Melbourne loves beer almost as much as it loves coffee, and there are plenty of places to taste boutique brews.
By Paul Chai
Craft brewing in Australia has grown in popularity and with it has come a huge range of places to enjoy a brew. In Melbourne, you can drink ale and have food delivered from a vintage caravan, discover a boisterous beer hall in a converted inner-city warehouse or taste challenging beers in a dive bar in the suburbs. Beer lovers, Melbourne has you covered.
In Melbourne’s inner-north suburb of Brunswick is the Thunder Road Brewhouse, which places you right beside the huge silver vats that brew batches of Hop Star Extra Pale Ale or limited-run brews such as Smoke House Lager. In keeping with the silver theme, the kitchen is in a vintage Airstream trailer delivering fried chilli chicken wings, shoestring fries with blue cheese aioli and huge pretzels, both savoury and filled with salted caramel. If it’s quiet, ask about the historic bluestone brewers' cottage in front and you might also get a tour of the historical brewing artefacts inside the cottage.
The two “birds” behind this brewery in Melbourne’s western suburbs are Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen, friends who found a love of craft beer after an American road trip. Set in an old sheet-metal factory, The Nest is where the pair showcases much-loved brews such as Sunset Ale or Taco Beer, which has a hint of coriander (cilantro) and is brewed to go with Mexican food. The food there is perfect for beer drinking with snacks such as salt and vinegar pork crackling and black pepper beef jerky, small dishes of smoked chipotle potato gems and, if you're hungrier, Cuban pulled pork on ciabatta.
This sprawling converted warehouse in the inner-city suburb of Collingwood does a good job of channelling the raucous fun of a German beer hall. The decor is industrial chic with exposed pipes and bare bulbs but with climbing vines to soften things up. Half the place is a beer garden with a retractable roof and there is a wooden cubbyhouse in one corner for the kids. Two dozen taps pump out Stomping Ground’s brews that are listed by how “challenging” they are, such as the very rich Double Shot Coffee IPA. The pizzas are the pick of the bar food, try a “Not a New Yorker” topped with 'nduja (spreadable Italian cured pork) and hot honey.
Northeast of the Melbourne city centre, in Abbotsford, is Moon Dog Brewing’s dive bar which has ephemera-stacked shelves, table tennis and a bunch of mismatched couches to slump into. If the bar has a strong personality, then so too do the beers because Moon Dog likes to push the envelope with its brews. Expect to be surprised with beers such as the Cold War Drip which is designed to taste of coffee and cigarettes and, with its smoky coffee flavour, is surprisingly delicious.
Live bands and craft beer at Forester’s, in inner-city Collingwood, is a classic Melbourne experience. This large and quirky space has two balconies – one in the shape of a giant clam shell where bands play – along with wall murals devoted to beer and more than 50 craft brews on tap, many from other parts of Australia and beyond. The taps change regularly but you might find a Cloud Catcher from Stone & Wood Brewery in Byron Bay or a Bleak Season from Nomad, a brewer from across the pond in New Zealand.
Located in the northern suburb of Coburg, the Post Office Hotel is the home of Coburg Lager and the more recent Pentridge Pale Ale, named after Melbourne’s famous bluestone prison that opened in the 1850s. The prison has since been closed and turned into apartments, and the residents can be found at the Post Office's front bar or the adjoining graffiti-strewn beer garden sipping on a Pentridge ale.
This renovated pub in the western suburb of Newport has so many craft beers they come in a “directory” that is cleverly divided into sections such as #onestandarddrink for those who are driving and Something a Little Different for those with adventurous tastebuds. The Junction is a simple space with a recycled wood bar and a bright beer garden, all the better to relax in and decide which of the more than 50 beers to try next.
The Alehouse Project proudly announces its “beer geekery,” but it also keeps things simple. There are just a dozen rotating taps of micro-brewed beers plus regular “tap takeovers” where one brewer will dominate the taps. The space is bare brick with "craft beer" in huge letters on the wall, in case you forgot why you were here. A menu of burgers and chicken wings goes perfectly with the ales.
Cookie is a Melbourne stalwart that saw the craft beer revolution coming a mile away. It has always had a strong beer list and now boasts more than 200 brews on tap and in bottles, available at the low-lit and always-busy beer barn that is plastered in posters. Half of Cookie is a Thai restaurant that ships out spicy curries and Thai snacks to complement the range of beers. Cookie is an institution for beer lovers and party lovers alike.
In the southern beachside suburb of St Kilda, The Local Taphouse has been educating beer drinkers on the joys of boutique brews for years. The interiors might be reminiscent of a Belgian beer café, but expect to find local brews such as Mornington Peninsula Brewery from the Mornington Peninsula, Batch Brewing from Sydney or Stomping Ground from Melbourne's Collingwood.