Crank Handle Brewery will launch this weekend in the Victorian High Country town of Tawonga.
Mick Piera, a former trainer in mining and earthmoving mechanics, is launching the brewery in his hometown as he looks to be closer to his family.
Piera, who has been driving trucks on the weekends for three and a half years to fund his Crank Handle project, has invested in a 500L brewhouse with four 500L fermenters, forty 50L kegs and a six-station bottling plant.
He has been homebrewing for close to 14 years, but it was his wife’s illness that precipitated the development of the brewery.
“A mate got me into brewing. We went for a motorbike ride one day, pulled into his place and he offered me a beer. I thought it was one of the best beers I’d ever tasted, and that was that, it was about 13 or 14 years ago now.
“I need to be home so I’ve had to create myself a job. There’s nothing where I live for me and it’s something I always wanted to do, and I thought here’s the opportunity, let’s do it.”
The venue will open as a taproom initially, with a capacity of 60-80 people offering locally-made sharing platters, but Piera has plans to expand into food with an on-site kitchen.
He said that due to its unique position in the Victorian High Country, Tawonga was a hotspot for tourists.
“The town purely exists because of [what was] back then the state electricity commission. They built dams and hydroelectricity up here, that was in 1954.
“They built the town and there was logging and whatnot up here, but pretty much the Victorian government has closed down the saw mills and there’s not a lot here but tourism.
“[Our audience will be] mainly tourists. I live in Tawonga, and it’s got a population of 500-and-something. Tawonga and Mt Beauty have community of 1,800, it’s not a big community at all, but that population swells a fair bit during Christmas, Easter and winter.”
Indeed in the same building that Crank Handle now inhabits, there was previously a brewery called Sweetwater. It is unclear what happened to the brewery, but Brews News has contacted the brewery for further information and received no response at the time of publication.
The town may be small but with the influx of tourists, an independent brewery will be a drawcard said Piera. However, it’s been a learning curve for the former homebrewer.
“For the last 14 years I didn’t care what other people thought because I made the beer for me, and now I’m making it for other people, I have to take that into consideration.
“I’ve tried to cater for them with the first beer I made, the Alpine Ale. It’s got the least ingredients, least malt and hops and if I stuff it up it will be the cheapest one to stuff it up with my first round on the new equipment.
“The beers, because I’m getting used to the new equipment, they’re good, but they’re not where I want them to be.
“On my homemade 80L system I used to end up with 4 kegs and I perfected it over the years, I just need to tweak it to get it to where I want it to be.”
Piera also had issues with importing his brewhouse.
“A T-Sun boiler I purchased was CE certified, the CE certification is probably above Australian certifications,” Piera explained.
What he didn’t know was that this particular T-Sun boiler is not certified for use in Australia.
“I asked the supplier if it was [certified] and they said it was all good and not to worry. Then it gets over here and it’s cost me another 20 grand to get it up to scratch and certified.
“I had to get an engineer in and get technical drawings, so that’s something I want to let people know – get it in writing that the boiler is certified for use in Australia. I asked and got the wrong answer from them and it’s cost me a substantial amount of money.
“Make sure you get things in writing, anything that needs to be certified,” he advised.
Getting the new brewkit in was just one of the challenges of setting up in the rented space.
“[It’s] hard work. I’ve just had the water authorities come in and I had a heated discussion with them, I’ve cut the floor up in this place and sorted out the drainage, hooked it up to the sewer and done all this stuff and done a heap of concreting.
“Then they come in as I’m finishing and tell me they want a 600 litre inspection pit right under where our fermenters are. They could have told me when I had the floor cut up!”
Piera said that it was something he wanted new and existing breweries to be aware of, the many local authority and state government departments which will be involved in developing a brewery site, and the potential hidden costs that come with it.
“They’re starting to crack down, the water authorities are looking at breweries and want them to set up trade waste agreements with them.
“I’ve invested a lot of money in this, and all the government departments want money off you before you’ve even made a dollar.”
However, despite these complications, all planning approvals and licensing have been received, and the brewery looks set to open this weekend, with a little help from the High Country’s other brewers, and brewing mentor Phil McLane.
“I’ve done a lot of research in traditional-style beers, using traditional ingredients and malts and trying to keep the beers true to the style.
“Ben from Bridge Road is probably one of the best brewers in the country in my opinion, and he’s quite inventive with some of his beers but I’m not creative in any sort of way so I’m sticking to traditional style beers for now, but we’ll see how that works, we’ve got to test the water and see what our customers think.
“One thing I’ve noticed about this entire industry, especially locally, is how helpful people are, like Ben from Bridge Road, Scott from Bright and Mark from Blizzard.”
He said that the industry as he saw it was thriving, but that it means we must also be cautious.
“Craft breweries in this country use the best of ingredients and put a lot of time in, I know I’m a new brewery but we need to be careful we don’t over-saturate the market, especially in cities.”
Out in the High Country of Victoria though, the brewing community is standing strong, Piera said, and he was hoping to get Crank Handle listed on the region’s brewery trail as well as provide a venue with a more local, homely feel.
“If there was a brewery anywhere I’d always drop in and have a beer, and sometimes you don’t feel like you’re part of it,” he said.
“You could be anywhere. You’re just sitting in a room getting served beer, so I went out of my way so customers could see all the brewing equipment.
“Phil McLane, the fella who taught me how to brew, when he came up to the brewery for the first time he was grinning like a very proud father – I said if this all goes pear-shaped this is your fault!”
Crank Handle Brewery will open on November 16th at 211 Kiewa Valley Highway, 3698 Tawonga South.
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