small fermenters so that they can increase the number of specialty brews. All these changes require time and effort. Glen admits, “Behind every brewer is a wife telling him to be home more.”
The former Astor Theatre retains its character along with the art deco facade and many features inside, such as the projection room that can be used as a function room. The bar taps have the full range of fresh Mildura beers, as well as some of their past seasonals. Lunch and dinner are available every day of the week, as are snacks. If the parmas we got are any indication, the food is simply delicious. However, if you want a fine dining experience you need to go to Stefano’s Restaurant, which is located in The Grand Hotel.